“I’m in between conflicting interests. That makes it fun.”
Slimstock ask Charles van Oort, supply chain coordinator and user of Slim4 at retail chain Blokker, five questions: What's his role? What does he do on a normal day and what impact has Slim4 had on the business? What's his biggest challenge at the moment? And what are his ambitions for the future?
What is your role within the company?
I'm responsible for the electrical, garden and toy categories on our websites. On a daily basis, I have to decide for some 3000 items how much should be stocked in our e-commerce distribution center in Gouda and place purchase orders with suppliers accordingly. My main focus is availability: if an item is not available we cannot offer it on our website. After all if you can't put an item on your website, you can't sell it. I am part of a team of ten planners. Everyone is responsible for a certain group of products, divided across our e-commerce distribution center and our distribution center for the stores. As a planner, I work closely with the category managers. They make assortment decisions, within the boundaries established by marketing, and they agree on the purchase conditions with suppliers.
What does a typical day look like?
I typically spend four to six hours a day working with Slim4. I start my day by logging into Slim4 to check the availability of my articles. I begin looking at the assortment in broad terms before zooming in to a SKU level in order to identify which items require immediate action.
If a product is out of stock, sometimes expediting an existing purchase order will do, or alternatively we may have to place an urgent order. As part of this process, I also try to determine the cause; are the parameters set properly? Are there problems with the supplier or is it just an incidental peak in demand?
When all urgent tasks are completed I start my next main task: placing purchase orders. For this task I use the order generator module in Slim4. I make a list of all the purchase orders for that day and check if there are any abnormalities among them. When I am satisfied that everything is okay, I send the orders to the suppliers via email. Perhaps, in the future, this is a process we can automate.
I spend a large part of my time consulting with our category managers, looking at ways we can resolve excess stock issues. For example, if we have an overstock situation as a consequence of a promotional campaign, we put together a plan to bring the inventory back to a normal level.
I also have regular contact with suppliers to see how we can better cooperate in order to improve their delivery performance. Sharing forecasts or other information can often help this improvement process.
What's the impact of Slim4 on your day-to-day job?
We have been working work with Slim4 since August last year to help support the e-commerce aspect of our business. Prior to this, we planned everything in Excel which was an enormously time consuming undertaking. Slim4 saves me several hours of work every day, time which I can now focus on improving the efficiency of our inventory management processes.
With Slim4, I have a clear view of the overall condition of our inventory which enables me to focus on problem areas. The number of articles that I manage is increasing rapidly, and I really don't know how I would manage all this without Slim4.
What's the main challenge/goal in your work?
In my role, availability is key but cost has to be taken into account. The main goal is to have a product available at the right time with the highest possible inventory turnover. However, toys and garden products have a highly seasonal demand pattern and as a result it is important to accurately raise and lower inventory levels accordingly. On the other hand the electrical items are relatively expensive so in order to maintain a healthy level of working capital you do not want to hold excessive levels of inventory. Achieving high levels of availability while keeping inventory costs under control is a constant conflict: it is my job to find the right tradeoffs.
These opposing objectives are also reflected in the cooperation by the category managers. They think commercially and for them there can never be enough stock, so to speak.
It's my role to communicate the data-driven opposite view. For example, what are the costs of this inventory and how did demand patterns look like in the past? In the end, we have one common goal: to meet customer requirements at the lowest possible cost. Together we need to find the best way to work and fortunately we always succeed in that.
There are always conflicting interests at play and it is my job to manage them. This is what makes my work so much fun.
What's your ambition for the future?
I have been working in this role for just over a year now and in this time I feel I still can learn a lot, especially around the theory of inventory management. I want to get a better understanding of how the various parameters in Slim4 impact the wider business. You can easily reset the service level of an article, for example from 95% to 98%, but what's the impact on the rest of the supply chain? I'm going to take a minor at Slimstock in order to gain greater insight into these dynamics.
My personal goal for the next two years is to have everything arranged in such a way so that I only have to press the button and inventory is optimized automatically. In the longer term, my goal is to gain experience across a broad variety of departments in order to become be a more well-rounded employee. I want to become more skillful in areas such as forecasting but also in operational matters. My ultimate goal is to become more versatile within Blokker.