Good Plans, Great Reactions
An underappreciated component to inventory planning excellence is careful alignment of the planning calendar to the timing of marketing activities. Easy to say, tough to do, and here's why.
From the outside, there's a perception that planning is about applying comprehensive analysis that results in a perfect plan. If only that were possible! As any experienced inventory planner will tell you, perfect isn't achievable. While thorough analysis will yield the "best possible" plan, that's just the beginning. Superior plans don't exist in a vacuum; when a plan can be supported by other controls and responsive systems and processes, including a well-considered planning calendar, that's excellence.
Here's an example. The chart below reflects typical forecasted demand accuracy for new products from an apparel direct retailer. It shows the average variance of planned unit demand vs. actual demand at weekly intervals, starting 12 weeks before the items will be promoted. As you can see, only marginal improvements in accuracy occur prior to the date the products are promoted to customers, but in the first week following the promotion — see the red arrow — accuracy improves dramatically.
For an inventory planner, this illustrates the importance of aligning purchase decisions with the marketing calendar. Reorder decisions made one week prior to the promotion will be considerably less accurate than reorder decisions made the week of or the week after the promotion occurs. When you consider the number of new products and their respective forecasts introduced throughout the year, the aggregate effect on the business can be staggering.
That's why contingency planning is such a valuable approach. It's a holistic process which melds the timing of the promotions with any number of "if x, then y" decisions, and must involve the vendors, especially when you're dealing with long lead times and offshore suppliers. Make sure your vendors are aware of your contingency plans and poised to act on your decisions as they happen — e.g., reorders, cancellations, color or fabric adjustments, etc.
As you consider improvements you can make in your business, I'd suggest taking a closer look at your seasonal planning calendar. Is your information aligned with its demands? Have you developed workable contingency plans and shared them with your suppliers? Finally, is your staff aware of your "red arrows," and will they be ready to make inventory decisions in those crucial weeks?
A good plan is one thing, but the ability to be responsive within your plan is paramount. Or, as we say at Direct Tech, inventory success is delivered with good plans followed by great reactions.
Joe is Vice President of Product Solutions at Software Paradigms International (SPI), an award-winning provider of technology solutions, including merchandise planning applications, mobile applications, eCommerce development and hosting and integration services, to retailers for more than 20 years.
Joe is a 34-year veteran of the retail industry with hands-on experience in marketing, merchandising, inventory management and business development at multichannel retail companies including Lands’ End, LifeSketch.com, Nordstrom.com and Duluth Trading Company. At SPI, Joe uses his experience to help customers and prospects understand how to improve sales and profits through applying industry best practices in merchandise planning and inventory management systems and processes.