By Matt Pillar, Integrated Solutions For Retailers magazine
Debbie Cotterman, inventory manager at CBR Airport Retail (Spirit of the Red Horse, Talie, Radio Road, Creative Kidstuff, ZOZO, regional gift stores) wields her self-described "data geek" status like a weapon against out-of-stocks. But then, managing inventory for a company that runs 41 stores comprising multiple banners and formats — all of them in airports — requires a few secret weapons. For starters, there are challenges inherent in managing inventory in an airport retail setting. Real estate is extremely expensive (up to 20% of sales) and stores are small (typically under 1,000 square feet), so it's important to make full use of the sales floor. This leaves little or no space for on-site stock rooms. Customers are migrant. If an item is out-of-stock today, you can't ask them to come back to pick it up tomorrow. Traffic and sales can peak or plummet unexpectedly, depending on variables like flight schedules and weather.
These hallmarks of airport retailing require a JIT (just-intime) approach to inventory. But for CBR, the challenge of running JIT is compounded by its myriad formats. As CBR grew its store count considerably through the early part of the last decade, these challenges began to tax its inflexible legacy store and inventory management systems.