Why IT consultants must master basic retailing

Erik Eckel says all IT consultancies must manage an inventory of commonly needed equipment. This inventory requires staff to master basic retail skills. Read his pointers on retailing.

I worked at a nationwide music store stocking and selling new releases in the mid 1980s. The part-time job taught me valuable lessons regarding how important it was to ensure we not only had the latest albums in stock, but also that we ordered the proper breakdown of LPs, cassettes, and CDs. If we missed an opportunity, such as when the Miami Vice soundtrack unexpectedly became a best seller, revenue suffered. Customers simply went to the next store down the road.

IT consulting is a little more complicated. There are five items all IT consultancies must stock. If you're purchasing these items (hard disks, basic business desktops and laptops, routers, and copies of Microsoft Office) from retail outlets or even local distributors, you're losing time and money. D&H Distributing, Ingram Micro, Tech Data, and possibly typically provide IT consultants with the best margins. Plus, these providers save your office workers from driving all over town trying to find specific items.

If you're properly cultivating client relationships, it's unlikely your client is going to move on to the next IT provider just because you don't have a particular PC, notebook, or external hard disk in stock, although I've seen it happen. I've also seen IT consultants running to Staples, Office Depot, or a local distributor to obtain hard disks, memory, printers, or computers in a hurry. That's a mistake.

In order to manage your consultancy's inventory, your employees need to master basic retail skills. IT consultants who don't possess adequate retail skills will fail to consistently meet client needs, lose valuable time chasing down required hardware and software packages, and reduce profit margins by failing to maximize buying power.

The trick to working with distributors is a little advanced planning. Here are pointers on how to ensure your office masters some basic retail skills and stocks the right items in the correct quantities.

  • Review your invoicing history and make notes on the types of hardware and software packages your clients frequently purchase. Ensure you keep those items on hand.
  • Track purchases and reorder replacements before they're needed. This is a simple law of retail and Just In Time management: You must have required resources onsite when they're needed.
  • If you have trouble tracking inventory or ordering timely replacements, you should assign someone the responsibility of making sure inventory is kept current and properly managed.
  • Organizations that struggle to manage their inventory should at least implement a simple spreadsheet. If you don't want to create one, download a template or check out the Inventory Tracker for Excel.
  • Consultancies that manage a large number of items or have trouble tracking equipment, lose inventory, or forget to bill clients for delivered items should consider deploying QuickBooks Point of Sale. The software simplifies adjusting inventory in real-time and determining what items are popular and even enables using a bar-code scanner to process transactions.

Regardless whether your IT consultancy maintains a storefront, employees must maintain a basic level of retail skills to ensure they meet client requirements by having commonly used components readily available. This simple action protects profit margins and saves time.


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

JohnMcGrew 4 Like

Most IT "inventory" has the half-life of milk. The only thing that depreciates faster than most IT inventory is IT hardware in place. With the possible exception of Cat-5 patch cords, and perhaps a hard drive or two, I try to keep as little as possible on hand. That spares me the painful inventory write-down at the end of the fiscal year.

SerrJ215 2 Like

Erik, I wish you the best, since obviously between this post and a few others show that your company must be fairly large and successful. I don???t begrudge you that for a second. The thing is I am going to wager that most of us are working with smaller shops, that many of us are independents. One of the reasons why many of us became consultants is the independence and the work in the field without the huge overhead and infrastructure. Between this and your other posts, such as "Five items all IT consultancies must stock" and that one you wrote about "IT consultants, stop taking laptops to client sites" I think you might be missing your target audience. I think that you consultancy might be a lot bigger then the standard. No disrespect intended, but you might be Raptor pilot trying to talk to crop dusters and there is just not enough overlap here. For large projects yea, I will get my equipment online. As for local retailers I know about 4 local shops here that I have actually done better then I would online, why? Because they know me. I have cultivated a relationship with them. When I have needed it they extended me credit, they have sent me work and it???s a good thing. Do I still hit Staples or an Office Depot in a pinch, Yes. If I need to get something online in 20 minutes because my clients small and they need to work. They can't afford to lose a day. With smaller clients I find there needs are so varied that I can't keep standard stock and the fact is I can't keep that much of my working capital in storage. Also there is one other thing about this particular post. Retail is what we worked in to pay for college its not what we got into IT to do.

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