“Of course we have that part for you! We’ll grab it from the back.” Five minutes later: “So it looks like we’re all out.” Sound familiar? Chances are you’ve been in this situation, either as a customer or an owner, and know that it can cause setbacks in customer loyalty and sales. If you’re tracking inventory manually or through Excel, mistakes are bound to happen and could get worse as you expand. Upgrading to an inventory management system could make your life easier. These systems keep track of all the items you sell in your business, so you can find everything quickly and restock before something runs out.
There are plenty of options on the market today, so how do you find the right inventory system for your small business? A good fit should have these key features:
Automatic Inventory Restocking
Is a key part or product running low? You don’t want to wait until you miss out on a sale to find out. Some inventory management systems can be set up to automatically restock inventory as soon as it falls below a certain amount.
Compatible With Your Other Software
If you are using other types of business software, ideally your inventory system should be able to sync so the two systems automatically share information. That way you don’t have to waste time transferring data yourself.
For example, if you use accounting software like QuickBooks, can the inventory management system update your tax records after you buy and sell inventory? If you make sales online, can the system track what’s happening on your e-commerce platform? Or if you have a POS system, can your inventory system automatically deduct the item after the transaction?
Does the inventory system offer mobile access, or does it only work on a desktop? This is particularly important when you’re constantly at work sites. You need to see what your inventory situation looks like as you quote a project and can’t wait until you get back to your office.
Inventory Trend Analysis
Your inventory management system could do more than tell you how much you have left of each product — it can also predict the future. Some programs also offer data analysis based on your inventory to help you make better business decisions. For example, it can track your historic sales to predict when you will get a surge of purchases, so you can buy extra and prepare better for your peak season.
A user-friendly inventory management system should be easy to navigate, load information quickly and be simplistic, i.e. it’s not overloaded with features you don’t need.
The system should also include new user training. If you’ve never used an inventory management system, getting started can be intimidating. See what kind of training resources each system provides. Do they offer videos and directions for new users? Can you reach out to a live person for help?
Now, what user-friendly means to some people might not be the same to you. The only way to know for sure whether you like a program is to try it out. The good news is many programs offer a free initial trial so you can experiment for the right fit.
Will Grow With Your Business
When you first sign up for a small business inventory system, you might be able to get by with a low-cost, simple system. But as you expand, your tech has got to keep up. Will you be able to upgrade the system? If not, you and your staff will have to relearn a whole new system someday in the future.
Some points to consider include: will the system allow you to expand to new locations, add new product lines or allow more users?
The amount you spend depends on how many features you need. As you can probably guess, the more advanced inventory systems are also the most expensive. Capterra offers a list of free inventory systems, which might be a good place to start.
Less expensive small business systems will run you about $100 a month but expect to pay more as you add users, product lines, and other features. A small business loan could be a financing option if you’re not in a position to disrupt your cash flow.
With a quality inventory management system, you’ll never have to worry about misplacing or forgetting products again. Now, if only inventory systems could exist for everything else we need to keep track of in life…