Orders, Allocations and Cursive Writing

When a subject becomes totally obsolete, we make it a required course. – Peter Drucker (1909-2005)

From third grade through to about the sixth, all of my classrooms had a banner posted above the front chalkboards (for those of you who don’t know what chalkboards are, you can Google it), showing the formation of all the letters of the alphabet – both upper  and lower case – in cursive form.

We all used special notebooks with 3 horizontal lines per row to guide you in making your cursive letters with the correct height and shape.

For 40  minutes or so every day, we’d practice. First an entire line of As (both upper and lower). Then Bs, then Cs and so on. After a couple weeks, we’d move on to writing whole words and sentences by joining different letters together in just the right way.

Being a lefty, I finished every class with the heel of my left hand completely coated in dark grey pencil lead. It was all worth it though, because it was a necessary skill to learn. Once mastered, cursive was a far faster and more efficient way of writing than using individually printed letters.

My mom was recently shocked and disappointed to learn that none of my 3 kids (now 22, 19 and 16) could write cursive.

My response?

Who cares! None of them can shoe a horse or start a fire with sticks either, but I think they’ll be just fine. Hell, for them, email is considered obsolete technology.

Truth be told – in spite of all the instruction and practice – I’m not sure that I could write five cursive sentences if you put a gun to my head. I type 60 words a minute on a keyboard, though.

Why do people cling so nostalgically to demonstrably inferior methods that they just happen to find more familiar?

That’s the thought that crosses my mind whenever I talk to retailers on the topic of allocating and ordering stock. Some think it’s the bee’s knees, the cat’s pyjamas and the elephant’s adenoids rolled into one.

Over time, the methods for determining which store gets which percentage of available stock become more sophisticated. Historical sales, current levels, safety stocks, on order quantities and the price of Bitcoin are all factored in to make sure that stock is pushed out of the DC and each store gets the perfect allocation for each SKU.

But it’s still nothing more than a blunt instrument. Like sticking with cursive writing, but using a calligraphy pen instead of a number 2 pencil.

The most important factor in determining how much of any given item each store needs at any given time is the anticipated demand from customers for that item at that store. If you focused your energy on that one problem ( customer demand), then simple netting logic can figure out the rest, including what needs to be in the DCs to support the demand in the first place. Ordering stock becomes a menial administrative activity unworthy of a human being’s time or attention.

Forecasts are by no means perfect, but the need to have stock positioned in anticipation of your customers’ arrival still exists and is the primary value a brick-and-mortar retailer gives to the world.

If you build a process around the ultimate goal of constantly learning what makes your customers tick, you will only get better at it.

And leave that number 2 pencil behind once and for all.

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