‘If it Barks, it’s a Dog’: A Lesson Learned in Inventory Planning
One of the enduring lessons I learned as a new inventory planner at Lands’ End in the early 1980s was "if it barks, it's a dog."
Lands’ End was a smaller company then (less than $50 million in sales), and cash flow and inventory planning were monitored very closely. Most of its products were private label, with at least 12 months of product development invested in them. There was a lot of emotional attachment to the products, from both the merchants and the inventory planners.
When the catalog would mail, presenting the new product assortment to consumers, we waited impatiently for customer response. As young inventory planners, we were anxious to be proved right, to show that we'd bought exactly the right inventory, the right products, colors and sizes.
Of course we were always wrong, but hope springs eternal. Only optimists spend their careers in retailing.
Once we had reliable customer response, we quickly and happily chased the product winners — i.e., those selling significantly above our plans. Most of our suppliers at that time were still shipping from U.S. factories, so we had good success placing in-season reorders and fulfilling the demand of the winners.
Yet we waited on the losers. We were optimists, after all. We'd spent the last year developing and procuring the products; we were emotionally attached. "They'll still sell," we told ourselves. "Just a few more days and sales will pick up."
Then our inventory director, Gene Wardynski, a crusty 30-year veteran of Montgomery Ward, would pull us back to reality.
Gene wasn't emotionally attached to the products. He understood that there are always winners and losers, and that the company's sales, profits and cash flow depended on urgent response to winners and losers alike.
"Every day this inventory remains in the warehouse adds cost and reduces profits," Gene would tell us. "If it barks, it's a dog." So in no uncertain terms, he'd tell us to "mark it down, send a mailer, run a tent sale, do whatever you must to get rid of it, and reorder inventory the customer wants!"
I'm occasionally reminded of that lesson when working with our Direct Tech customers. It seems that things really haven't changed much since 1982. Merchants are still optimists. As always, there's great enthusiasm to chase winners, and there's still an instinctive hesitation to respond to losers.
Every business needs a Gene Wardynski to counsel against the hesitation. I can still hear his voice today: "If it barks, it's a dog!"
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.