Inventory management strategy is a challenge for organizations of all sizes in all industries. Marketing directors find themselves ordering new materials when a fresh supply isn’t needed, or on the flip side, find they don’t have products when they are needed right away. Inventory Management Specialists later in the process need to know details of what is available when an order comes in, how to pack and ship that order, and what to do when stock runs out.
All this communication can easily get messy without a strategy that streamlines inventory management from digital templates all the way to printed products. Below is a strategic planning process for printed materials to help reduce inventory waste and improve efficiency.
1.) What Products Do We Use/Ship?
The first on our list of top inventory questions is, what is even in your inventory? Understanding what you print and how those products get used is key to managing inventory and controlling spend. Businesses print everything from brochures and forms to coffee cups, lab coats, or tee shirts. When ordering these materials, organizations often benefit from contract pricing per-item by ordering materials in bulk. Though prices might be lower when you order a lot, informational or promotional printed materials need to be kept up-to-date with current information and photos. To judge how much to order, figure out which materials you used most last year, and scale your planning accordingly.
Shipping Planning Checklist
2. What was last year’s order history?
3. Which items did or can I save money with contract pricing?
2.) How Much Inventory Volume Do We Use?
However, even when ordering in bulk decreases pricing, it may not be the best move. Envelopes are just one of the many items with a hidden shelf life many customers are not aware of. Think about dead stock and spoilage. What goes bad quickly? Order items like candy, swag like lip balm, hand sanitizer, or lotion – conservatively. Even paper, which can yellow with age or depending on storage conditions, has a shelf life. So how do you encourage people to use current inventory before ordering more? If you’re using a branded company store, avoid using $0 cost for items and display the actual cost of items so employees truly understand what it’s costing the business.
Volume of Inventory Checklist:
1. Inventory each print or promotional item and its lifetime value, against past ordering quantity.
3.) What Can We Order On-Demand?
Ordering in bulk is sometimes necessary simply due to a printer’s capability. Not all items can be printed individually. For example, tee shirts and coffee mugs must be produced in quantities 12 (per dozen). If you only want to give away a few as prizes at the year-end retreat, the rest will be in your inventory. This might seem like a hassle to track and store, but it’s great because you can continue to make the most of the products. Companies that do inventory and fulfillment well, will keep those extra items in their storage facility and mail them on-demand. Whether we’re shipping forms, books, clothes, or other stuff, this allows individuals to get these items one at a time, giving the feeling they are “on-demand,” while still allowing your organization to save money and increase efficiency with the bulk order.
On-demand Ordering Checklist
1. Based on contract pricing and cost of storage, which items should you order in bulk and ship on-demand?
4.) Who Needs Our Products?
In some cases, your customers might be the ones ordering printed materials, but more often it is employees who need to represent the company. We see many organizations implement a digital inventory to centralize ordering materials like flyers, forms, or brochures. But then, they either don’t teach employees how to use it, or forget to tell them it exists at all. It’s important that whatever system you roll out, people know how and when to use it. People are getting faster and faster at learning new technology, but at work, the requirement to adopt new technology is usually very intimidating. To work around this, employees might be tempted to print a lot of materials, so they don’t have to use the system again soon. But ordering based on how often you use or mail the products is key to reducing inventory waste.
Inventory Asset Management Checklist:
1. What system do you have in place to track orders by date? Or Provide usage by product type or Dept?
2. Are employees or consumers using your existing processes to place orders? Why? Why not?
5.) How Are Products Packaged?
On the logistics side, one of the top inventory management questions you should be concerned with is how the products are packaged and shipped. Packaging based on usage or cost of shipping saves money and can provide overall more product. For example, packaging items like flyers or brochures in packs of 5, 10, 25, 50 saves cuts costs and provides with enough product to easily store in the office.
Product Packaging Checklist:
1.What are the most cost-effective options for packaging?
2. What does external brand or compliance need to reflect?
3. What product considerations needs to be accounted for to protect product quality?
6.) How Does Our Inventory Management Affect Compliance?
Anyone working in a highly-regulated industry knows one of the most pressing concerns is compliance. This concern first becomes relevant in the design process. Organizations like the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have established laws for compliant marketing materials, like how big the font needs to be, what level of contrast between the background and text is allowed, even forbidding writing headlines or sentences in all capital letters. We developed our Finelink software to support clients like these in centralizing their digital inventory. Our system has functionality built in to prevent materials being changed and becoming noncompliant before they are printed.
Once mailings are printed and ready to send, communications like advertisements for Medicare products need to be clearly identified on the envelope. However, this is only one side of compliance. When inventory is stored or being processed for mailing, it’s essential to prevent exposure of personal information on the floor or the shelves. This is one of the reasons we worked so hard on our HIPAA-compliant mailing facility, in addition to keeping all our employees HIPAA-certified.
Compliance Mailing Checklist:
2. How is packaging design protecting sender information?
3. What specifications need to be met based on recipient?
7.) How Do We Track Our Products?
The last question to define your inventory management strategy is how do you record and analyze the results of your mailings? From customer reviews to the ROI on a direct mail campaign, tracking the status of your leads and past customers is key to future success. Today, many businesses use a customer relationship management (CRM) software to identify which people are at which stage of the customer life cycle. Without a CRM in place, 79% of today’s leads fail to convert into customers. Software like Finelink can connect your inventory management system with your CRM. This doesn’t just help keep real-time track of inventory, it also gives a bird’s eye view into how outgoing products are having an effect.
Product Tracking Checklist
2. Are mailing lists formatted correctly to reduce turn time?
3. How are you creating awareness with sales on product delivery?
These seven questions are only the beginning of developing an inventory management strategy, but with these answers, the scope of the task and all the moving parts will be identified. For more guidance, you can download our fullinventory management checklist. Or, if you want more one-on-one support, we’d be happy to talk with you more about what we’ve learned during 25 years of experience. We have even translated that into our software, Finelink, which might just make this problem easier to solve than you ever imagined. Contact us today to learn more or ask any questions.