By Jeff Fortney
Starting in the late 1950s until she retired in the 1970s, my mother worked for Sears, Roebuck and Co. She started in the service department and spent her last 10 years in the cash office at the local store. The cash office was the in-store accounting department, where employees were responsible for counting money, totaling receipts and making bank deposits every day.
Each year my parents had a recurring debate over when we would go on vacation. My father thought mid-summer was the perfect time, and my mom would tell him that she couldn't schedule anything until she knew the dates for "inventory."
As I got older, I was confused by the fact that, for her, inventory came in the middle of summer. In those days (well before the use of scanner guns and computers) stores like Sears would start their merchandise inventory shortly after the year-end holidays.
They would hire temporary staff to work when the store was closed, "counting the screwdrivers," as my mom would say, and entering the results into a ledger. At the end of the month, the ledger would be copied by the cash office and provided to the corporate offices for both marketing and stocking purposes.
Cash and service offices at retailers like Sears would also have an inventory period, but it was usually in July. However, instead of screwdrivers, they would count paperclips, pens, paper, note cards, etc. – literally anything and everything that was used in the service or cash or service office. It was tedious work, and my mom's employer didn't hire temps to come in after hours. The staff was required to complete it.
As a child, I never grasped the importance of this task. As a teenager, I thought it was just a big company keeping tabs on its employees to make sure that they weren't stealing office supplies. When I said this to my mom she would say that it wasn't like that. "They just want to make sure we have the right tools we need to do our job," she said.
It wasn't until I entered the sales world that I fully grasped this concept. In the payments sphere, this concept is even more critical. We often talk about having a toolbox and using newer tools to help sell, but when was the last time you actually inventoried those tools? When was the last time you counted the paperclips?
Unlike the practices of a mid-20th century department store, a payments inventory can be done anytime during the year. Indeed, it should be done more than once a year. Like a department store, though, there are very specific steps you should take for the inventory.
These steps are to identify the basics, identify your ancillary tools, inventory tools that are specific to your targeted market and differentiate yourself by having the proper tools. Following is an explanation of each:
Another example is merchant applications. Although you may have applications on hand, they may be an old version. Be sure you have the most current version, for you don't want to have to a sale delayed because you used an outdated document.
While reviewing your ancillary tools, identify any gaps that may exist in your offering. Does your current solution fit the demands of your marketplace? Is there still a demand for a specific tool in your toolbox? You may find you don't need a certain tool anymore and can remove it.
Business-to-business sales may require specialized POS systems. For example, auto supply stores may want to integrate with inventory management software. You need to recognize these needs and either have a source available or (at a minimum) the ability to find the source.
When in doubt, talk to your processing partner about this last step. Keep in mind that you can't skip this step; it must be done every time you perform an inventory.
Remember, having tools is different from having the right tools. Without doing a full inventory at least twice a year, you may find yourself losing deals because you don't have the right product, solution or even a current application. But once you get a system in place, you will find that deciding to perform regular inventories was one of the best steps you have ever taken to help grow your business.
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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