Using Your Inventory Calendar as a Marketing Tool

Setting an inventory calendar can be useful for more than just inventory management. It can serve as the framework and guide for your marketing schedule as well. It makes sense to align marketing and promotion with the inventory your housing at the time and to be prepared to turn seasonal stock as quickly as possible.

Consistency is often one of the biggest struggles for dealers, and establishing a marketing plan can give you a guide to follow to help you stay on course and in front of your customers in the most effective way possible.

First, establish the list of marketing tools you plan to use to reach your customers.

That list may look something like this:

  • Radio Ads
  • Facebook Posts / Social Media
  • Event Marketing
  • Email Marketing
  • Text Messaging Service
  • Local Business Flyers

Next, reference your inventory calendar to know what items you should be promoting for that respective month. Promotions need to be done in advance of your selling season to prepare customers, so it’s always good to set your marketing plans 3-5 months in advance.

An inventory calendar will help paint a visual picture of the opportunities you have to focus on, what promotional efforts could be combined or if it is necessary to run multiple campaigns simultaneously. Obviously margin and/or volume will factor into your focus each month, but don’t leave out ‘door-opener’ products that could generate traffic or interest as well.

Once you’ve established your product focus for the month, detail your marketing plan to include specific tactics, contacts you need to reach out to, deadlines, etc. There are several tools and programs you can use for social media, email marketing and text messaging services that allow you to schedule in advance so you only have to manage these messages once per month.

At the end of the month, you should revisit each marketing medium used and analyze its effectiveness so you can make any necessary adjustments for coming months.

Forecasting Sales Seasonality

Inventory management is an art that can elevate your business to new heights if done well. It is highly variable, and the optimal system is different for each dealer. There are many tools that can be implemented to improve your inventory management – and cash flow!

Techniques such as First-In First-Out (FIFO), setting par levels, having a contingency plan to address unforeseen issues should they occur, auditing regularly and classifying inventory so you have a system to prioritize the most important stock are all vital parts of inventory management.

Successful inventory management involves balancing the costs of inventory with the benefits of inventory. Many dealers fail to fully appreciate the true costs of carrying inventory, which includes not only direct costs of storage, insurance and taxes, but also the cost of money tied up in inventory. This fine line between keeping too much inventory and not enough is not the only concern. Others include:

  • Maintaining a wide assortment of stock — but not spreading the rapidly moving ones too thin;
  • Increasing inventory turnover — but not sacrificing the service level;
  • Keeping stock low — but not sacrificing service or performance;
  • Obtaining lower prices by making volume purchases — but not ending up with slow-moving inventory; and
  • Having an adequate inventory on hand — but not getting caught with obsolete items.

Perhaps one of the most important elements to finding this balance is accurate forecasting.

A huge part of good inventory management comes down to accurately predicting demand. Make no mistake, this is incredibly hard to do. There are so many variables involved and you’ll never know for sure exactly what’s coming, but you can get pretty close. Here are a few things to look at when projecting your future sales:

  • Trends in the market
  • Last year’s sales during the same week/month
  • This year’s growth rate
  • Guaranteed sales from contracts and subscriptions
  • Seasonality and the overall economy
  • Upcoming promotions
  • Planned ad spending

If there’s something else that will help you create a more accurate forecast, be sure to include it.

A helpful planning tool would be to graph product sales from last year by month so you have a picture that serves as a rough forecasting tool to help stay ahead of ordering and marketing.

Accurate inventory management incorporates what you know about customer and product demand from the past and present to (ideally) predict your best course of action in the future.

Optimize the value of such information by coupling your inventory management and marketing promotions to work together (More on page 10). For example, such insights can reveal potential opportunities to leverage quantity-based pricing suppliers may offer, while at the same time empowering you to offset times of lower demand with promotions or ‘packaged’ deals that strategically drive sales.

It is always best practice to ensure you have product on the floor at least 2 weeks prior to the beginning of selling season for each product and then use the forecasting tools above to prepare for restocking throughout the season.

June/July 2016 – Letters from Lisa

Proper planning and implementing best practices can help relieve stress due to the seasonality of our industry. From ice-cream stands and landscapers to hotels and feed stores, many small businesses are seasonal — meaning they don’t rake in much cash for some portion of the year. While making seasonality work in a business isn’t typically easy, there are ways to alleviate some of the stress.

Plan Ahead

“Measure twice, cut once” is an old adage that still rings true, especially for a small business. Look ahead at least six months to plan appropriately. To carry the business through slower periods and complete lulls, consider saving cash during the busy months. Look hard at every element, from inventory to staffing, to avoid tying up cash unnecessarily during slow months. And, don’t forget to take advantage of slow stretches to prepare for the peak season.

Work Year-Round

One issue for many seasonal businesses is that they lose visibility in the off-season. So part of the challenge is keeping customers connected, and using downtime as a time to regroup, re-evaluate the business plan and expand customer relations.

Many businesses choose to stay open year-round by switching their focus to a different niche. Many ski shops, for instance, sell bicycling gear or kayaks in the summer. Not only does this supplement revenue, but it also hedges the risk since mild winters may inspire people to ride bikes. Other seasonal entrepreneurs start a new business altogether in the off months. Nancy Swenson and Craig White, owners of Beach Farm Inn, a Wells, Maine, bed-and-breakfast, earn 75 percent of the $75,000 to $100,000 of the inn’s annual revenue between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. A rainy summer, Ms. Swenson says, can take a sizable bite out of revenue. While the couple offers various off-season promotions (like cooking-class weekends) to rev up the inn’s guest numbers, they’ve started another venture in the winter months. Mr. White turned a woodworking hobby into a business making wooden furniture. He now makes $30,000 to $40,000 between December and March selling his handmade furniture — or nearly half of the total revenue generated annually by the inn. He uses the inn to help market the furniture, since the rooms are furnished with many of his crafts. “There are years where the weather is terrible or things happen in the world that you just can’t control,” Mr. White says. “Having that extra income…acts as a buffer.”

Market Creatively

Some seasonal businesses are able to extend their season by finding creative ways to get customers interested in their offerings year-round.

Wayne Bronner, owner of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, a Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas decor store with 260 year-round employees, finds he can keep visitors buying Christmas goods all year by tying promotions and marketing to timely holidays and seasons throughout the year. In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, for instance, he decks out the front of the store with ornaments displaying messages for mothers. In summer, the store plays up wedding-inspired gifts, such as Bronner’s Newlywed’s Ornament Collection, a gift set of 12 ornaments for newly married couples that sells for $67.99.

He also offers sales and discounts in the off-season to spur more sales. For Valentines Day, he has a “14-14” sale — 14% off any item that costs more than $14. The store uses quirky advertising on billboards to attract summer travelers who might be looking for a fun stopover. The store “markets the novelty of shopping for Christmas decorations in July,” Mr. Bronner says.

Seasonality doesn’t have to mean no cash or nothing to do. In fact, if you look at it as a time to turn up your workload it can mean new products. HEAT is a perfect BioZyme® example. Historically in June and July our sales would drop to about 20 percent from normal. HEAT has almost gotten those months right up with all the others.   

Go get ‘em tigers!

lisa-norton-signature

Identify and Monitor Important Metrics

Dealers must stay on their toes to monitor the ever-changing inventory trends, seasons and customer demands. One way is to proactively optimize your inventory and make sure that you’re stocking the right products, at the right time. To accomplish this, identify and track certain metrics that give you a better understanding of how inventory is moving through the dealership:

A. Inventory Turnover [cost of goods sold / average inventory]

Also known as stock turn, this metric refers to the number of times that product has sold out for a particular time period.

Example: To keep numbers simple, a dealer’s average inventory costs $10,000 and it sold $50,000 worth of goods within a 12-month period. In this case, the dealer’s stock turnover rate is 5.0, which means that it sold out its inventory five times that year.

Monitoring stock turn is a must, since it lets you see how fast merchandise is moving in your business. Generally speaking, a high stock turn rate is good, because it means you’re not tying up too much capital in your inventory.

You can also compute for stock turn at a per product basis so you can figure out how fast different products are selling out. If product A has a turnover rate of 1.0, and product B’s turnover rate is 7.0, then you know that B is selling much more quickly. This serves as an indicator that you’ll need to order more of item B, and less of item A.

B. Gross Margin ROI [gross margin / average inventory cost]

The GMROI measures your return on the amount you invested in stock. It basically answers questions like, “How many gross margin dollars did I make from my inventory investment?” or “For every dollar invested in inventory, how many dollars did I get back?”

Example: A dealer’s average inventory cost is $25,000 and has gross margin of $60,000. The GMROI would be 2.4. In other words, the retailer earns $2.40 for each dollar spent on inventory.

When computed at a store-wide level, GMROI can give you insight on the overall health of your dealership. This metric can also be calculated at a per-product basis so you can determine whether it’s worthwhile to carry certain products.

Say you recently started selling a product in your store. You run the GMROI on it (by taking its gross profit then dividing it by your average inventory at cost) and find that the result isn’t as great as you’d like. You can then use this data to decide on what to do with the product (i.e. take it off the floor, put it on sale, etc.).

C. Sell-Through Percentage [units sold / (units on hand + units sold) x 100]

The sell-through percentage pertains to the number of units sold versus the number of units you had at the beginning. It’s a metric used to assess product performance. It illustrates how fast merchandise is moving and how many more units you have to sell to unload your inventory.

Example: A dealer received 200 units of Vita Charge® Liquid Boost®, and proceeds to sell 145 after a month. That item’s sell-through percentage is 73 percent. Sell-through gives you an idea of which products are selling and will allow you to make better decisions when it comes to what to stock up on, what to put on sale, etc.

Tip: Check to see if your point-of-sale or inventory system provides these metrics for you. Before pulling out your calculator to compute for these metrics, see if you can find the insights you need using your inventory or POS software. Some systems can generate reports on popular products as well as your margins, so you won’t have to do math yourself.

Alternatively, you can download Retail Calculators, an app that has several preset calculators in one program, allowing you to compute for common business metrics without having to memorize any of the formulas.

Inventory: Your Single Largest Asset

For any business, inventory is a major asset.

Just ask Kevin and Sandra Warnken, owners of Rockin W Ranch in Schulenburg, Texas. The couple manages the family’s Hereford and commercial cattle operation and work as on-farm dealers for BioZyme® with the company name of High Hill Supplements.

Sandra Warnken says the biggest misconception of inventory might be that businesses do not place enough priority on managing the items they have in stock. Because they recognize inventory as their single largest asset, the Warnken’s consistently utilize inventory management to also improve their bottom line.

Though every business has different needs Sandra says all businesses could benefit from being strategic about inventory. For High Hill Supplements, inventory rotation is an important aspect of their store. The Warnken’s believe it is vital for a business to have quick turnover of products on the shelf.

“Inventory on the floor for more than four to six weeks ties up valuable operating capital that may be needed to grow the business or purchase new equipment,” Sandra says. “In an effort to reduce inventory stock, demand is up for timely deliveries. Retailers do not want to overstock on products so when ordering they expect to have the product delivered within a certain time frame.”

Sandra says this equates to a big part of High Hill Supplements success, which is also its delivery service. Many times the Warnkens can be found delivering products before or after hours because they know a customer needs it right away. Many of their customers are ranchers just like Rockin W so the Warnkens believe they understand what those customers need and when.

“We know what works best for the particular area they may be in – for instance, our customers along the coast have the best results with consumption when their cattle are on a mineral that has a lower salt level,” Sandra says. “It’s all about personally knowing your customers and their operations and what works best for them.”

The Warnkens carefully watch product inventory, which they say is determined by the demand in their area. In order to keep product fresh, they try not to allow inventory on the floor more than three weeks. They keep staple products in stock at all time, including VitaFerm® Concept•Aid® 5S, Concept•Aid POWER Tubs, VitaFerm Cattleman’s Blend™, Sure Champ® Cattle and the entire Vita Charge® line.

The Warnken’s use Intuit QuickBooks for tracking inventory, including purchases, sales, adjustments, damages and margins. They enter accounts payable the same day product is received and invoice customers the same day product is delivered. Sandra says this process keeps their book inventory accurate with physical inventory. She also does a physical inventory count every six months to ensure computerized inventory is accurate.

High Hill Supplements also works to pass along product promotions to its customers. For example, when there is a promo Warnken will stock up on that item and in turn, offers every piece of inventory purchased to their customer base at the special price, even if it’s past the promotional deadline.

Sandra knows inventory management can be a balancing act between having too much cash tied up in inventory yet maintaining adequate product so the business doesn’t lose sales. Her advice is to take time to implement good inventory management practices including studying sales history, knowing the customer base and knowing the need for seasonal products.

Biozyme’s south Texas Area Sales Manager, Jay Willingham, helps the Warnken’s keep track of livestock shows, which in turn means they have Sure Champ products on hand during a busy show season.

“On the show side, we keep track of all the local, county and major shows as well as tag-in dates,” she says. “This helps us manage our Sure Champ line and helps us ensure we have what our customers need.”

High Hill Supplements also relies on sales reports from previous years to manage the inventory they need. These reports take into account projected growth, and help them personally understand what their customers will need and when. Sandra says it’s also critical to pay attention to the seasons. In her area of Texas fly season starts as early as March. This means they keep fly control products in stock beginning March 1.

Warnken says good inventory management is vital to the success of her family business.

“Proper inventory management keeps our products fresh,” Warnken says. “It enables us to meet our customers’ needs, reduces overhead and increases our bottom line.”