Optimizing your Supply Chain

Written by Emily Ritchie

Read Time: 5 Minutes

The delivery of your product is a company’s last chance to touch base with a customer or make an impression. The customer will not be impressed with your product if the product is late, damaged, or never arrives. Many great businesses leave shipping efficiency as an afterthought. However, your business will evaporate if your supply chain is lacking. It is that simple.

Say goodbye to late deliveries because of a problem with your supplier, incorrect inventories, and overwhelmed management. By streamlining your supply chain, you can erase these avoidable issues in your operations.

Ok so, what is a supply chain and how do you manage it?

A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer. Supply chain activities involve the transformation of natural resources, raw materials, and components into a finished product that is delivered to the end customer, says Wikipedia. So, what does that mean? To make it simple, we will take it step by step.

First, it starts with the customer order. Understand how the order is processed, how it comes into the organization, and how to react. Have you optimized this process with an automated system?

Next, recognize what kind of manufacturer you are, or that you are working with. Do you or your manufacturer make things to order or keep them in stock? Knowing this, you can define what you can promise to your customers. Made to order manufacturers need to account for the manufacturing cycle time and managing your raw material inventories is critical. Being able to promise accurate “order to delivery” cycle times can make or break a small business.

Make to stock manufactures typically have available inventory ready to promise, you can take it right from your warehouse picking location and begin the shipping process. If you are promising more to your customers than what you can deliver, that can have disastrous consequences.

Now, consider your lead times. Managing your supply chain lead times accurately leads to more satisfied customers, and more satisfied customers leads to more sales. Did the customer not receive their shipment on time? Do you know how long it takes to process an order, transit times, inspection, etc.? These problems may be easily avoided if you simply managed your lead times throughout the supply chain process.

Is Make-to-Order Better than Make-to-Stock? 

There is no one size fits all, and in some cases, companies are both. Make-to-stock items are beneficial for fast moving items. Suppliers can avoid high levels of inventory sitting in their warehouse by knowing what items fly of the shelves. For the make-to-order company they experience lower inventory levels. Additionally, they have lower levels of capital associated with the inventory but have longer order-to-delivery cycle times. Can your business thrive in this environment? For the make-to-order company they choose the trade-off of higher inventories and the associated capital required for faster response times to customers.

If you’re ineffective managing your supply chain, you can be neither. This is NOT where you want to be. We’ve seen many make-to-stock companies that have a hard time managing their inventory levels, resulting out of stock situations. When a customer places an order, for the make-to-stock company speed is everything. If it’s not available your customer will start to look for an alternative supplier. For the make-to-order companies, having the raw materials in stock and available so you can start production as quickly as possible is just as important as the finished goods inventory is to the make-to-stock company.

Tip: While it can be beneficial to consolidate your vendors, it is also key to have a back-up to your primary vendor. What if your primary vendor is late? Having a back-up can be imperative for on-time deliveries. Additionally, keeping a close eye on your sourcing and supplier management will ease some of these issues. Conduct timely sourcing exercises to ensure your supplier fits all your needs. Find other suppliers to compare and see if they are offering something that your current supplier is not, or if they can manufacture your product in a more efficient way.


Keeping track of your inventory is easier than it sounds. You should do a complete inventory count once a year. To ease this daunting task, try cycle counts. If you have a large inventory, cycle counts can help with the workload. I once worked at a university bookstore in college and we had an enormous inventory. To overcome this, we did cycle counts once a week for a handful of items on top of yearly inventory. The small cycle counts helped with time and stress come inventory day. Make sure to cross reference your physical inventory counts with your system to ensure correct inventory data.

It is important to optimize your supply chain in order to grow your small or medium business and effectively make sure your operation is running smoothly. No longer must you deal with late deliveries, incorrect inventories, and overwhelmed management. By streamlining your supply chain, you can erase these avoidable issues within your operations.

So, does your supply chain measure up?