Inventory Strategies for 2021: First Rule, Don’t Panic!

By Alan Wolf, YSN

At this point, the only thing anyone knows with any certainty about furniture availability next year is that the outlook remains uncertain.

With that in mind, and working on the premise of “expect the unexpected,” two furniture supply-chain authorities offered their best advice to dealers in a recent blog from the Home Furnishings Association (HFA).

The first rule of thumb, according to Garret Bowman, president of the Gulfstream Shippers Association (a kind of buying group for ocean transport), is don’t panic. “You don’t want to react to the moment,” he told the HFA. “Relax and think long term.”

But don’t relax too much, countered Riaz Husein, CEO of supply chain consultancy Profit Chain. “There’s limited containers, limited transportation and limited labor,” he said. “The retailers who act first will get access to those resources, so be proactive and act fast, or you run the risk of getting shut out next year.”

But both agreed on the need for flexibility, as there’s simply no way of knowing whether to staff up for peak season or prepare for a second coronavirus shutdown. “A good plan allows you to stairstep your way into whatever comes down the road,” Husein said. “That flexibility will help you either way it goes.”

Other core strategies offered by Husein and Bowman include:

Improve Vendor Relationships: It’s largely a myth that online giants like Amazon and Wayfair get supply priority over smaller dealers, both men concurred. Nevertheless, “You should be having more conversations with your vendors right now,” Bowman insisted, in order to improve your standing.

Expand Your Assortment: “Most retailers go narrow and deep when it comes to product,” Husein said. “Think about going wider and shallow to give you more options on product you can get in your store.”

Manage Customer Expectations: Simply put, under promise and over deliver. “If you tell them three months and you deliver in two weeks, they are thrilled,” Husein said. But if it’s the other way around your reputation takes a ding.

Hat tip to HFA blogger Robert Bell.