There is no doubt. More than 50% of client requests in the last several months have related to inventory. In fact, it seems to be a trending hot topic! In today’s era of the Amazon Effect where customers expect more and have ZERO patience to wait yet we are in a volatile environment with tariffs and concerns about space, costs and more, more inventory is needed to grow the business yet businesses cannot afford it. Thus, learning how to reduce lead times and improve service levels while reducing inventory and costs is of utmost importance.
In partnering with several clients on just this topic, we’ve found the same ingredients to success yet the mix and proportions can be quite different. Several of the top contributors behind inventory success include:
- Demand planning: It turns out there is a lot to be said for fine tuning your demand plan (sales forecast). How well do you understand your customer requirements? We’ve seen that even in the best of clients, there is a gap between perception and reality. In 80% of our clients, there is a path to significantly improve the forecast with a direct correlation to inventory reduction.
- Production &/or material planning: Not surprisingly, there is no ‘magic process’ that works for every client; however, there are general themes that are identical. In every case, there is some sort of logical combination of master scheduling/ material requirements planning (MPS/MRP) and kanban processes. How we figure out the right mix, proportions and formulas is the trick. It depends on the manufacturing/ distribution type, people, processes, systems, customers, suppliers and related capabilities and more.
- Distribution planning: Similar to production and material planning, we’ve seen a significant opportunity with several clients to leverage a more proactive yet simpler distribution planning approach. The process will involve concepts from DRP (distribution requirements planning) and kanban. Often, this simple process can provide the visibility required to better manage inventory levels.
- Lead Times: Certainly, none of these can be viewed in isolation. Customer lead times will dictate the requirements of your network whereas supplier lead times must be built into your planning processes. Distribution lead times and options (mode of transportation) could also make the difference between OTD (on-time delivery) or OTIF (on-time-in-full) and late delivery as well as profit and loss.
- Capacity: Understanding your capacity (skills, labor, machinery, space, and more) and how it relates to your requirements is of paramount importance. This process of aligning demand with supply across your organization and supply chain is termed SIOP (sales, inventory and operations planning).
In our experience, clients can reduce inventory by 20-30% on average without negatively impacting customer service. In fact, we often find that a win-win-win can be created: improved service, inventory turns and cost/margins simultaneously. Read more in an upcoming article I’ve written for Distribution Trends and please contact us to discuss your situation in detail.