Inventory feels like a four-letter word for many bookstores. After all, you only get so many opportunities a year to take inventory. It needs to get done to help ensure you order enough used books to serve your students and there never seems to be an easy way to do it.
But what if there were ways to make everything in your physical inventory process go more smoothly and with fewer problems? Thankfully with these tips in mind, it's easier than you might think to make the inventory count less stressful and time-consuming for you and your staff.
1. Keep inventory managed throughout the year
Sure, that’s easier said than done. But with a proactive approach to inventory and loss management throughout the year, you can ensure things go more smoothly when you get to the inventory season. The less there is to reconcile, the less stress there is on your staff.
It's also really helpful to be able to analyze your inventory and your sales. A warehouse or storeroom management tool can automatically tell you what and when you need to replenish, but can also make shelving even easier by designating where each order should be put away. All in all, features like these can go a long way in streamlining your physical inventory process and making your work easier at the end of the term.
2. Consider adjusting your hours for inventory
Taking care of inventory takes all hands on deck. When those hands are also expected to split their time and help customers on a moment's notice, that can make the inventory work take twice as long and introduce the opportunity for errors and miscommunication.
By closing up shop for the day — or even just a few hours during peak inventory counts, like Towson University Store — you can keep the focus entirely on stock and of other duties or distractions.
This is something most stores do for their big year-end counts, but if you don't, it's never too late to start. The key is to take a look at when the ideal time to close up shop would be. Analyze your sales and inventory to pick a day or point in time where you'd lose the least amount of business. Maybe it's in the middle of the week when walk-ins and sales begin to slump. Maybe you're less busy in the afternoon when fewer students are on campus, so you shut down after lunch and work into the evening to maximize productivity.
(For an example, check out how the University of Utah College Store analyzes its business data to make informed decisions!)
And whether it's your first time closing to count or your hundredth, be sure to communicate the times and dates you'll be closed clearly, repeatedly and in advance to your customers through signage on the door or around the building, social media and email. This will help save shoppers from being taken off-guard by the temporary change in hours.
Pro tip: Towson University Store — firstname.lastname@example.org
The University Store freezes its inventory the third Monday of June. We will count the stockrooms Monday through Thursday afternoon of that week. We will close the store early on Thursday, typically at 4 p.m.
We will then remain closed until the following Monday, while we count the sales floor (Thursday evening through Saturday). Typically in June we are not open on Saturday and Sunday due to slow business and lack of campus activity.
In order to accommodate customers on the Friday that we close to inventory the sales floor, we will pre-count some basic T-shirts and sweatshirts, as well as some clearance apparel and sell them out of our satellite location on Friday. In the past this has aided us in satisfying sales needs for the random tour group or student seeking Towson product.
—Timothy Collins, Associate Director, Towson University Store
3. Good communication (that includes listening)
Even if you've had the same staff for years, it's hard to overstate the importance of positive communication during a stressful time like inventory. Communicate your goals and the work everyone will need to do to accomplish them — this is doubly important if you have newer staff members helping out this year. Be sure your staff are given jobs they can handle and know who they can go to if they have questions or or need help.
Good communication is also important from a working standpoint. This is especially important if your inventory system doesn't allow you to freeze inventory during a count or automatically establish document control, this can lead to redundant work or inaccurate counts — needless to say, that's all stressful for staff. Encourage open communication and make sure rules and expectations are clear among staff as they work so your inventory data stays accurate and tidy.
And remember good communication goes both ways. Be sure to listen if they have any concerns or think the process needs any changes or adjustments to make things go smoothly.
4. Reward your staff for a job well done
Inventory's done and your database has been updated. Once you’re out of the woods, be sure to celebrate your staff’s hard work and determination!
Order some food, take the staff out to happy hour or host an after-hours staff party to relax and enjoy that post-inventory euphoria. If you want to provide a little extra motivation during inventory, you might offer a prize incentive for anyone who can stock the most books or perform another measurable task during inventory and announce the winner after the fact. However you choose to show your gratitude afterwards, your staff will definitely appreciate being appreciated, and it will make them work that much harder next time inventory rolls around.