When it comes to Managing stock and inventory, it pays to keep things tidy
By Michelle Nicol
31 October 2017
Accurately knowing the value, availability and flow of stock is key to staying in control of your inventory and can make or break a business; your customer reputation and profitability. Whether you’re selling individual items or manufacturing part or whole products, keeping track of materials, availability and costs is essential to your bottom line. We talk to two different businesses about the smart ways they keep things tidy when it comes to stock and inventory.
Chris Piha has loved fishing since he was a child. Catching elusive and aggressive musky in the freshwater lakes and streams of North America was something of a right of passage for him. So, when his favourite bait and lure supplier wanted to step back and spend more time with his family, Chris took the plunge and bought the Llungen Lures business.
Working together with his wife Cari and best fishing buddy, Matt, Llungen Lures make and supply high quality fishing baits, lures and equipment through 35 retail stores in the USA, plus outlets in Canada, Germany and the Netherlands and through their online store.
Managing a massive inventory
With individual items made up from many different elements, Chris explains how keeping track is a massive challenge: “It would be insane if we had to manually inventory everything. It would be impossible for us to keep tabs on all the different variations. I probably have 40 different variations of blades alone. All in, I would say we have over 1,000 different pieces.”
Chris says that using TidyStock to manage LLungen Lures inventory is invaluable: “My business would fail without Tidy Stock. The man hours that we would expend managing our inventory, we would not have been able to survive. We're talking thousands of man hours a year. In order for our business to survive, it was imperative that we had something like this.”
How lessons from the US Airforce help in manufacturing
Chris balances the LLungen Lures business with an active role serving as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer in the United States Airforce. It may not seem like the most obvious combination of careers, but Chris recognises that similar skills are required in both roles: He says: “I lead people and manage processes. Whether it’s continuous improvement, lean, Six Sigma… those principles are at the core of what we do in aircraft maintenance and they parallel well with the manufacturing industry.”
As an extended family business, being able to integrate inventory management with other software means that data flows seamlessly from one system to another, and keeps everyone involved as Chris explains: “We have multiple users. Matt and I are geographically separated, and we can log into TidyStock and have a conversation about business, or he can be doing inventory management while I'm doing invoices. Then my wife, she does the back-end finance. That’s Cari’s role - she uses TidyStock for all the accounting purposes, which we match with Xero.”
From military to customer service
Being able to integrate stock and inventory control is vital to the two parts of the LLungen Lures business, selling through retailers and their online store. Chris shares an example of a typical call from a fishing retailer wanting to re-order popular high-selling items: “I can look at my inventory live and say, ‘Bob, I know you really want 20 of these, but I only have 15 in stock. Can I send you those 15 and give me the next couple of weeks and I'll have more to you?’ Being able to deliver adds to your credibility as a business and on a personal level.”
Having up to date information on stock and inventory helps Chris ensure LLungen Lures provide great customer service online too. “I can watch my inventory and see that I've just sold the last of a particular item,” he explains, “And I'm logged into my ecommerce page and I can immediately remove that product so that I'm not over selling it. Nothing aggravates a customer more than when they order something and a company cannot deliver.”
Tarpo is another company associated with the great outdoors. Based in Africa, they manufacture specialist tents and shelters that are used all over the world by NGOs, the military, tourism and oil and mining organisations.
CEO Asim Shah explains their unique challenge in managing stock and inventory for their discrete manufacturing process: “We don’t hold many finished goods. Usually we make to order. A tent for example could have over 100 different materials going into making the finished product. That’s a lot of individual pieces. We might end up using 3 or 4 different types of canvas, colours, sizes of zippers. You’re talking about managing large quantities and lots of items, so it becomes quite a long list.”
Keeping track of materials and profits
Tarpo typically have 50-60 different jobs underway on the shop floor at any time. They use TidyStock to help manage materials used for each project as Asim explains: “It helps us understand what's available when. It means that we know the profit at the time of quotation and also as the project is going. And then there's the automation. It's a quicker process to place an order for raw materials. There's a lot of reporting we can use to tell us that something's getting close to the reorder level.”