Stock control – the activity of keeping tabs on the goods into, out of and “on the shelves” of a shop or warehouse – is one of the key management activities of any commercial operation. Whether it’s a simple manual system appropriate for a small operation or a fully automated inventory control system such as those employed by the largest on-line trading companies, it’s vital for any business’ commercial success to ensure that it has a strong handle on stock levels, usage and re-ordering.
Why stock control matters: For any business with changing levels of stock or inventory, the reasons for ensuring that a system of tracking and control is in place are no different for a small retail operation or a large warehouse. These reasons include;
- Ensuring shelves are stocked or ready-use components are immediately available for production
- Identifying when an item has been bought or used
- Replenishing stock on the shelf or factory floor
- Reordering from suppliers
- Signalling trends for future management use
And at the heart of any stock or inventory control system is clear and correct product labelling. At its simplest, label printing in the stock room allows staff to identify the location of stock, the right item to pick, shows which items should be used first and can be used to give a “heads up” of low stock levels to prompt re-ordering. Commercial label printing equipment which can cope with such a straightforward manual system is readily available, simple to use and can make much more commercial sense than buying labels ready-printed from external suppliers.
Barcode label printing is the next logical step towards a more automated system, and the cost of moving to a computerised inventory control system using bar code labels is now at such a low level that it makes sense even for the smallest operation. Companies like QuickLabel Systems, for example, produce a range of customised label printing machines tailored to the need of any computerised system from the most basic to highly sophisticated centralised management information systems.
The case for business advantage: A well-organised stock control and management system can have significant business advantages for any company. Even fairly modest improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of stock control can bring business and financial rewards which greatly exceed the investment in time and capital expenditure on improving stock control practices. Advantages such as ensuring that stock is always available at the right level without tying up capital in rarely used or overstocked items speak for themselves. This recent article in the Guardian newspaper gives one such example in the case of a large UK company.
Simple changes such as the use of colour label printing to help with at-a-glance stock identification or a pictorial representation of “what’s in the box” would be one obvious example. The use of even a basic barcode label printer to produce information on sales patterns and customer behaviour can be a powerful enough incentive in itself to justify the relatively small investment required in moving from a manual system to a simple IT based approach.
While it’s still possible to contract out labelling for stock control purposes, there are so many advantages to bringing the process in-house which, when coupled with the modest investment required make a very powerful business case for producing your own stock control labelling.
About the author: Paul Francis is a management consultant specialising in helping small firms achieve their business potential. An avid sailing enthusiast, he now lives in a small village on the west coast of Scotland, accepting that frequent trips away are a small price to pay for bringing up a family in such a beautiful environment.