What Is Inventory Control? | Inventory Control Definition

Joshua Weatherwax
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If you don't take control over your inventory, your inventory will control you.

The success of your business depends on how you purchase, store, sell, and deliver your inventory. Dedicating time and resources to this process is vital to long-term growth.

We'll help you understand what inventory control is, why you need it, and give you the tools to do it yourself. You'll also understand how to calculate ending inventory. It's so important we put together a whole inventory control guide.

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Inventory Control Definition

Inventory control is the process of maintaining a business's stock level to meet customer demand and minimize costs. This involves inventory tracking and maintenance of goods. It also includes making decisions to get the most profit out of your stock and planning purchases.

Inventory control generally involves the following:

  • Integrating barcode scanners with inventory tracking software
  • Establishing reorder points and demand forecasting
  • Keeping track of all SKUs and associated product data
  • Creating product bundles and kitting for maximum profits
  • Performing inventory audits
  • Establishing warehouse labels and optimizing the warehouse layout design

Example of Inventory Control

Inventory control can feel like an overwhelming task, but it doesn't have to be. Here's an example of how it can work.

Let's say that you're an inventory control manager and you discover that you have a batch of products on hand that aren't selling. This dead stock (see what is dead stock) takes up valuable space in your inventory and is nearing the end of its life cycle.

As an inventory control manager, you need to find a way to turnover these products and perform inventory reduction. One option would be to bundle them with more in-demand products in a subscription box using a subscription box platform. This is known as kitting, and is just one of many options open to you when practicing inventory control.

Synonyms for Inventory Control

There are many different terms for the process of inventory control. Here are just a few you may come across in your travels:

  • Stock management
  • Control of goods
  • Material control
  • Stock keeping
  • Assets management
  • Stock control
  • Warehouse management

The Primary Objectives of Control Over Inventory Are Twofold

The two primary objectives of inventory control are safeguarding the inventory from damage or theft and reporting inventory in the financial statements. These are accomplished by using a variety of control methods to maintain and inventory turnover.

Purpose of Inventory Control In a Warehouse

Inventory control is the most important aspect of warehouse management. It ensures the warehouse operates smoothly while keeping costs low and meeting customer demand. Every aspect of stock must be tracked and this data can be used to make a variety of decisions.

The Application of Inventory Control

Applying inventory control in your business requires investing time and money into inventory management. This can be done by purchasing inventory management software or by manually taking inventory. Either way, you can apply the information gained by looking at inventory levels and trends to plan for purchasing, controlling, and shipping goods.

Inventory Control Methods

Inventory control methods are processes and programs you use to plan, order, store, and manage inventory. In general, there are two methods of inventory control: manual and perpetual. With manual inventory control, you must conduct physical counts of inventory regularly. This is time-consuming and often involves shutting down all operations to get it done.

With perpetual inventory control, all inventory is tracked in real-time using inventory management software. Barcodes are scanned when products arrive, are used, or shipped. This gives you access to the most accurate data at all times but is more costly than manual counting.

The key to effective inventory control methods is finding a balance between controlling costs and being able to meet customer demand. If your inventory control methods lower cost, but lead to issues with dead stock or backordered products, it's not effective.

Important Considerations in Inventory Control

There are four major considerations for businesses looking to take control of their inventory. These considerations will help determine the best control methods and inventory management programs to use.

  1. Inventory analysis and purchasing. Inventory must be tracked and evaluated regularly to ensure your supply can meet demand. It also advises the manager on what and when to replenish stock.
  2. Product distribution. The ways products are categorized for distribution can make recording inventory much easier. This can also allow you to discover discrepancies like dead stock more quickly.
  3. Production evaluation. Production costs and efficiency need to be considered regularly for any manufacturer. This will let you make any necessary adjustments and increase sales.
  4. Tracking and inventory forecasting. Inventory tracking and forecasting will ensure you can meet demand and avoid issues like the infamous backorder. This is done through the creation of algorithms and constant vigilance by the order processing team (see what does order processing mean).

All of these skills are relevant when settling on an inventory manager salary and job description, too.

Inventory Control Function

Inventory control is closely associated with the function of purchasing. Ordering products, storing, and maintaining them are the main goals of any inventory control manager.

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Why Do We Need Inventory Control?

Inventory control is a vital part of any business's operations and has a major impact on their ability to make a profit.

Here are four major reasons you need inventory control:

  • Boost inventory efficiency. Your products may be all over the warehouse making picking and packing take much longer than needed. Inventory control lets you discover and optimize this and many other issues like an incorrect SKU number to increase efficiency and streamline your processes.
  • Ensure accurate inventory counts. Inaccurate inventory causes headaches and increases cost. Inventory control gives you insight into inventory numbers and helps determine reorder point and sales trends.
  • Increase sales and mitigate losses. By eliminating undesired products and keeping a safety stock, you can always be prepared to meet demand and make money.
  • Ensure customer satisfaction. Customers hate when products are out of stock or on backorder. Controlling your inventory lets you avoid these issues and keep your customers happy.

Why Is Inventory Control Important to Managers?

Storing inventory has many associated costs that a manager needs to keep under control. Without inventory control, a business's warehouse can quickly become a problem. By allowing inventory to move about with no interference, a manager risks running into skyrocketing costs and plummeting profits. This in turn will lead to the loss of their job and possibly the closure of the business.

Inventory Solutions

When attempting to track and manage inventory, there are a few ways you can track your data. First, you can take the old-school approach and manually track inventory using a pen and paper. While this is quick and easy to do, it is also very easy to make mistakes. We don’t recommend this approach, regardless of the size of your inventory.

Second, you can use an excel spreadsheet. We offer a free inventory tracking spreadsheet on our blog and this is a viable option for a business with a limited inventory or just starting out. You’ll still need to perform regular inventory audits or cycle inventory counts to ensure accuracy, but it’s a step above using a pen and paper.

Finally, the best option is to use an inventory control system and other related inventory tracking software. Let’s take a deeper look at the options available here.

Inventory Control System and Software

Benefits of an Inventory Control System

One of the best ways to take control of your business's inventory is to invest in inventory management software. This software tracks inventory levels, sales trends, and inventory cycles. There are many options on the market with a variety of capabilities and additional tools.

Most of these programs can be tied to your POS system to provide a perpetual inventory count. This updates your inventory levels each time a sale is made. This lets you make the most informed decisions and calculate optimal reorder points, plan for product lead time (what is lead time?) and more.

Automated Inventory Control

Automated inventory control takes a perpetual inventory count to the next level and makes decisions using a set of predetermined rules. This feature is built into some of the best inventory control software and allows you to take a more hands-off role.

Here's an example of how this automatic inventory control can work. If you have a particular product that you always want to keep in stock, you may set a minimum supply threshold for reorder. Once you hit this number, the system automatically sends a new purchase order to your manufacturer. Paired with the optimal economic order quantity and you can optimize this process.

Inventory Control Tips: Best Way To Control Inventory

Inventory control is complicated and takes a lot of time and energy to get right. Luckily, there are a few best practices that help make the process easier and more reliable.

Here are the four best ways to control inventory:

  1. Conduct inventory audits often. If you don't have an accurate sense of your inventory levels, you'll never be able to control them. You need to conduct regular audits to ensure your actual and reported levels are the same. One way to limit the amount of time this takes is to conduct an inventory cycle count every few days. Here, your employees audit just a selection of products to ensure the report is accurate. It lets you avoid halting operations and is best used for your most valuable products.
  2. Pick the correct inventory costing method. Do you use the FIFO or LIFO method of inventory costing? Is that the one you should use? Look into the differences between the first-in-first-out and last-in-first-out methods to see if there's a benefit to switching. You may be sitting on old product longer than necessary.
  3. Establish par levels. A product's par level is the minimum amount you need on hand to meet customer demand. You should establish a par level for every product you sell so you can avoid running out of inventory and missing sales. If you use an inventory management system, there's likely a feature built in for this.
  4. Follow the data. If you're properly tracking inventory levels, sales, and demand trends, then you have everything you need to get the most out of your inventory. Regularly review the data and establish patterns that show what you should stock and when. Investing in an order management system can also help uncover patterns that affect your shipping and delivery. You should also keep an eye out for issues with inventory shrinkage or waste.

Inventory Control Sheet

An inventory control sheet is a spreadsheet containing information about the goods in your inventory. This generally includes inventory levels, storage capacity, order and reorder dates, and unit prices. There are many other variables that may also be tracked depending on a business's inventory model. Many inventory management programs come with built-in control sheets.

Inventory Control Template With Count Sheet for Excel

Inventory control can be made much simpler by using an Excel spreadsheet. You can track your inventory levels, value, and length in storage. This will let you determine the best ways to optimize your inventory usage.

To help make things easier for you, we've put together a simple inventory control template spreadsheet. Just download the inventory control template, add in your own data, and begin taking control of your inventory!

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Take Control

Taking control of your inventory can pay dividends with just a little effort. By following the steps above and using our inventory control spreadsheet, you can make your inventory work for you.

For more inventory control tips, check out our comprehensive inventory control management guide or learn how to perform an inventory audit. Then, you'll be able to sell your products on a DTC or online marketplace with confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions About Inventory Control

Inventory control is a skill any warehousing employee must have. In addition to replenishing and organizing stock, there is deadstock reduction, SKU rationalization, and more. To understand inventory control better, here are some frequently asked questions and our answers: 

What are the hidden costs of inventory?

There are many hidden costs of inventory including holding costs, deadstock, poor warehouse organization, and obsolete products. Holding costs is the price being paid whenever inventory is sitting on a shelf but hasn’t been sold. It’s impossible to eliminate 100% of holding costs, but every business should aim to sell products as quickly as possible. 

Deadstock is any inventory that has been sitting for too long and is unlikely to be sold in the near future. It has to be eliminated quickly otherwise it’s costing you money instead of making it. 

Poor warehouse organization includes everything from inadequate signage and labels to unsafe storage conditions and too little walking space. Obsolete products are anything that customers no longer have strong interest in, and are close to becoming deadstock. The more you can eliminate these obstacles, the better.

What is a mathematical calculation of the number of times the average inventory is replaced over a period of time usually annually?

You can calculate how often your inventory is replaced over a set period of time with an inventory turnover ratio (ITR) formula. 

The formula is as follows: Cost of goods sold / average inventory for current cycle = inventory turnover ratio. For example:

$9,451 cost of goods sold / $1,432 average inventory for cycle = 6.60 ITR

A higher ITR is more desirable than a lower one, because this indicates that your company is selling most of your inventory each cycle. 

What are the four functions of inventory?

There are four primary functions of inventory. Here details on each one in no particular order: 

  • Preparedness for customer demand. Inventory is packaged and shipped as soon as customer orders come in. This prevents the need to manufacture or order parts for every individual order. 
  • Efficient decoupling. Decoupling is a key function of inventory for both original manufacturers and in-house producers. This is when a portion of the goods from a production run are set aside, in the event machines break or production delays occur. 
  • Mitigating the effects of customer discounts. When a company has more products to give away, they have greater incentive to run promotions and discounts. Promotions are shown to increase average order size, which is a win for both customers and businesses. 
  • Providing a hedge against inflation. Products that hold their value over a long period of time are a great hedge against inflation. Getting products manufactured in bulk is a good way to keep costs low and still sell them for market prices.