Inventory Control for Retreat Logistics, by Rob C.

Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009

There is often a good deal of attention paid to the accumulation, storage and usage of critical supplies performed in the process of preparation, but one thing I rarely see discussed is proper management of your carefully gathered inventory before, during or after a critical event comes into being. 

It's important to consider viewing your family or team as a quasi business entity and recognize that one of the top cited reasons for small business failure is poor inventory management.  Inventory issues can cause nightmarish headaches for any business, and the consequences for your family will only be magnified if you do not begin to view you group, and their supplies, as important assets that necessitate careful management.

Throughout the article I'll refer to the inventory concepts using canned food as examples, but the procedures could be applied to anything you stock: from ammunition, to clothes, to cleaning supplies. 

First in, first out (FIFO) rotation of inventor should be used.  Generally you want to apply this concept to your food storage and consume the items you acquire first as soon as possible. It makes sense to mark dates on cans when you acquire the food, but do you relish the idea of staring at a huge shelf or bin of cans, buckets or jars and trying to determine which one to consume first?  The following control systems can make life much easier:

1) Split your items into color dated 'blocks'. 
For example, if you have canned goods you plan on consuming over the course of the coming year, mark six months worth of the oldest cans with a green marker and then mark the rest of your cans with a red marker.  Items carrying the green mark get first used. 

This will create a quick and easy visual trigger every time you dip into your inventory.  When you begin to break into your red inventory, it's time to pull up another six months worth of cans and mark those with your green marker.  A note or sign indicating which color is currently being consumed should be posted near by so all members who have the ability to draw on your resources are sure to take the proper goods. A bit of time spent once a month saves countless hours digging through supplies looking for the oldest items to consume first. 

2) Implement a simplified Kanban-esque system.
This is a process where a small amount of stock is kept on hand and is replaced as it nears depletion.  This process is mostly beneficial for helping you consume and replace inventory prior to a critical event. 

    - Have a portion of your supplies in a convenient location to the kitchen (again, ideally using the oldest first) and attach a small card to the last item of the 'lot' which lists the good being consumed, and the quantity that needs be replaced from your long term storage. 

    - When you reach the last item that has the card attached, you need to replenish your on hand stock with inventory from the long term location. The card should be placed in a re-order folder to ensure that your long-term storage has been re-supplied for the same amount you just pulled into normal, day-to-day usage. 

    - Upon re-supply, the card is attached once again to the last item of the lot and the process repeated, as needed, ensuring your replenishment process is accurate, timely and efficient. 

At a glance, you can look in your order folder and determine how much and what you need to be on the look out for in order to restore your long-term inventory to its pre-determined levels.  In this manner, you only re-order what you've used, and you ensure you're constantly rotating inventory to reduce the risk of spoilage.

As a quick example: you use one can of beans a day, keeping seven in your kitchen cabinet.  In your pantry you toss a card under can #7 that simply reads: Beans: 7.  When you get to the can of beans that sit atop this card, retrieve seven more from your storage and place the tracking card in your re-supply location.  At any time a review of this location would tell you every consumed item you need to replace for your long-term location.

3) Security and control. 
Ideally your inventory would be kept behind a gated barrier. While you'd like to assume that friends, family and your team would not stoop to theft, you never know what circumstances you may find yourself in that provides an exposure to your resources you never intended others to have.  In addition to the possibility of theft, you run the risk of children or others who are normally used to grabbing a snack whenever they like simply helping themselves, not through an act of maliciousness, but simply not realizing how the situation has changed.  To prevent this accidental (or otherwise) over consumption of supplies you should store inventory in a location not commonly accessed.  Keep your daily and generally consumed inventory readily accessible in a kitchen pantry, keep your long term supplies in a separate, locked facility.  This can be something as simple as a basement door where the knob has been replaced with a device that locks from the outside. 

I can't stress this point enough: The more casually you allow people to treat your long-term inventory, the more your errors will multiply. 

4) Visual inspection and count. 
How can your trade or use what you don't know you have?  You should conduct a full inventory count inventory twice a year.  Material should be counted and a general visual inspection conducted in order to identify any items or containers that might have visible damage.  If a container has become damaged, you may want to accelerate its usage or consider trading it to avoid wasting the contents inside.  If you identify a large container of goods early on that has become damaged that you have no hope of repairing or re-sealing, early detection will allow you to trade this off while it still holds some intrinsic value.  If you had waited a year and only discovered it when the decay was too far advanced, you could be forced to take an unsavory loss.  Value considerations aside, it's important to know what you believe you have is actually usable.  If you're depending on supply XXX and upon time of usage you discover it's a waste, not only do you find yourself at a loss for whatever you paid or traded for the item, you may now be short a critically important item. 

If you have a large group of people and supplies, you may want to increase this twice a year count to once a quarter. It's crucial you identify errors or missing items early only to keep small issues from snowballing to huge ones.  Quantity and quality inspections should have a primary counter and a second person verifying accuracy.

5) Record keeping. 
I'd suggest use computers while you can but print your records out, every time, so you have a hard copy.  A simple spreadsheet will do to start and if you don't have access to Microsoft Excel, you can utilize Google Docs to get started.  Your inventory records should include the item, the quantity, the date acquired and the use by date if applicable. 

This data allows you to track over time what you're using, and how often, and allows you to better prepare for not only your requirements, but also to identify what you may have that's not being fully utilized and trade it before you run the risk of spoilage.  When planning your food needs or trade possibilities, knowing you have 100 cans if item X is good; however, knowing half of those are 1 year past their use date and your consumption has dropped by a third would allow you to keep an eye open for possible barter opportunities in advance.

Try to keep your records in pencil.  Speaking from accounting experience, it's much easier to correct a mistake in pencil that it is in ink.  With a pen, over time, your records simply get sloppy from crossed out figures and attempted error corrections.

6) Second review on scrap or waste. 
Before any item is trashed or written off as a loss, obtain a second opinion.  One man’s trash is another's treasure and one of your group members may have knowledge of the item that allows you to squeeze the last few drops of value from something before your dispose of it.  Any value you can recover is better than 0.

It’s good to have stuff, be it ammunition, food or barter items. 

It’s better to have a lot of that stuff. 

It’s best to know exactly what you have, and when it’s approaching the end of its life, so you can use it in a timely fashion or trade it to someone who can. The topics above only touch on the very, rudimentary basics of inventory control but it's important to consider proper management of your assets and realize the benefits you can obtain through accurate tracking, control and utilization of your material resources. 

JWR Adds: Keep in mind that cooking oil that has gone rancid is often still quite suitable for stretching your diesel supply. (In effect, formulating your own biodiesel, up to 10 percent, by volume, in hot weather. This is not recommended for cold weather unless you have a fuel tank heater, or a fully-capable biodiesel making system and a vehicle that is rigged with two tanks--one for biodiesel and the other with dinodiesel, that is used when starting up and shutting down your vehicle.) And food that is no longer palatable for humans because of taste issues (rather than rancidity) are often still safe to feed to poultry or swine.


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