Inventory Management for the Fashion Industry

In the fashion industry, Inventory Control or Stock Control can be broadly defined as "the activity of checking & monitoring an inventory level".   The concept is important for retail clothing stores, wholesale distribution warehouses, as well as trim & garment factories.   Maintaining accurate record of inventory is important at all stages along the supply chain.  If a company owns product, the business owner must have accurate details regarding the inventory that they own.  For example, if you own a t-shirt shop, you certainly want to know how many t-shirts you own in each color or size.  If you don’t know how many tees you own, it is impossible to properly manage the business.  All activity required to maintain a proper count of product is part of the businesses inventory control management process.

Stock management is the function of understanding the stock mix of a company and the different demands on that stock. The demands are influenced by both external and internal factors and are balanced by the creation of purchase order requests to keep supplies at a reasonable or prescribed level.

Fortunately, the apparel industry does not have to use pencil & paper or an abacus to keep count of our inventory.  Thank goodness for modern technology.

Stock Control Systems (software)

An inventory control system or a computerized inventory system is a process for managing and locating objects or materials.  In common usage, the term may also refer to just the software components.  Most clothing companies utilize some sort of technology driven stock control systems.  However, it is very possible that some factories in third world countries still use more antiquated methods.  Stock control software can be used to include various aspects of controlling the amount of stock on the shelves, stockroom, & warehouse and it can also help manage the process of re-ordering product.  In addition to knowing your stock level, it is also important to know when new product needs to be ordered.

Inventory management software is a computer-based system for tracking inventory levels, orders, sales and deliveries. It can also be used in the manufacturing industry to create a work order, bill of materials and other production-related documents. Companies use inventory management software to avoid product overstock and outages. It is a tool for organizing inventory data that before was generally stored in hard-copy form or in spreadsheets.  It is often associated with and is similar to distribution software, as distributors that can compete with less cash tied up in inventories have a distinct advantage over their competitors.

The implementation of inventory management applications has become a valuable tool for garment & footwear companies looking to more efficiently manage stock.  While the capabilities of applications vary, most inventory management applications give organizations a structured method of accounting for all incoming and outgoing inventory within their facilities. Organizations save a significant amount in costs associated with manual inventory counts, administrative errors and reductions in inventory stock-outs.

Inventory Analysis and Reporting

Reports can be generated by the apparel inventory control software to help predict when to stock up on extra products.  For example, if you own a fashion boutique it is important to understand inventory level requirements for specific times of year.  The holiday selling season would clearly need a higher level of inventory in stock then other times of year.  If the store is selling children’s clothing, it is important to be well stocked for the back to school selling season.  Intelligent software can help you with calendar reminders, etc.

In addition to keeping good record in software, it is also critical to keep proper record in regard to the physical location of your clothes, footwear, or accessories.  What ever product you own, you need to know where it can be found.

Stock control systems help ensure that shelves & racks are appropriately stocked.  If there is too much stock, it ties up a company's money, which is never a good thing to do.  On the other end of the spectrum, you also want to be careful not to own too little inventory.  If your store is selling 10 pairs of size medium pants a week and only 2 pairs of size 2XL pants, it is important to understand that when you place orders for new merchandise for the store you are not buying an equal amount of both sizes.

Inventory optimization is a method of balancing capital investment constraints over a large assortment of stock-keeping units (SKUs) while taking demand and supply volatility into account.

Wireless Barcoder Reader

Modern inventory control systems often rely upon barcodes and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to provide automatic identification of inventory.  To record an inventory transaction, the system uses a barcode scanner or RFID reader to automatically identify the inventory object, and then collects additional information from the operators via fixed terminals (workstations), or mobile computers.  The new trend in inventory management is to label inventory and assets with QR Code, and use smart-phones to keep track of inventory count and movement.  These new systems are especially useful for field service operations, where an employee needs to record inventory transaction or look up inventory stock in the field, away from the computers and hand-held scanners.

If a clothing distributor moves sweaters from one location in the warehouse to another, they can easily scan the cartons and update the inventory control system with a new pallet location.  Using bar codes and bar code readers is helpful.

Business models

Just-in-time Inventory (JIT), Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) and Customer Managed Inventory (CMI) are a few of the popular models being employed by fashion companies looking to have greater stock management control.

JIT is a model that attempts to replenish inventory for organizations when the inventory is required.  The model attempts to avoid excess inventory and its associated costs.  As a result, companies receive inventory only when the need for more stock is approaching.

VMI and CMI are two business models that adhere to the JIT inventory principles.  VMI gives the vendor in a vendor/customer relationship the ability to monitor, plan and control inventory for their customers. Customers relinquish the order making responsibilities in exchange for timely inventory replenishment that increases organizational efficiency.

CMI allows the customer to order and control their inventory from their vendors/suppliers.  Both VMI and CMI benefit the vendor as well as the customer.  Vendors see a significant increase in sales due to increased inventory turns and cost savings realized by their customers, while customers realize similar benefits.

These methods are important to understand if your company is involved with any sort of replenishment program with your customers.

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