Challenge: Improving the buying process for retail

Customers buy what they can pick from the shop floor or online catalogue. Not what is “on its way from a warehouse” or gathering dust on our stockroom shelf. Stock not available to the customer is therefore waste. A waste of committed money (cash flow concerns and thus an introduction of risk) and a waste of space in our shop stockroom which in turns reduces overall shop floor space and slows staff looking for product.

Because “Buying” is the most critical of the four pillars of retail, it seems the sensible place to work on iterating to gain further improvement. I’m going to challenge ourselves to use 2017 to maximise our buying workflow.

At present we do our buying like any other retailer, we order by supplier when we feel or notice heavy product depletion. Furthermore we “hold” about 1/4 of our stockholding in our stockroom. If it is on the stockroom shelf it has zero chance of being sold. In addition to having a costly quantity of product hanging around, the space used to hold our product could potentially be converted into public shop floor space. For example at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery there is a false wall which conceals our stockroom which is about 8m in length with a depth of 1.4m. If we’re about to improve how we buy, it is possible to push this wall back further and gain that space as public floor space that could be used for 2-4 nesting tables worth £10,000+. The challenge of course is that would reduce our total stockroom space by 2/3.

If we can increase our understanding of what to buy and when this would unlock the potential to carry out operation “shrink the stockroom”.

The upsides would be:

  • move to a new process of ordering “just in time”
  • reduce stockroom size thus freeing up new floor space for customers worth £10,000+
  • reduce “out of stock” scenario by improving the buying process
  • order by need not assumption
  • reduce ordering time across the full year
  • reduce owning costly stock that may not sell which also takes up space
  • maximise available money set aside for buying products that sell
  • reduce time lost by staff who have to hunt around a big stockroom

The first major step forward has been moving to a fully digital ordering process to minimise the steps required for that particular part of the system. We use a combination of Shopify reporting and google spreadsheets to do this. Our internal system for generating purchase orders currently prevents us using automated ordering directly to the supplier.

I think the next step will be to understand the rhythm of how often each product is sold AND what minimum order size suppliers can accept.

Myself and the team will write about our successes and challenges throughout the year. It won’t be easy but nothing worth doing is!

About Zak Mensah

I'm Head of Transformation for Bristol Culture, the best Bristol City Council Service. We welcome over 1 Million visitors each year. My job is to help the service and you make connections and DO the work that needs doing.

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