How To Build An Inventory Management System Your Employees and Customers Will Love| By |Paul Trujillo

Does your business suffer from the following symptoms of poor inventory management?

  • Haphazard warehouse organization
  • Late deliveries
  • Mixed up shipments
  • Lackluster customer service

Yes, all of these problems can be traced back to poor inventory control. Why? Human error is imminent when you handwrite SKU numbers or key data into a spreadsheet. Even the most expert typist will make one keying error in every 300 keystrokes. And your co-worker’s handwriting? Forget about it. The point is, keying errors and misread data adds up to a lot of frustration for your employees as well as your customers over time.

Still, 43 percent of small businesses use manual inventory management processes or don’t track inventory at all, according to the 2017 State of Small Business Report.

Since you run a small business or a start-up, you may think an inventory management system would be too much of an investment or too complicated, or simply overkill. Quite the contrary. The lack of inventory management causes confusion and mistakes. Warehouse workers become disgruntled with internal mistakes and a disorganized warehouse, resulting in shipping errors. Shareholders get impatient with inaccurate or outdated reports. And customers aren’t happy when you don’t know what’s in stock, send the wrong shipment, or don’t send orders in a timely manner. Added together, these problems can destroy your business, from the front office to the warehouse.

To avoid much unwarranted stress at your company, consider the following questions as you plan for an inventory management system that will make everybody happy.

  1. What are your business’ priorities? It’s natural to get caught up in all the “fancy” features some inventory systems offer. But before you make a rash decision or spend too much, figure out what your company needs to help solve specific problems. Ask your employees about where the hold-ups are. They’ll be more than willing to help identify problem areas. Also, consider software integration processes. Will you switch to barcode scanners or will a new system need to work with existing software programs? Coming up with answers to these questions will confirm your decision before signing on the dotted line.
  2. What are you willing to pay? If you run a small business, it’s likely your budget is tight. And that’s OK. Your priority is to get most bang for your buck. Since you narrowed down what key features will enable an efficient workflow, you can make a more informed decision. Although you have a set budget, you may find the inexpensive programs lack features you want, or you’ll need to replace it once your company outgrows the software’s capabilities. That expensive risk may cost you more than an upfront investment into an affordable, more robust solution.
  3. Will implementation cause downtime? Since you’ve done business without an automated system, you’ve likely experienced lost time and money you’ll never get back. And the last thing you want is for business to slow down for system installation and lengthy software and hardware training. Choose software that’s user friendly and that several employees can learn relatively easily. Be sure your solution provider offers online and onsite training that is flexible and works around your employees’ schedules.
  4. What hardware is best? Barcode scanners: You might be surprised at how many different types of scanners you’ll have to choose from. Again, it’s important to know what scanner features fit your business the best. For example, a 2D barcode scanner is best for retail, healthcare or hospitality industries. If you run a small office, a handheld or entry-level type of bar code scanner might fit the bill. There are also scanners that are disinfectant ready for healthcare and more rugged for harsher warehouse environments. If mobility is important, take advantage of apps that will turn employee smart phones into scanners.

Bar code printers: In order to use a barcode scanner, you need a printer to produce the type of labels appropriate for your business. For a typical small business, thermal printers are the product of choice. It’s still important to where it’ll be used before making the investment. For example:

  • Where will the printer be used? Thermal labels can hold up in even the harshest warehouses, however, you should still consider the location of the printer: will it be on a desk in a normal office setting or in a cold, dusty warehouse?
  • How about the labels?What size will they be? How important is print quality? Will labels need to be printed in batches or on-demand?

When you take all these factors into communication, your warehouse is more organized, mistakes are eliminated, processes are streamlined…and that makes happy employees and customers.

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