Sayonara to “stack ’em high, watch ’em fly”

Inventory management has been changing at Polaris (WSJ 5/24/10) – they have been dropping their dealers’ inventories for the last four years.  With the old system dealers orders twice per year and were given generous incentives to stock up, in short, trade promotions. The article doesn’t mention some key details, like while dealers  ordered twice per year, dealers probably took deliveries throughout the year.  And, dealers probably ordered at the same time, rather than staggered throughout the year.

The new system has dealers ordering once every two weeks. The match between supply and demand with this new system should be much better. With the old system, each dealer had to guess what they would need over the next six months (assuming Polaris didn’t build in anticipation of the next set of dealer orders). Invariably, they would make some mistakes – ordering too much of some products, not enough of other products. To correct errors, dealers probably swapped inventory during the six month cycle, but that isn’t the most efficient way to move inventory around.

Enter the new system. Now dealers order every two weeks and so their orders will far better reflect what they actually need and what is actually selling. In short, the system should be able to reduce dealer inventories *and* better meet demand, unless demand is picking up across all dealers faster than Polaris can produce.

According to the article, this is a trend in the industry – all firms are moving to shorter order cycles. Why? It may reflect competition among suppliers – this is a great deal for the dealers and so to keep a dealer you need to be more attractive. It also may reflect a calculus that the sales incentive of the channel stuffing strategy is not worth the better supply-to-demand matching of the current system. One thing is for sure, Polaris has certainly made some big changes in how it trades with dealers:

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