Does your business manage inventory in multiple locations? If so, keeping track of every last item your company stocks can become frustrating, especially if you haven’t adopted an multiple location inventory management strategy. Fortunately, you can follow a handful of simple steps to get your inventory organized, whether that’s across two storage units, ten warehouses, or a dozen business locations.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the best practices of multiple location inventory management, helping you identify the challenges of multi-site inventory management—and figuring out the best way to solve them.
Challenges of inventory spread across multiple locations
When inventory is stored in just one place, inventory management can be relatively simple. But when a company has lots of locations or stores inventory in various places off-site, inventory management presents a unique set of challenges. Here are a few frustrations many businesses experience:
1. Difficulty communicating
If your business stores inventory across multiple locations, chances are you have a variety of employees helping you manage all that stock. And if you have numerous teams—sometimes in various states or even in multiple time zones—trying to track your inventory, communication between all employees is essential.
Without effective communication between locations, it’s virtually impossible to maintain accurate, complete inventory records on a daily basis.
2. Inconsistent inventory standards
Another major challenge of inventory location management? No standard operating procedure. Without one solid and universal inventory management strategy, it’s impossible to compare inventory records from one location to the next. After all, if inventory is counted and audited using different methods, you’re comparing apples to oranges.
If your business wants inventory managed the same way across multiple locations, it’ll need to create, articulate, and reinforce consistent inventory standards across every site. This may sound easy on paper, but pulling it off requires collaboration, training, and, sometimes, the right technology.
3. Lack of a centralized, synchronized system
A third challenge of managing multi-site inventory is a lack of a centralized inventory management system. Without such an inventory system, it’s impossible (or at least very difficult) for a business to instantaneously determine what inventory is in which location, how inventory has moved between sites, or whether some locations are dealing with challenges like shrinkage, spoilage, or obsolescence.
Whether a document, an inventory spreadsheet, or multiple location inventory software, your business almost certainly needs one global solution to inventory management at every last location.
Multiple location inventory management best practices
How can your business implement an effective, results-driven multi-site inventory management strategy? These six best practices can help you take control over your inventory, even if it’s scattered across the country.
1. Pick a system that’s built to handle multiple sites
When selecting an inventory management solution, insist on a system that’s truly meant to track inventory across multiple locations. Usually, you’ll choose between a document, a spreadsheet, and inventory management software.
Most businesses find that tracking multi-site inventory manually on a document is far too challenging.
The next best option is an inventory spreadsheet, where a different tab is used for each location. If your business only tracks a dozen or so items at each location, this is definitely a simple and inexpensive system worth exploring. But there are definitely drawbacks, including a high risk of human error, corruption, or just accidentally working on the wrong version of the file. Plus, unless you and your staff are extra diligent about saving a new spreadsheet every time you take inventory, accurate inventory reports and records aren’t feasible.
Many companies ultimately choose multiple location inventory software because it’s designed for tracking inventory across different sites. This allows each location to track its inventory independently while creating one centralized, robust inventory list for every item the business owns.
No matter what solution you choose, ensure you select a system that helps your employees communicate, maintain consistent inventory standards, and update inventory records in one centralized place.
2. Train employees—and ask them to create inventory lists for each site
Once you’ve picked a system, it’s time for each location to inventory what they have on hand. But before you do this, you’ll need to train employees at every location where inventory is stored.
Begin by ensuring each employee has what they need to succeed: the correct information, the equipment they need to be precise, and organized and adequately labeled inventory. Once they’re comfortable with the new inventory management system, have them create a robust inventory list filled with details, pictures, and notes about every item.
If you’re using inventory management software, you can mark the location of each item by creating a custom field, adding a tag, or creating a folder or subfolder for a given location. If you are using a spreadsheet, you can create a custom column to track location or create a tab for each location.
Many companies utilize an inventory app that allows employees to scan barcodes and QR codes affixed to inventory to make this process less time-consuming. When an item is sold, consumed, or transferred to another location, employees can simply scan the item and update its location or drag it to a new folder. This also creates a detailed item history in case questions come up later.
3. Use location-based reports to inform decisions
Now that your team has an inventory management system to keep up-to-date inventory records, you can lean on those records to make better business decisions. From placing complete orders to forecasting demand to creating an accurate balance sheet, good inventory records can make just about every aspect of running your business easier.
Plus, if you’re using an inventory app, you’ll be able to include high-resolution pictures, and even barcodes and QR codes, in your reports. You can use these reports for everything from meetings with clients and vendors to end-of-year inventory counts.
4. Ensure the right ordering protocols are in place
Now that you’ve updated your inventory system, you always know what you’ve got in stock at every location, making placing orders a breeze.
But to ensure your ordering process is as efficient and economical as possible, you’ll want to create universal reordering guidelines. To do this, determine who will be placing the orders, when they will be placed, and how they’ll be placed with a list of approved suppliers. Finally, don’t forget to account for delivery requirements like minimum order quantity and lead time when deciding when to place orders.
You’ll also want to verify that whoever is reordering is using the right demand forecasting methods to predict inventory needs. After all, the whole crux of inventory control is covering enough inventory to satisfy demand without wasting cash carrying stock your business just doesn’t need.
To help prevent costly stockouts, you should clarify each item’s reorder point. If you’re using an inventory app like Sortly, you can set low stock alerts to automatically remind you any time a given item falls below a custom-set safety stock threshold.
5. Learn how to search your inventory database at any time to locate products
Whether you are tracking inventory on a document, a spreadsheet, or within an inventory app, you’ll need a searchable inventory database. After all, you should be able to locate an item and review each and every detail about it within seconds.
If you choose to use multiple location inventory software, you’ll be able to quickly collaborate with your team, even if they’re in another location or working remotely. Plus, they’ll no longer need to pick up the phone and call another warehouse—employees can locate items and review critical details about them independently and on-demand.
6. Perform audits and retrain when necessary
Even the most organized businesses need to take exhaustive physical inventory from time to time. Usually, this is in the form one of one complete, end-of-year inventory count. These counts are the perfect time to get organized, compare actual inventory to recorded inventory, and look for any discrepancies or patterns at each of your company’s storage locations.
Even if your audits look good at every location, this is the perfect time to retrain employees on multi-site inventory management. After all, your inventory records are only as good as the team managing them, so keeping your employees focused, consistent, and updated on new best practices is always a good use of resources.
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Sortly is a top-rated inventory management solution designed specifically for businesses that stock inventory across multiple locations. And with crucial features like barcode and QR code scanning, customizable item details, a flexible folder system, and in-depth reporting, it’s easy to zoom in on inventory by site or take a more comprehensive look at the big picture.
Ready to get your inventory organized? Start today with a free, two-week trial of Sortly.