The ABCs of inventory


It's time to take stock of your supply situation. Are you neglecting the simple things? Go back to the basic building blocks, and you'll create a seamless system for tracking products and preserving profits.

When work gets busy, it's easy to rush through the behind-the-scenes business of a veterinary practice. One item that's often pushed to the background: inventory. But the path of least resistance isn't the way to go when it comes to keeping tabs on supplies. A haphazard system wastes time and money and frustrates team members. Bring inventory to the forefront at your practice by going back to the fundamentals with these 10 tips.

Rachael Hume

1 Do a clinic-wide count. It's a big job, but if you want to get serious about controlling your inventory numbers, you must start at the beginning. And you may be surprised by how many products are gathering dust or by how low the supply of your everyday items has become. To make the task manageable, break your counts into categories, such as vaccinations, canine pet food, and oral medications. Be sure to update your totals as soon as you're finished. The longer you wait, the more your figures will be off.

2 Delegate. Designate a couple of point people to handle the purchasing of certain products. For example, our kennel manager oversees the inventory of our main line of dog and cat food for two reasons: She puts the food away after it arrives, and she works at the reception desk so she's aware of how much is sold every day. Since she's only involved in overseeing a single area of inventory, it's not a burden for her.

How much to buy

3 Use purchase orders. Most practice management software allows you to create purchase orders. Taking advantage of this tool lets you easily record the details that make ordering a snap: the exact item name, package size, cost, quantity on hand, and more.

4 Watch the details. Your practice management software might help you track counts, but it can't tell when you're down to the last two gauze sponges in a sleeve of 200. Stress to your team members that their input on small items like these is essential. If you use purchase orders, create a dummy order so team members can easily add items. Then all that's left is to create the actual order. If you're paper-based, keep an order book that's easily accessible so team members can write down products that are running low. These ideas are especially helpful when you order just one or two products from a specific vendor.

5 Know your vendors. Learning about them helps ensure you're making the best decisions. For example, find out if your vendors have set a minimum purchase amount. If so, you'll save on shipping costs by meeting that amount each order. Ask about their daily order cut-off times. Be aware of their turnarounds. This is especially important with refrigerated items—you don't want them sitting in a warehouse over the weekend because your practice was closed.

6 Plan for the weekend. Even if a vendor's standard turnaround time is just one day, placing orders midweek helps ensure your practice is stocked and ready for the weekend rush. If your practice gets supplies twice a week, try ordering Monday to replenish after a busy Saturday, then again on Thursday to prepare for the upcoming Saturday.

7 Double check. Make sure your delivered items match your purchase orders. If there's a mistake, don't be afraid to call your vendor.

8 Develop tricks. Different things work for different clinics, so do some experimenting. My clinic discovered this strategy for planning orders: When a box of X-ray film gets low, we use a magic marker to write on the box the date and number of films left. Another idea: If you're swamped and can't get to the computer, carry around an empty package to remind yourself to order the product.

9 Understand your software. When you refund an item, does your software update your totals? How does your software create receipts? Is it per package or per item? When you generate an invoice, are drug amounts listed by the milliliter or by the bottle? Seemingly little mistakes on calculations like these can add up to big inventory messes.

10 Verify totals regularly. Although monthly inventory counts are ideal, this may not be realistic for every practice. Find out what interval works for your clinic and stick with it. Whatever you do, you absolutely must complete a year-end inventory count. Not only does this provide necessary information for tax purposes, but it also gives you a jump-start on next year's count.

Rachael Hume is a receptionist and the "go-to gal" for inventory enquiries and challenges at Southway Animal Clinic in Lewiston, Idaho. Please send questions and comments to

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