Are there excuses for stockouts? Maybe. Do retailers want to hear them? NO!
When a stockout hits the shelves, nobody is happy. Store managers are furious, MSO reps and brokers scramble to fix the problem, and manufacturers sometimes get the blame unfairly. The impact of stockouts on retailers can extend well beyond the lost sales.
So, what steps can you take to reduce stockouts?
Some of what follows may seem obvious, but it's worth discussing so you can reduce disruptions, bad feelings, and financial penalties.
Be clear on needs
You have to start before a rep is even sent to the store. Many times, out-of-stock situations can be avoided by laying the groundwork for success.
Understanding store needs upfront can save a lot of hassle down the road. Take the time to discuss key project impacts, such as supply chain logistics, promotional approaches, forecasting models, and planogram compliance. Stand in the shoes of a field representative as you partner with your client during pre-project research on site. Understand the unique aspects of every service call, and address any and all requirements for each location.
Be able to launch your plan swiftly and ensure that you can execute precisely. Have the tools and technology in place before you execute, so your teams can ramp up quickly. You want to have dedicated reps ready to
- confirm store needs,
- access product,
- tag shelves properly,
- face shelves appropriately, and
- effectively place signage and promo stands.
Ensuring that you can put a plan in action quickly takes strong organization, clear communication, and superb training.
Train reps effectively
Retail servicers can experience high employee churn rates, especially during good economic times. The effect on project management can be significant. To avoid this, MSOs, brokers, and manufacturers have to create, develop, and execute consistent training programs for primary field reps and part-time or per diem contractors.
A common question for retail servicing employers is "What if I train them and they leave?" Friedman Group founder Harry Friedman says this is the exact opposite approach you should take. He says the better question is, "What if I don't train them and they stay?"
Create a training program that provides in-store coaching, execution software practice, logistics and supply chain knowledge, and client satisfaction techniques.
Manage scheduling with precision
Poor scheduling can cripple any retail service execution. But today, there's no excuse for mismanaged scheduling. Technology allows you to be in the moment, virtually in store, with your reps. Scheduling should be run through a centralized database connecting field reps via mobile devices.
You should have a GPS-driven, field activity management system in place that provides a real-time view into field service routing, estimated arrival times, time in store, project completion, and more.
Monitor performance constantly
A solid execution doesn't stop with implementation. To be successful at avoiding OOS issues, it takes continuous field monitoring. While you want your team to be able to operate autonomously, an execution plan that allows field service workers to manage their own performance is risky at best.
Make sure you have a monthly audit process that will validate if consistency and performance goals are being met. Your reps should achieve consistent completion rates on time, and manage their responsibilities to achieve the goals you set. This may not happen without proper supervision.
You should have capabilities such as time stamps, real-time reporting, and geofencing within your retail execution software program. These capabilities will allow you to identify disruptions and potential pitfalls before a problem gets too big, enabling team managers as well as field personnel to respond quickly.
Use image capture to improve communication
Reporting OOS situations to team management should be as simple as taking a photo. With the right retail execution program in place, field reps can share images and video, giving you an inside look at the shelf space in question while reps are in store. This will reduce confusion, accelerate reorders, and provide a catalog of OOS conditions that you can use to improve your operations.
In today's retail world, stockouts should be kept to a minimum. You can often prevent those conditions with robust planning, great execution, and consistent monitoring of your retail field service workers. Let us know if you're running into consistent OOS situations, we may have the answer.