No one was using the supply chain management system!!

One morning, an employee mentioned there were rumors that the port would be closed due to a dockworkers strike. I asked if anyone knew how much material we had coming in. No one did. I asked if anyone knew how much was actually at the dock. No one did. I asked how much stock have we paid for that hasn’t been delivered yet. No one knew.

I was shocked – no one knew what was going in our supply chain. It was all there in the system but no one bothered to look. Clearly they didn’t look at the data everyday. I asked why they weren’t using it.

They said it was all wrong and has been since the day the system was set up, so no one uses it. I asked how they managed the supply chain and they said they’d call friends at the dock and ask what they have, then call the customs agent and ask what is coming in. I asked if this meant our physical stock records on the computer were wrong and they said yes.

Our raw materials on hand quadrupled while our sales had only doubled; I had no idea why

The team said we needed a bigger warehouse. The stock of raw materials was growing as we grew and the finished orders were piling up in the loading bay. We had racks from floor to ceiling.

I’m a great believer in analytics, so I started to find the data I needed to see what was going on. When we rented the warehouse, it was supposed to handle three times our existing volumes, so something was wrong. I looked at the relationship between raw materials and sales and this showed that we had increased the raw materials on hand by four times and sales had only doubled. But it was the finished stock that really scared me. We had 12 weeks stock on hand – our bench mark was 45 days. How had this happened?

I knew we were using more cash than we planned and this explained why. Before I lost my temper with the team I realized it was my responsibility for finding these things and asking the right questions. I was distracted by other parts of the business and not paying enough attention to the inventory and stock.

Even after we did an audit and installed security cameras, we couldn't figure out why stock was missing

Over the past few months we have been running out of stock of certain components. This held up production and cost us a great deal of money. No one seemed to know why this was happening so we had an audit.

What we found was shocking. We were running out of stock because someone was stealing the key components. The invoices showed they were delivered, the internal stock systems said they were on the shelves, but when went to the shelves, they weren’t there. There were only two people in the warehouse. We didn’t know what to do because we couldn’t accuse someone without evidence.

We installed security cameras but didn’t see anything suspicious. We were still missing stock- in fact we lost over $10k of components. We couldn’t figure out what was going on so we finally called the police. They sent someone from the fraud squad who looked at all the records. She said nothing was stolen. The fact was it never arrived at the factory. The invoices were false and one of the warehouse men, who was in on the fraud, recorded them as real and then entered them into the system.

The warehouse man was arrested as was the sales rep at the supplier. It turns out they were cousins and had done this at other companies.

Corruption: He said if I gave him $150, he would let me go

All the raw materials for my company come from abroad. We collect them ourselves after they clear customs. Yesterday, I went to make the normal pick up and had all the documentation on hand. A customs agent I don’t know started asking me questions and wanted to open some crates. This has never happened before.

He told me he couldn’t release the goods because of issues with the “paperwork.” I asked what I needed to do and he told me to start again. This would take weeks and we would run out of materials. I asked if there was a way to amend the existing paperwork. He said no, but that if I gave him $150, he could let me go.

I didn’t know what to do. Was this a trick to catch me offering a bribe? Or was he telling the truth and somehow we had messed up the paperwork this time?

My business is always short of cash

My business is always short of cash. I worry about it all the time but I do not want to give away any more equity when the business is still in the development phase.

I hate asking customers to submit their payment. Some are more than 2 months overdue, but I just can’t bring myself to go sit in their offices to collect cash. I always pay my bills at 30 days because it is the right thing to do.

I have too much stock but I do not want to reduce my margins and profits.

I had to buy new computers because the others were two years old.

I could have/should have delayed the order for a new machine.

The importance of inventory and cash management

After leaving business school I moved back to my home country and started a retail business with money from family and friends. I had taken classes in finance, operations, retail management, and two in entrepreneurship and had done very well. I felt well-prepared.

I opened a bank account in my home country and started importing stock from the US and China. Sales went really well for the first 6 months. Then the economy started to slow and my sales also slowed. Inventory started to build up and the store began to look bad with stock from different seasons and odd sizes and colors piled up.

I had 30-day credit with my suppliers but I had to place minimum order quantities. The rent had to be paid at the first of each month and the shop staff were paid every two weeks. I did not want to reduce the margins as this would affect my profits even though everyone else in the shopping area where offering 40-60% sale discounts.

I always planned to have 45 days of cash in the bank but with slow sales, suppliers’ payments, salaries and rent, I found myself caught short. I had piles of stock but less than a week’s worth of cash and I could not pay the next month’s rent. By the time I decided to cut my margins and liquidate my stock, it was too late. I had to borrow more money from my family just to stay afloat. It took me 10 weeks to recover and over 6 months to get my credit line back at the bank.