A lack of resilience in supply chain management has been cited by over 90% of business leaders as a focus of their investment plans in the next two years. Only 21% of supply chain leaders believe they have a highly resilient supply chain management process today. These views are natural after shifts in the global supply chain caused by world events.
All businesses with multiple inventory locations – even those that identify as small or medium-sized – must learn to manage inventory to scale. The process presents significant challenges, including communication inconsistencies, sluggish demand forecasting, and poor inventory control. Yet, multi-location management can take a business’s profit margins to the next level by reducing costs and improving its workflow.
To stay competitive, modern businesses should adapt their multi-location supply chain with inventory management software. By doing so, they gain access to real-time inventory visibility, fulfillment features, scalability, and a more predictable workflow while tackling the many challenges that come with additional inventory locations.
Advantages of multiple inventory locations
Managing multiple inventory locations presents many advantages to businesses that can scale successfully, including:
- Reduced shipping costs
- Faster deliveries
- Lean inventory and manufacturing
- Market expansion and specialization
- Supply chain optimization
- Risk management
- Better customer relationships
- Increased environmental compliance
The principles of lean manufacturing mean that if a customer would not be willing to pay for a part of a fulfillment process, that process can be removed to increase efficiency. By streamlining fulfillment across multiple locations, inventory management software encourages the benefits of lean manufacturing, which includes faster deliveries and lower shipping and delivery costs.
Additionally, this process frees employees from wasting time that would be better spent implementing innovative strategies and improving quality control at all levels of the supply chain.
Challenges in multi-location inventory management
Despite these advantages, expanding to multiple inventory locations comes with many challenges. Workflows that sufficiently manage the records, costs, and fulfillment processes of a business with one warehouse may not work as effectively once other locations have been introduced. Before expanding your inventory locations, consider these common challenges that businesses face:
- Fluctuating supply and demand
- Logistics and transportation
- Supply chain costs
- Tracking and visibility
- Communication and coordination
- Effective record-keeping
- Real-time visibility
New research shows that overstocks and stockouts cost retailers $1.993 trillion every year, accounting for 6.2% of all U.S. retail sales. Businesses that manage multiple inventory locations are more vulnerable to these losses due to the challenges of coordinating their logistics, forecasts, costs, visibility, and more.
An effective inventory control system maintains visibility throughout the supply chain, which allows businesses to react quickly to supply and demand forecast changes while cutting costs in each step of their fulfillment process.
Strategies for effective multi-location inventory management
Versatile inventory control management systems enhance a business’s infrastructure, accounting for the challenges of having multiple inventory locations without disrupting the existing workflow. It does so by providing real-time visibility, streamlining warehouse operations, optimizing demand forecasting, and prioritizing communication.
Technology for real-time visibility and tracking
A lack of real-time visibility presents a major challenge to multi-location inventory management since knowing stock quantity and availability is key to preventing costly overstocks and stockouts. Having multiple inventory locations only compounds those challenges.
Inventory tracking software puts automated stock quantity figures at a business’s fingertips. By using a barcode system, this software can scan merchandise and equipment in and out at multiple inventory locations, updating the counts on the system so that everyone always knows the amount and location of everything in stock. Businesses can view the location information in real-time based on any metric they prefer, including:
- Creation date
- Serial number
- Date received
- Country of origin
- Batch number
- Tag number
- Expiration date
This visibility is not limited to merchandise. Businesses with assets – including tools, machinery, and other supplies – can locate and track them in real-time with the same software. This allows managers to oversee their assets, ensure the right workers can access them when they need to, and account for them across multiple warehouse locations.
Streamline warehouse operations
Warehouse management can strain a business’s resources with inventory tracking and order fulfillment processes. But, streamlining your operations through a single system allows businesses to optimize their warehouse workflows at each location while efficiently integrating them into their supply chain using these features:
- Automated inventory management: By evolving beyond manual inventory tracking methods, businesses can keep more accurate product and order data. All the information that managers need to track is now in one protected place, reducing the resources required to obtain, store, and secure inventory records.
- Real-time inventory tracking: The ability to scan products and assets in and out of warehouses using an automated barcode system gives businesses real-time visibility no matter how many locations they have to manage. Managers can streamline the tasks assigned to each location by always knowing the location and amount of each product.
- Reordering system: Cost thresholds can be difficult to track with different vendors and products, making budget management more guesswork than strategy. A warehouse management system allows managers to set minimum order quantities, unit requirements, and cost thresholds so that the system automatically reorders products from specific vendors without additional input.
When optimized, this system takes a significant strain off a business’s ordering time and reduces the risk of stockouts.
Demand forecasting with predictive analytics
Any business with a supply chain knows how valuable demand forecasting can be. Particularly when supply and demand trends change quickly. While experienced data analysts can help a business stay ahead, businesses that can consolidate consumer expectations and market trends into a single system have a better chance of making accurate predictions that lead to effective strategic insights.
Technology tools that provide real-time analytics for inventory forecasting can give managers and their teams valuable insights, such as:
- Current stock levels
- Stock capacity
- Sales data
- Market trends
- Market history
- Demand forecasts, including seasonal
- Forecasting periods
- Customer insights
An inventory tracking system that utilizes machine learning and AI can analyze historical trends and predict the market better than manual tracking methods. Machine learning can take known trends into account while examining the relationships between rapidly changing data sets and the current trajectory of the market. With the right input, a forecasting system that includes an AI learning algorithm can predict trends faster and more accurately than older methods, freeing workers to focus on strategic insights instead of analytics.
Communication is a crucial part of managing a supply chain, particularly when multiple inventory locations are involved. Managing different warehouses entails keeping track of assets like tools and equipment, stock shortages and overages, and delivery schedules for each one. Without an optimized communication system, any step of a business’s supply chain can easily be bottlenecked, increasing fulfillment costs and reducing customer satisfaction.
Inventory management software streamlines communication by providing the same information on stock levels, delivery schedules, supplier status, and more to everyone with access, regardless of where they are. This allows managers to align multiple warehouses into the same workflow.
Warehouse management software can be a fantastic tool, but managers still need a practical strategy to optimize communication between multiple locations. Consider these tips:
Utilize strategic task-setting
Warehouse personnel need guidance on how to scan products, check assets in and out, and receive deliveries on time to keep inventory records accurate. When multiple inventory locations are involved, managers need to be strategic about how they clarify their workers’ roles, how they deal with duplication and other errors, and how they communicate with staff at different locations.
Using inventory management software, tasks can be assigned to a certain warehouse, a regional group of storage locations, or an employee category. This sets clear deadlines and objectives for each group of employees based on the business manager’s intentions.
Use real-time analytics
Multi-location inventory management relies on strategic changes to stock levels that reflect changing supply and demand. Real-time analytics enable managers to share data with their team that reflects their current status, regardless of location, as well as consolidate feedback and alerts between teams based on their needs.
Collaboration can be the backbone of any new initiative, particularly when a business has the tools to encourage cross-functional teamwork between different groups or worksites. Versatile inventory management software consolidates company communication into a single system where alerts, directions, and resources can be sent only to those who need them.
Optimizing an inventory management system
Multi-location inventory management can improve a business’s supply chain by reducing costs, improving delivery times, optimizing customer relationships, and more. However, businesses that expand to additional warehouses also inherit new challenges, such as a more difficult communication framework, tracking and visibility deficiencies, and more volatile supply costs.
An inventory management system addresses these challenges by implementing a unified system of visibility and control across multiple locations. These systems can be cloud-based or on-site depending on a business’s needs, but a versatile system comes with key advantages:
- Real-time supply and demand forecasting
- Automated reordering system
- Barcoded inventory system
- Streamlined communication
- Accurate record-keeping
- Improved customer experience
So long as a business recognizes that multi-location management comes with potential disadvantages, it can adequately prepare its fulfillment process for a scaling workflow. A multi-location inventory management system provides the tools that modern businesses need to reap the advantages of expansion without letting their supply chain get overwhelmed by new objectives.