Get a Handle on Inventory

Overview

Here's a video discussing these topics (along with PDF and PPT of the slides):

Improve how you manage inventory

One of the most common goals we hear from customers is that they want to get a handle on inventory. This is usually said with a sigh and a shake of the head. Inventory is not a fun problem to solve. It's just hard.

One reason it's hard is that "inventory" means different things to different people and in different contexts. There are many different pieces to the inventory puzzle:

  • Purchasing and receiving slabs (plus sinks, glue, blades, etc.)
  • Tracking which slabs go with which jobs
  • Accounting for the value of slabs purchased, on hand, and consumed
  • Managing photographs of slabs for programming digital equipment or sharing with customers (via your website, facebook, quotes, or a "virtual customer experience")
  • Dealing with slab theft, slab breakage, and tracking errors (people usually call this "reconciling" ... but if you think about it, this is why you reconcile)
  • Dealing with remnants (including when to charge full price vs discount)

Any one of these problems can be frustrating, and when you add them together, they can seem insurmountable. But if you tackle each one individually, you can make steady improvements and eventually get them all under control.

Different tools for different problems

Tools can help, but there's no magic tool that addresses all of these inventory problems. Moraware addresses some key inventory problems, but there are some types of inventory problems that Moraware doesn't solve at all. In addition, a fabricator doing 3 kitchens per week has very different needs from a fabricator doing 3 per day or one doing 30 per day.

Many of our customers use the standard edition of JobTracker plus a spreadsheet to address these issues. Some use JobTracker Inventory Edition (which  costs more). Some use JobTracker Inventory Edition plus additional products from our partners. It all depends on the problem you're trying to solve.

Special ordering slabs and managing a small amount of stock inventory

The most basic inventory problem is making sure that you have the right slabs on hand to fabricate each customer's countertops. You don't necessarily need JobTracker Inventory Edition for this. Instead, you can start with JobTracker (Standard Edition) plus a spreadsheet.

Use a form to track what material is needed for a job, and you can use views to see which jobs need material to be ordered. Most JobTracker users start with a  form that includes material details. Here's an example of using a checklist and views for tracking jobs that need material ordered.

When you special order material, you might not even need to track it in a spreadsheet - the most important thing is to write the job name or number on the slab when it arrives (or when it's selected) so that you know which slabs belong to which jobs.

For managing a relatively small amount of stock inventory (say, up to about 300 slabs), you can use a spreadsheet to track the slabs you have on hand and whether they've been sold or not. If you don't have a spreadsheet yet, start with our  FREE inventory toolkit. Again, be sure to use a marking crayon or sharpie to write the job number on slabs when customers select them.

You don't necessarily have to overthink remnants at this stage, either. Many fabricators simply group remnants together in a "bargain" area of the slab yard. Since the original slab has been purchased and consumed, you can think of these remnants as having a value approaching zero - so it doesn't need to be tracked. Let customers rifle through the remnants, and if they find something they want, you can give them a good price and be happy that you got the material "free" for their job.

Outgrowing your inventory spreadsheet

One thing we've discovered over the years is that  technology can't solve a people problem. This always manages to come up when discussing inventory. That's why it's usually better to start with our FREE inventory toolkit and make consistent people processes for ordering and receiving before upgrading to JobTracker Inventory Edition.

That said, here are some signs that it might be time to upgrade to JobTracker Inventory Edition:

  • You've grown to the point where your tracking spreadsheet is unwieldy (we typically see this happening when you have more than 300 full slabs or so in stock).
  • You've grown to the point where you have an employee dedicated to managing inventory
  • You've grown to the point where the value of your remnants is greater than the cost of tracking them (and you want your employees to manage which remnants get used instead of having your customers pick through them).

If that's you, then we should probably have a conversation about JobTracker Inventory Edition.

JobTracker Inventory Edition helps you do three things well:

  • Order and receive slabs to get them into the system
  • Identify which slabs go with which jobs and "retire" consumed slabs from inventory when a job activity is completed
  • Track usable remnants

Note the reference to slabs above - JobTracker Inventory Edition was designed for tracking unique, expensive items like stone slabs or solid surface sheets. If you're using it for slabs, you can use it for sinks, too, but it's often not worth the trouble to track sinks. Some people even track things like glue kits with it, but it's probably not worth your effort to do so.

Job Tracker Inventory Edition  is simply not a fit for tracking anything that's not associated with a job. So don't try to use it for blades or toilet paper or anything like that. Your accounting system (e.g., QuickBooks) is a far better choice if you need to track those kinds of purchases.

Perhaps surprisingly, JobTracker Inventory Edition also isn't a great fit for managing materials like tile or even laminate. Companies typically think about these products in ways that make them quite different from stone. JobTracker Inventory Edition is designed for expensive and unique materials like slabs (or solid surface sheets) that are predominantly consumed when a job activity (like Fabrication or Cut) is completed.

Reconciling

At some regular interval (typically monthly or quarterly), it's important to reconcile your inventory. Ultimately, that means comparing all the slabs you have in your system (JobTracker Inventory Edition or a spreadsheet) with all the slabs you have in real life. When you find slabs in real life that aren't in the system, you enter them. When you have slabs in the system that can't be found in real life, you figure out why (breakage? theft? process breakdown?). 

To reconcile in JobTracker Inventory Edition, you create an  inventory detail view, print it, then walk through your slabs checking off each one. Make a note of any slabs you don't find on your printout, and when you're done, you address the discrepancies.

Reconciling faster

Reconciling from a printout works OK, but many customers want the ability to scan barcodes in order to speed up the reconciliation process, especially if you have several hundred. We don't offer that feature directly, but some of our partner companies have built software that adds barcode scanning to JobTracker Inventory Edition. If you are interested in these solutions, we suggest you contact DataBridge Integrations, Fabricator's Choice, or 7th Gear - details can be found on our partner page.

Asking financial questions about your inventory

JobTracker Inventory Edition does not replace your accounting system. In general, JobTracker Inventory Edition helps you with  operational inventory, not financial inventory. For example, even though you can print out purchase orders from JobTracker, you'll want to track payment of those purchase orders within your accounting system.

That said, there are some financial questions that JobTracker Inventory Edition can help with. You can create reports for  purchase orders and allocated material to find out which products or colors are selling well.  

If you accurately track the cost of what you pay for your slabs in JobTracker Inventory Edition (not everyone does; it's not required), then you can also find out the  current value of the slabs you have on hand with the help of Excel. Note that you can't track the value of unserialized items at all, and you can only find the momentary value of your serialized items (you can't say what the value was at the end of last month, only now). That means JobTracker is not a good tool for managing your balance sheet.

Managing Visual Inventory

There are some problems JobTracker doesn't address at all, and managing  visual inventory is one of them. You can add a picture file to a JobTracker serial number, but the experience isn't visual - you'd have to open the file to see the picture. 

Software tools like  SlabSmith address these problems. SlabSmith helps you create and manage digital slabs. It can also help you publish your slab images to your website. 

Many of our customers use both JobTracker Inventory Edition and SlabSmith, since they solve completely different problems. Some larger fabricators find it useful to synchronize the two pieces of software. There are tools from DataBridge Integrations and Fabricator's Choice that can help with that.  Contact them for more information.

CounterGo doesn't address inventory

Moraware  CounterGo is designed for doing one thing well: making stone or solid surface countertop quotes. Since material is part of the sale, CounterGo helps you communicate to your customers what they can buy. As you'd expect, you can enter ad hoc colors right on the quote, and you can create a detailed price list of all the types and colors of material you sell.

CounterGo is only for selling; it does NOTHING related to your purchasing of the material or managing specific slabs. Those are simply not problems it addresses in any way. CounterGo doesn't even care about your cost for slabs - it's focused on the price you charge customers.

Notably, there's no relationship between the material types you sell in CounterGo and the actual materials you manage in JobTracker Inventory Edition. They are completely independent sets of data managed completely separately. (You can use a spreadsheet as a "pivot" to copy colors between lists as  shown here, but even that's fairly cumbersome.)

There is one place where CounterGo is concerned with specific slabs: you can  add a slab picture to a quote. This is a light-weight feature - CounterGo doesn't manage a list of slabs or pictures - it just lets you add a picture from your computer. There's not currently a way to pull that picture from JobTracker Inventory or SlabSmith. You have to upload it directly from your computer or tablet when you make a quote.

In short, there's currently no way to integrate inventory with CounterGo. All you can do is upload pictures from your file system as needed for each quote.

Sell your inventory with RemnantSwap

Moraware has one more inventory-related tool:  RemnantSwap. This is a FREE website that lets you post your slabs online (of any size, not just remnants) so that others can buy them. Many fabricators purchase and sell leftover pieces this way. It's also useful for letting your builder/dealer customers know what you have on hand.

There's no built-in sync between RemnantSwap and JobTracker Inventory Edition. Instead, it's designed for copy and paste. In fact, many fabricators copy and paste their spreadsheet or an  inventory detail view on a daily basis so that builders/dealers can see their stock on hand.

Next steps

Again, "inventory" means different things to different people; it's a catch-all term for lots of challenging problems. Some of those problems Moraware helps with, and some we don't. 

We even hear about new problems all the time. For example, a customer recently noted that fabricators often change the names of colors to make it a tiny bit harder for customers to shop around. That's an interesting problem, but we don't really help with it (you can change  attribute values in JobTracker Inventory Edition or color names in CounterGo, but there's no "master list" that relates new names to old names). Maybe someday we - or one of our partners - will.

There are now several companies in our industry who address inventory-related problems, including Moraware, our  partners, saw manufacturers, SlabSmith, and various competitors. It is unlikely that you'll find the perfect end-to-end solution that handles every inventory problem, and some problems are still unsolved (managing pieces after they've been fabricated is a particularly interesting one, especially to larger fabricators). The way to insure these problems get solved eventually is to talk to software companies like Moraware. Tell us about your pain. The only way software companies know what problems need solving is if you speak up ... so talk with all of us. Software development is excruciatingly slow, but it still has to start with a known problem that needs solving.

For most inventory problems, there's a way to make things incrementally better today. Again, the key is to start with the problem. Ask what problem you're trying to solve, how you're addressing it today - what works about your current approach and what doesn't - and what the consequences are if you don't make a change. If you ask those questions, you'll figure out a way to make things at least somewhat better. We're happy to have that conversation with you at any time to see if we can help. Just email us or give us a call.

If you'd like an overview of how inventory works, here you go:

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