Managing inventory can be rough. And stressful. And lonely. It’s like one big ball of stress, frustration, and the feeling of “I-can’t-take-this-anymore” rolled into one cute little package filled with Patterson tootsie rolls and snacks from manufacturers and vendors. When I go into practices for consultations and I talk to inventory managers or veterinarians, I can just feel the frustration. The feeling of just being absolutely lost, wondering if you’re doing the right thing by your patients or your practice, worried if you are keeping too much or not enough on hand, or even just being over all the shenanigans that happen. The endless tidying, noticing that there are four open of the same product, product x is on backorder, and Fifi needed their special order yesterday. I can just feel the frustrated energy pouring into our discussions because I’ve been in the exact same spot.
I see so many inventory managers just wanting to throw the towel in and just quit. But the guilt and the allegiance to our practice or our patients always brings us back. Let’s all take a pledge right now that we are going to advocate for ourselves, and our patients, and get the training we need (and DESERVE) to run our hospital’s inventory system efficiently and profitable. I know that you are here because you know there is a better way, and you have the motivation and determination to transform your inventory beast… so let’s do it together!
I want to tell you all about my 3 secrets to running inventory efficiently. This doesn’t get into the intricacies of the systems and the processes, but this is a first little bite-size chunk to get you thinking about something that I truly believe in; continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is the notion that we are always improving and always striving to the find a better way. It doesn’t have to be some huge revelation, it could be as simple as changing where the label printer is to make it more efficient during prescription filling times. But, the idea of continuous improvement goes against what we’ve heard for so long in the veterinary industry; the phrase “well, it’s always been done this way.” Stop right there. That phrase drives me crazy-town. I believe in the idea of continuous improvement and always striving and never settling. Always striving for our hospitals, advocating for our patients, our team members or OURSELVES. With the spirit of continuous improvement in mind, let’s get started on the 3 secrets of running inventory efficiently.
3 Secrets to Managing Inventory:
The first secret to managing inventory is to stay ahead of the curve, and anticipating the needs of the hospital. This goes above and beyond setting up reorder points and using reorder quantities. This is all about preparing for the abnormal and planning for the unexpected. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but stay with me. Staying ahead of the curve looks different for every hospital. But, I’ll give you some examples. If you’re a general practice hospital, maybe you might have a yearly calendar with all of the “seasons”; 4th of July, the start of flea/tick/heartworm, or even major “eating” holidays to make sure you are fully stocked on barium, injectable metronidazole, cerenia, or low-fat food. So that whenever there peak times for certain products, you know ahead of time to think about increasing reorder points or quantities. This may be different for different areas of the country, but think seasonal allergy season (extra cytopoint or RC hydrolyzed protein food), or maybe you live in an outdoorsy area and need to stock extra rattlesnake antivenom or rattlesnake and leptospirosis vaccinations. Think to yourself; what “seasons” does my hospital experience? What could I take note of and evaluate reorder points during certain peak or lull times?
Another aspect of staying ahead of the curve is in relation to your veterinarians. If you have a specialty surgeon that comes to your hospital; how can you be prepared for their arrival? Do you need to have special supplies or equipment on hand? Does your autoclave work for this equipment or will you need to use a gas sterilizer? Also, if you have regular DVM go on vacation for several weeks, do they prefer specific items or need special tools that may not be needed during this time? Can you decrease the amount ordered to make room for other things that may be used much more frequently by the relief veterinarian? Does the amount of inventory costs need to decrease during that time to account for the decrease in revenue while a DVM is on vacation? These are all questions to keep in the back of your mind as you are ordering or working on reorder points and quantities. Staying ahead of the curve can really impact the flow of the hospital and ensure that you have allocated your efforts and resources appropriately.
My second secret is to use your vendors! It is incredibly helpful to create relationships with your vendor, manufacturer, and distributor inside and outside sales representatives. A quality representative will believe whole-heartedly that your success is their success, and they’ll want to help you succeed with your inventory and business goals. They can also help to give you the inside scoop on backorder products and when the estimated time of arrival is. They can also work closely with your hospital to find alternatives or other solutions.
I talk with many representatives on a daily basis that are invested in you and your organization. They want to see you build a profitable hospital with an efficiently-run inventory system. Seeing things first hand, they truly understand how important inventory management can be and how quickly costs can get out of control. They can be a great resource! Also, be sure to learn about any large promotions that might pertain to your high volume goods. For example, typically there is a large promotion in the Spring for large animal vaccines and flea, tick, and heartworm products. This can create extra cost savings for the hospitals, so it’s a great idea to follow up with your reps to find out when the big promotions are. Also, if you purchase through your main distributor (ie MWI Animal Health, Patterson, Midwest, etc.) they can offer split billing on an invoice. Not only will that give you promotional pricing, but you can break it up into bite-size chunks and spread it out over a requested time period.
Additionally, many manufacturers (if not all) have a budget to help hospitals! So if you have an event or want to do a giveaway, check with your reps, they may be able to provide you with promotional materials, free product, or money towards food or drinks at your event. I’ve also had reps sponsor me to help clinics with their inventory, or even an ABC analysis and the Count Me In(ventory) course. Inside and outside sales representatives can be a great resource for you and your hospital, so I’ll always recommend creating a great relationship with them!
My third secret is to delegate (to elevate) and standardize your inventory system. There are SO many tasks that inventory managers have to complete on a regular basis it can be helpful to delegate some tasks to other team members. Maybe you need help counting during routine cycle counts? Maybe you need help breaking down all the boxes and recycling shipping materials? Maybe you need a department leader to monitor levels of supplies or equipment for you? It can be helpful to delegate certain tasks so that you can focus on tasks that NEED you, ie ordering, reconciling controlled substances, or budgeting. But, on the flip side, if you are delegating, there MUST be a standardized, written protocol for completing this procedure. Standard operation procedures are a great way to establish written guidelines that must be followed. It’s not helpful if you delegate a task, but then it’s done incorrectly so you have to redo it anyway! I know it might sound like a pain, but creating standard operating procedures will allow you to set expectations and give direction for regular day to day operations. It will allow you the freedom to focus on what really matters and alleviate unnecessary stress and panic. Sounds like a win/win, right? (If you’re looking for a 99% done-for-you policy manual, check it out HERE). Think to yourself; what tasks can I delegate to another team member? Is there a task where my time might be spent more wisely? What procedures always seem to get messed up? How can I deliever set expectations to make things run much more smoothly?
If you are interested in learning more strategies and ideas on managing inventory, check out my FREE email course all about strategies for controlling inventory chaos, and how to more efficiently manage and navigate team members getting on board with proper inventory management. I will email you a different lesson every day to nagivate the (sometimes terrifying) waters of inventory management. You can learn more and get started with the smart.inventory course HERE.