Taking Stock

When it comes to ordering consumable goods, some PROs have a sophisticated system, while others simply walk past the back room and have a peek

The really big purchases — vehicles, heavy equipment, restrooms, expensive tools — happen sporadically for every PRO, but purchasing consumable supplies is an ongoing effort throughout the year. For smaller outfits, the process can be pretty informal: a peek around the corner at the pallet on the garage floor, or into the cabinet in the back room.

But for larger concerns, knowing what’s on hand when and making sure it’s there when it’s needed can become complex enough to require some help from enterprise management software. And then there are the companies that fall somewhere in between the tiny mom-and-pop and the corporate buyer. Many companies have developed a system that works for them. We’ll take a look at a few.

“We usually order in bulk, a pallet (55 cases) of toilet paper at a time. We’ll use a concentrated chemical where one 55-gallon drum will make three drums total. We don’t use packets or anything as far as chemicals, nothing pre-mixed,” says James Palmer, who operates his business in far southwestern New York State.

As for tracking this inventory, Palmer says his company doesn’t use any formal system. “After 23 years in the business, you kind of just get a feel for what you’re going to need and when. You keep an eye on everything … we’re big, but we’re not that big.” He stays educated on new products, mostly through word-of-mouth with colleagues and reading industry trade magazines.

“I’ve switched paper in the last year. Obviously, you shop for whoever has the best price relative to quality. The (Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo) is our biggest research trip of the year … that’s why we come. You always see stuff in the magazine, but it’s another level to see it all here in person, in one place.”

George Duckett oversees ordering for Drop Zone Portable Services Inc. The business performs physical inventory on supplies on either a daily or weekly basis, depending on the product. Ordering is done ahead, with lead time again depending on the product, and everything is tracked in an Excel database. Bathroom tissue is purchased by the trailer load.

“We’re always price shopping,’’ he says, “and if a product changes so it doesn’t suit us anymore, we’ll change products.”

“We order our supplies in bulk to save money,” says Charles Pitts, who fields 200 units in central Texas. His wife and business partner, Mona Pitts, takes care of most of the ordering.

With 25 years in on the job, “we know how it runs,” she says. “Plus we see our stock as we load our trucks up every week. So we just order ahead.” In true mom-and-pop fashion, she doesn’t use any type of written system, but keeps track of what’s needed in her head.

“We stay on a ‘buy-as-you-go’ basis, keeping two months ahead on our supplies,” reports Randy Risner of his portables company that serves primarily contractors, flea markets and government maintenance sites in northeast Kentucky. He doesn’t use a formal tracking system. “I walk right by the storage area every day, so I see it. I’m sure one of these days I’ll think I have something that I don’t. It’s not a very professional way to do it, but it’s easiest.” Risner does have a backup, though, in his effort to stay ahead of ordering needs. “My drivers keep up with it. They always have their trucks stocked for a week or two,” he says, so he doesn’t think he’ll ever really get stuck.


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