6 Steps: How to Manage Inventory Effectively for Your Busy Season

Are you prepared for the holiday season? With these busy months right around the corner, you can expect a spike in demand, making it even more integral to having a solid warehouse inventory management system in place.

In this blog post, we'll be sharing six proven strategies to assist you with incoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday transactions. These tips can help create more effective inventory management for any busy season, allowing you to improve your inventory processes. Step 1: Sharpen Insight Into Your Inventory 
Step 2: Instill Cross-Functional Discipline 
Step 3: Find the Path of Least Resistance
Step 4: Take a Holistic Approach
Step 5: Evaluate and Introduce Automation
Step 6: Improve your Shipping Process

Listen to the above podcast to hear how Topo Designs simplified their picking and counting processes to handle 4x their daily output in a fraction of the time.

Based in Colorado, Topo Designs produces and sells inclusive apparel for the outdoors. The brand has accelerated in size over the last decade – once a basement operation, they now manage a distribution center, 5 retail locations and a thriving e-commerce channel.

Before RF-SMART, the Topo team was working with manual processes to pick, pack and ship goods to their customers and did not have an Inventory Management solution. However, with scaling order volumes and increased seasonal pressure, the old way of working simply wasn’t cutting it – inefficiency and inaccuracies were scratching away at their customer satisfaction and something had to change. Topo faced three major challenges surrounding their busy season:

  1. They lacked order accuracy and visibility into their open orders
  2. They were manually picking based on a pre-printed 4x6 label
  3. Their delayed processing times resulted in high customer service tickets and lost sales
“We really needed to look at putting together a five-step plan that instilled a growth mindset throughout the organization," explained Matt Williams, Director of Operations and Finance. With scalable efficiency as the end goal, here is how Matt approached Topo’s operational challenges:

Step 1: Sharpen Insight Into Your Inventory

Topo Designs conducted a wall-to-wall count immediately before their NetSuite go-live date. By doing so, they were confident their inventory was accurate and reliable so they could start their ERP journey off on the right foot. To follow this up, Matt implemented a cycle counting program to maintain the integrity of their data in the lead up to the holidays.

Improper counting processes are a gateway to inventory inaccuracy and order fulfilment errors that are the enemy of any successful inventory management program. If you’re interested in improving the way your business counts stock, check out this free Counting Best Practices Guide.

Tip: Ensure your inventory is 100% accurate prior to handing off to your forecast team.

Step 2: Instill Cross-Functional Discipline

A commonly neglected (yet crucial) step is to promote alignment between your warehouse team and other key business areas. If your sales or e-commerce department is actively providing warehouse operations with insight and direction, this will enable your team to be more agile and plan ahead.

Thanks to the inventory accuracy achieved from carrying out Step 1, Topo Designs’ e-commerce team was able to demand plan for the holiday season. By sharing their sales and fulfilment projections with their colleagues in the warehouse, potential errors and inefficiencies could be averted.

Tip: Demand analysis should be at the SKU level (not style).

Step 3: Find the Path of Least Resistance

The demand planning exercise allowed Topo’s team to identify which SKUs would move the fastest during their busy period. From there, they strategized the most effective paths and locations for picking and storing these items. You may have heard of this approach as the “golden zone” – the aim is to maximize inventory accessibility for your pickers, while reducing travel and congestion along the warehouse aisles.

Picking is a complex subject, and there are various ways of doing it. In this recent podcast episode, our experts explore tips, best practices and different use cases to help you decide what would work best for your business.

Tip: Keep the "golden zone" (pictured below) in mind when creating your slotting plan.


Step 4: Take a Holistic Approach

If you’re thinking about streamlining certain inventory processes, be mindful of how the overall flow will change and consider any potential bottlenecks that could arise.

Originally, it took Topo 10 separate scans to pack a single order and get it ready for shipping. This was overly time-consuming and wouldn’t be compatible with the modifications they were making to picking.

To restore balance, they adopted an auto-pack feature. RF-SMART would now enable them to auto-pack an order based on item dimensions and shipping information on the sales order – reducing the number of scans to just two

As you prepare for your busy period, map out your order fulfilment workflow and pinpoint any stages where similar bottlenecks could arise. Work backwards, tweak processes and be holistic in your approach so that your operations are harmonious.

Tip: Work with a hardware professional to ensure your scanners and printers are optimized for your environment.

Step 5: Evaluate and Introduce Automation

Up until now, the warehouse team would use paper pick tickets to navigate through open orders, fulfilling them one by one. This method was not productive or efficient enough for the upcoming holiday. To address this issue, the final step in Matt’s plan for conquering the busy season was to introduce mobile wave picking.

RF-SMART’s Pick Manager solution afforded the business the ability to pick multiple orders in waves or groups, and assign totes for packing along the way. The mobile devices also provided workers with validation at every touchpoint, eliminating errors (as well as paper) and giving them confidence they were picking the right items.

Tip: Utilize totes to make picking and packing easier.

Step 6: Improve your Shipping Process

With an influx in order volume during the holiday season, it's important to proactively prepare so you don't see a rise in incorrect shipments or increased shipping rates. Here are some best practices to help you optimize your shipping process:

  • Create Efficient Workstations: Tailor the physical aspects of your warehouse shipping station to create a more ergonomic, efficient space to improve your shippers' working conditions. This can enhance comfort and facilitate speed of labor.
  • Streamline Rate Shopping: Keep your customers' experience in mind when rate shopping and building shipping rules. Delivery within a specified period of time can turn any purchaser into a loyal customer.
  • Automate Processes: Establish automated rules processes to streamline shipping operations. By doing so, you eliminate the need for complex decisions, often resulting in sticky notes all over your monitors.
  • Decrease Training Time: Spending hours training shippers about the specifics of your shipping preferences, both domestic and international, is costly. This training method can also increase the risk of human error, as processes are often manual.
To adopt these best practices, Feetures uses RF-SMART Shipping to ensure they get orders out the door quickly with the best rate. RF-SMART's no-code rules engine streamlines their processes and decreases their ship time by 85 percent - all while training their shippers in just seconds. 

“We needed a full solution that got us from receiving to the goods leaving out the door, and everything in between. RF-SMART stepped in and gave us that full solution,” said Daniel Roath, Feetures IT Manager.

Tip: Improve your shipping process with an automated shipping solution to reduce time, errors, and training hours.

Results - Same Day Shipping and Increased Efficiency

Black Friday was the final stress test for Topo Designs, for which they were projecting a 300% increase in order volume. Matt’s team had been working with the new program for the past month and were confident they could manage the extra activity with the same staff head count as usual. As a result, the Topo team saw a 30% increase in output efficiency.

“We came in on that Friday, and by midday Sunday, we were already out of orders. We had blasted through everything and we were just waiting, thinking “when are the rest of the orders coming in?” said Matt.

In fact, they were so far ahead that they were shipping orders within the hour during their busiest time of year.

They also saw an 80% decrease in customer experience tickets because their orders were shipping accurately and on time.

If you typically struggle with the busy season and want expert, tailored advice for enhancing your inventory processes, be sure to check out the podcast episode or speak to our team.

Speak to Our Team