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 Newegg.com 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 of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.