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Q: Our company sells various supplies to commercial greenhouses. The critical inventory problem that we have to deal with seems universal: ending up with too many products that forces the salesmen into a "product dump" mode. It never seems to be a minor issue either and warehouse managers spend way too much time on it. What's the best way to predict needed inventory?
A: I can imagine the problems of living inventory! I suggest you find people within your industry with whom you don't compete and start asking them the tough questions. There's a company in Salt Lake City called Cactus and Tropicals. The owner is a woman who won the National Small Businessperson Of The Year award given out by the SBA. You may want to ask her for some advice.
My experience is that the folks who make it to the top of their field did so with the help of others. They're usually happy to help you. Call around. Someone has this figured out-either someone in your industry or in an industry with similar problems (Ben and Jerry's frozen ice cream is fragile like plants.)
One approach to check into would be working out "On Demand" or "Just In Time" arrangements with your suppliers. Get your vendors to brainstorm strategies that involve them and you. Certainly, you'll deal with higher per unit costs, but that could be well worth it. Just make sure your selling price reflects the increase in service and quality such an arrangement provides your customer.
Here's one more idea: At Callyx and Corrolla, a fresh flower company, they have a product called Super Bunch. You don't know what the flowers will be, but whatever is left over at week's end is available in large quantities at a better price. It isn't a "dump" price. Get together with your customers to brainstorm creative predictable ways to pass savings on to them on overbuys without a panicky last-minute ditch.
Author Ellen Rohr nearly starved in her family's small contracting business-until she learned how to manage money. "Do what you love, certainly," she says, "but the money won't just take care of itself." Ellen's pricey college education didn't prepare her for real-world business. "Financial business basics aren't that difficult.but where do you learn them? Unfortunately, business literacy isn't taught in school. I teach the basics and take the mystery out of making money." Ellen's mission as an author, columnist and seminar leader is to help people make a living doing what they love.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.