As with many successful CPG brands, a great product starts with a great idea. From there, the idea blossoms into a plan, and the plan grows into a reality, and before you know it, you’re living the CPG dream and your product is on store shelves across the country, or even the world. Consumers clamor for your product! Buyers can’t get you in their stores fast enough! And you, Mr. or Ms. Supplier, are thrilled to the bone, as you should be!

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a step back and look at one of the most important factors to this ideal success: Inventory.

To state the obvious, you can’t sell what you don’t have. If you don’t have enough product to meet demand, you run the risk of damaging the relationships with consumers and retailers you spent countless hours building and tending to. Not having enough product when it’s needed can be avoided, provided your strategy for success involves a strong inventory management process.

What does that mean, exactly? Inventory management is essentially everything that revolves around your inventory, from ingredients and supplies to packaging and the finished product. That also includes ordering those supplies, storing them, processing them, and using them. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Yes and no. When done right, inventory management can set your business up for sustainable success, and without it, your business will flail mightily. Think of it this way: when you over- or under-purchase inventory, that has a direct effect on your bottom line (re: your profits). But there’s more to it than just making sure you’ve ordered enough or have enough on hand. Read on to find out other key points around inventory management that will help your brand.

Plan, track, review, repeat

When starting your inventory management, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen solely in one department. Nope, you need to make sure your entire organization understands how you’re planning and tracking your inventory. Marketing, ecommerce, merchandising—they all work with inventory, and thus, they all should be aware of how it’s tracked, so everyone is on the same page and you’re not hit with a sudden need for inventory you don’t have on hand, or conversely, left with overstock you have no use for.

There are multiple ways you can track your inventory. Investing in software that can help track is often a great tool to have, as it can help you see where you are in real time. But to ensure the software’s efficiency, there are three critical actions suppliers need to do:

  1. Audit your stock on a regular basis. Meaning, go into your warehouse, and count what you have on hand, and make sure it matches what your software is telling you.
  2. Know which of your stock you can barely, well, keep in stock, and which stock tends to languish in your warehouse. If there is something that isn’t selling, perhaps it’s time to rethink whether you need that product taking up valuable space in your system.
  3. Forecast a lot. The more you can accurately forecast your sales, the better you can forecast your inventory needs. Past performance can be a crucial indicator of what you’ll need and when, but as critical is taking a look at current issues (re: are we still in a pandemic?) that could affect how your inventory flows.

The important thing to remember, whether you want to hear this or not, is that inventory management is not a one-and-done deal. As your brand thrives and grows, and as you evaluate where your product plays best, where it can improve, and where there are opportunities, you will need to continually manage your inventory. Even smoothly running inventory management will need readjusting from time to time, simply because your business isn’t going to stand still—and neither will your inventory.

The benefits of inventory management

You may be thinking, “Hey, we’re a small business. I don’t really need this complex inventory management system. I’ve got a handle on it.” And maybe that’s true. But honestly? No business is too small to employ a comprehensive inventory management process. And particularly if you want to grow your small business into a bigger brand, that inevitably means increased stock, and the opportunity for your inventory to get to a level that you can’t handle without a plan increases as well.

As well, there are myriad other benefits to an inventory management strategy, including:

  • Saving money- when you are managing your inventory, you’re not buying too much or too little, which can affect your bottom line.
  • Better relationships with your customers- when you can easily, quickly, and accurately fulfill their orders, they’ll keep coming back for more, because they know you’re reliable.
  • Improved overall planning- when you keep track of your inventory, you know immediately if you have enough to fulfill an order, and there’s less of a chance that stock that isn’t selling is taking up valuable real estate in your supply.

You can’t have a CPG business without inventory, and while a good inventory management system can take time and tweaking to incorporate and get right, once done, the payoff can be great. Taking the necessary steps to set up a management system that works for you will help your business for long-term, sustainable success.

inventory management for emerging brands

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