Needless to say, a bowling alley that doesn’t have enough bowling balls or shoes to go around each night won’t have many repeat customers. Yet when people visit an entertainment venue for an evening out or on a weekend trip, they rarely think about how the company in charge of that venue ensures that when they arrive, the activities advertised are actually ready for use. Good businesses have a quality inventory management system to anchor their supply chain and keep everything running smoothly.
The truth is, however, that a shocking number of businesses still use manual processes to keep track of their inventory, or don’t do so at all, nearly 46 percent of the companies polled in the Wasp State Of Small Business Report admitted as much. Up until recently, one of the most popular entertainment complex chains in the country found themselves dealing with the fallout from a lack of investment in that area.
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With over a dozen locations in the U.S. and U.K. (with more openings in the pipeline) and millions of visitors a year, Topgolf became a household name thanks to its melding of point-scoring golf games with the trappings of other local hangouts, food, drinks, games and more. Yet issues with relying on Excel spreadsheets for re-ordering needed inventory threatened to disrupt their supply chain and derail the company’s success.
The supply chain is the network created by multiple companies when producing, handling and distributing the inventory that a particular business needs. This normally includes suppliers, manufacturers and retailers, and includes processes such as inventory management. Topgolf’s supply chain is different from that of a large retailers, such as Amazon or Wal-Mart, but the basic concept applies: Inventory needs to be ordered, created, shipped and dispersed to the company’s various locations, in order for the customers to use it, everything from clubs and balls to targets and mats.
Even back when Topgolf had just eight locations, relying on manual upkeep of inventory records was a problem, and company inventory analyst Brian Harej had to essentially wing it when it came to keeping each venue stocked. As Harej explained:
“We never had a true handle on inventory in the warehouse and keeping the sites running at full capacity was stressful. We didn’t know when orders were coming in, and we had difficulty tracking what we were sending out… If a facility was running low on a part, sometimes we weren’t notified until a day or two before it was needed, it would be impossible to get the requested parts to the facility on time.”
A supply chain has so many disparate parts, so if even one link in the chain is running slowly due to a lack of automated control, the entire system is hampered. Topgolf likely recognized that in the form of emergency shipping fees and having to make do with limited supplies when all else failed and customers certainly wouldn’t have accepted “we use a manual process and made some errors in re-ordering” as an excuse.
Harej and Topgolf decided to shop around for inventory management solutions and selected one from Wasp Barcode. Not surprisingly, their return on investment came quickly thanks to a number of factors:
- Errors eliminated: No matter how careful you are when keying in order numbers, mistakes are guaranteed to happen. A surprising 88 percent of Excel spreadsheets contain errors which means that even thoroughly vetted orders may be incorrect. Topgolf says that all tracking errors were eliminated from their ordering process once an automated system was instituted.
- Time saved: Rather than spending too much time each day updating spreadsheets (and still not being able to guarantee accuracy), Harej notes that he likely saves eight hours a week with Wasp Barcode’s software. There are no “last-minute” orders as all inventory records at every location are automatically updated and every re-order is planned ahead of time. Additionally, future employees did not need to learn this system over a matter of weeks: training takes about a day.
- Needs anticipated: Quality inventory management software can help businesses recognize when to expect surges in demand, or locations that go through inventory faster than others. The ability to forecast accurately, thanks to the system’s historical analysis capabilities, is much more pronounced in an automated system as opposed to manual.
- Tracking simplified: A company with so much inventory on the move should never have to guess when an order is due to arrive. Topgolf can track when an order has shipped and where it is in the shipping process, thanks to a unique email notification system. Additionally, received orders should be instantly added to current inventory records, allowing employees to simply scan the barcode of a new shipment (by using a barcode scanner, mobile computer or even a smartphone app) to complete what used to be multiple processes.
- Customers satisfied: The end result of any supply chain should be to put the company’s product or service in the hands of customers without delay or complaint. Since garnering new customers is much more costly than getting existing customers to return, Topgolf recognized that the best experience possible at every location was crucial to success and expansion and if there isn’t inventory when it’s needed, that simply isn’t possible.
Things have changed greatly for Topgolf since it made the leap from manual to automated inventory management and streamlined supply chain management. The company got its start in Dallas and originally expanded to other parts of the South and Midwest. Now, Topgolf is about to break ground in Edison, NJ to begin its Northeast expansion, a move that is already being hailed as an economic boom for the township, to the tune of hundreds of millions (according to a third-party audit).
This kind of growth is of course the result of vision and hard work, but the impact of a revolutionized supply chain and inventory management system cannot be denied. It’s clear that companies wishing to move beyond small time must operate outside of the grey areas that manual processes tend to create. Automated tracking, usually powered by remarkably simple barcode technology, is the option preferred by many successful businesses and Topgolf is a perfect example of why.
How could a dedicated inventory management system change the way your business manages their supply chain?
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