Updated: Apr 30, 2020
When it comes to staying on top of the game in distribution, everything revolves around the basics. The companies you serve need what they need – when they need it. If they can’t get it from you in a timely manner, they will look elsewhere. Here are some thoughts regarding staying on top in the competitive field of B2B distribution.
The challenge exists between the electronic system in place and the employees that use it. Even if the system itself is advanced, the employees using it must have a technological bent or there will be a breakdown between system and user. It is not enough to have an advanced tracking system in place. The employees must be willing to use it correctly. Otherwise, the whole inventory/supply chain system breaks down.
It used to be that warehouse workers were hired for their muscle. That was enough. In this technological age, there has to be a certain vetting of new hires as to how electronically savvy they are. The system is no better than its weakest link employee-wise. Like it or not, those who use electronic inventory systems must be diligent “numbers” types of people. There has to be a certain love of order, organization and numbers. Otherwise, the one employee who does not consider numbers and order a priority can trash the work of a number of other people.
While it is pleasant to think that a computing system alone will solve problems, the fact is, it comes down to people. It comes down to accurate counting and registering changes in inventory, and then properly finalizing the figures at the specified time according to the system used. Anything less than that will bring less than optimal results. Beyond that, it requires people who do not want to “play” with the system or “cook the books” for reasons of their own. Ethics has not gone out of style.
Let’s take an example of a problem that can occur when a count is not kept accurately. Perhaps there is a certain minimum at which an order is generated. Suppose the count was incorrect by that number and the physical bin now shows zero items, though the count may show a dozen. That kind of simple problem multiplied by a factor of ten or a hundred makes the difference of whether an order to a consumer can go out fully met, or on back order. If there is a continual back order problem, it is likely that the customer will move on to another supplier.
Industries cannot wait. If a construction company needs bolts, it needs them now. It cannot install half now, and half later when the back order arrives. If a hospitality customer needs a special order for an upcoming event, it will do no good if the items arrive after the designated date. If a five-star hotel has an elevator problem, it does not want to wait five weeks for the fix. That five-star rating will be downgraded in no time. If a storm has taken out electrical wires and communications, it is urgent that those parts be available for immediate replacement. In today’s technological world, there really is no time for a time breakdown. A supply breakdown is, in reality, a time breakdown. Time is the management of the flow of events and if events cannot be managed, then there is the waste of a supplier/customer opportunity.
In reality, the question of how to make MRO supply businesses better comes down to good old-fashioned customer service. However, that is not in abundant supply today. Too often, those in management have learned how to say the appropriate words such as “this does not come up to our standard of customer service,” as a delay tactic. While that may be true, if it does not, then raise the bar. Make it happen. Get the job done. Find the people with the skill sets that match the electronic and physical interface of the system you are using. If you have the right people with the right skill sets to match the system you are using for your inventory, you will have a higher success rate in meeting the expectations of your customers.