Just In Time… For What, Exactly?

I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them. – E.V. Lucas

The time-phased, arrival based planning logic that underpins  has frequently been described (sometimes disparagingly) as “pull-based, just in time”. Depending on your definition of “pull-based” and “just in time” (do any two people actually agree on what these terms mean?), there’s more truth to that than fiction.

The “pull-based” part is easy. The   hasn’t finished its job until a customer has made a purchase. While it’s possible to encourage a stronger customer pull with promotional offers, pricing and markdowns, you can’t push unwanted stock into a customer’s shopping cart and force them to pay for it. This is true for every saleable item in every store.

The “just in time” part is what can sometimes make people (particularly buyers) a little queasy. The term evokes images of stock running almost to zero just before the perfectly executing delivers more stock. There seems to be a pervading fear that such approaches will cut to the bone in a blind bid to increase stock turns at a all costs.

While it’s certainly possible to run your supply chain (including the stores) super lean, it’s definitely not necessary – nor recommended. A store with just enough stock to cover anticipated demand and variability for every item will look like it’s perpetually going out of business.

“Just in time” doesn’t mean “just enough to support sales”. It means just in time to prevent the stock level from dipping below a minimum floor that you decide

Do you want to maximize turns with minimal safety stock? No problem!

Do you want to have a nice, full looking display with at least 5 facings, 3 deep on the shelf at all times? Go for it!

(Same item, same store, same sales forecast).

Do you want to augment the normal shelf stock with secondary promotional displays for a few weeks? Nobody’s stopping you!

Would you rather have a minimum of 4 weeks of supply in the store at all times? Sure! Why not?

Just in time isn’t about stock levels, it’s about stock flow. So long as you can articulate what minimum stock holding you require for each item/location and when (and can justify it to Finance), a proper just in time planning approach does what it’s told and flows to ensure you never fall below that level.

Merchants and space planners rejoice and be glad! You’re not slaves to just in time planning. Just in time planning is a slave to your merchandising needs.

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