Taking Stock: Managing Inventory For Your Small Business

Surplus inventory can drain money from your retail business. On the contrary, an insufficient stockpile can mean frustrated customers and lost sales, among other costs.

Look no further than some of the biggest U.S. retailers for examples of inventory foul-ups damaging bottom lines, reputations or both.

In May, Gap Inc. shares dipped when the retailer disclosed inventory problems that led to a $28 million charge, promotions and pressed margins in the first quarter. Gap reportedly said it had been "heavy on inventory" and had issues with "timing of inventory flow."

Inventory management issues also reportedly posed revenue problems over several quarters at Nike.

Small eCommerce businesses are not immune to the need for good inventory control. Whether you're packaging merchandise for your shop in your living room or having it shipped from a factory or warehouse, it's important that you carefully track and manage inventory to avoid delays, ordering gaffes or other costly problems.

The Right (Amount Of) Stuff

Having the right products available to meet customer demand — but not too many — is fundamental to smooth operations, customer satisfaction and your bottom line.

To avoid excess inventory, the staff at Entrepreneur recommends ordering only what you know you can sell. Oversupply of seasonal inventory is especially problematic, the publication notes, but surpluses of any sort can mean significant costs in storage, debt and reduced cash flow.

To avoid shortages, Entrepreneur suggests, be aware of how long it takes you to sell a particular product and give yourself adequate lead time on reorders, taking into consideration potential snags that could leave you short.

Various software tools promise to automate and ease inventory management via sophisticated analytics and forecasting and a real-time picture of your stock on hand, among other features.

Weebly Inventory Tools

Weebly's paid plans include a number of elements to help you manage inventory. Our order management system allows an online shop to manage hundreds of products or only a few, helping even novice, solo retail entrepreneurs track inventory efficiently.

Susan McGregor, who sells her Charlie + Gus infant and children's fashions through retailers and her Weebly-based shop, keeps all inventory in her studio, where a team of seamstresses cut, sew, package and ship all merchandise.

"We typically work on a made-to-order basis given the amount of sizes that we do ... and to ensure that we don't have excess inventory left over after the season. With our popular items we will oftentimes do a size run based on previous knowledge of what sizes have sold in the past," she said, explaining that 4T is the most popular so they make multiple items in that size.

"We love Weebly and their very easy-to-use inventory management system. We simply add the various sizes/styles and populate the system with the number of pieces we've made — easy peasy," she said. "When a particular size is running low we can decide there and then if we want to make more sizes or let the system default to 'sold out' once the final piece sells. For our made-to-order pieces we use good old-fashion pen and paper to keep track of how much fabric we have in stock."

Keeping Count

Weebly tools let you show customers the number of items remaining in inventory — an effective means of nudging sales for low-stock items and avoiding misunderstandings if that organic shirt or handcrafted soap is out of stock. After all, you don't need miffed customers demanding to know why you took orders and charged their credit cards for items that won't be available for weeks.

A good inventory management system also allows you to track merchandise across more than one one physical or virtual store.

If you have both a Main Street shop and a store on Weebly, you can link to the Square mobile payment platform to track , sync and automatically update your online and bricks-and-mortar inventory, and take credit cards in both channels. Connecting to Square also allows you to sync inventory between two online stores. Any inventory changes noted in Square will appear on Weebly.

The product import and export features on Weebly's eCommerce platform, meanwhile, allow you to track inventory over several outside internet marketplaces, including Etsy and Amazon, via spreadsheet format, and to update inventory information in bulk. The import and export elements make the most sense for shops with more than 20 products and with inventory data stored on another system.

Keep Organized

Weebly tools also help you manage orders professionally, allowing you to update order status through the fulfillment stage, filter orders by status and search by customer name, zip code, city, phone number or order number.

Keep your store organized by arranging products by category, making shopping easier for customers while keeping inventory tracking orderly for you. Using your eCommerce dashboard, you can search products by category, description, SKU, type or name.

Whatever tools you use, monitoring your inventory in real time and making sure you have adequate supplies of materials and merchandise are key to keeping your small business running smoothly and profitably.