Inventory management part I: names and product types

Posted by Thomas Wong
Inventory Management: Product Names and Product Types

If you’re new to the concept of inventory tracking, this article shares a few basic tips on how to name your products, and set up your inventory software or spreadsheet to make it easier to track different types of items. Essentially, this boils down to carefully balancing quick human readability, while maintaining the ability to quickly sort and filter your products when needed.

If you’ve never set up or tracked your own inventory before, there are a few aspects you’ll want to consider before you set up your database, spreadsheet or ledger. You may end up changing how you track your products as your business changes, but planning out your inventory from the beginning can save you a lot of time a few months from now. Here are a few factors for you to consider before you begin to even list your products.

Naming your items

When you only have a handful of items, you might want to identify one of your products as “Frilly Red Dress”. After all, that’s what you might call it , and that’s how customers will see it. But as discussed in the “Create your own barcodes” article, there’s a lot that you can encode into a name.

A good naming convention for items strikes a balance between being easily human-readable, so that a new employee could learn to identify items quickly, while maintaining machine-readability, so that you can sort and filter your own product list easily in a spreadsheet or inventory program. Your business needs to be quick and light on its feet, so you’ll want to design these capabilities right into your inventory list.

Let’s discuss the example case of Archon Optical: they sell an item called “Zealot Glasses.” Entering the glasses into a product list simply based on their name works, but that isn’t forward-thinking—it doesn’t account for the different colors and materials that could be used in future Zealot editions. There could be an amazing holiday edition of the glasses made out of aluminum instead of plastic, in which case “Zealot Glasses” would no longer be enough to differentiate one model from another. The lesson here is that you may not be able to predict all the future permutations of a product, but you can build a few common variables into the item name.

Building on the idea of varying colors and materials, a better name for the Zealot Glasses would be “ZEALOT-ALUM-RED”. That accounts for the model type (Zealot), material type (Aluminum), and color (Red). What’s more, if you were to sort all of your products by item name, all of the Zealot models made out of aluminum would automatically be grouped together.

Item Names with and without material and color types

Setting up product types

Stocked products:

Will your business be stocking products regularly? If so, which ones? Those will be considered stocked items, and you’ll want to be able to track the quantity of those products at multiple locations, like so:

Drawing of a product list: Quantity shows amount on hand, Location shows the location of the product

Handling stocked products also involves setting up locations, and you’ll generally want to set up one location per major storage area. One example of this is Warehouse AWarehouse B, and so on.

If your storage areas are fairly small and your product list isn’t very complicated, you can just start off with locations. However, if your business starts to hold more inventory and requires larger spaces that need to be subdivided, it’s common to create multiple sublocations to help organize each major location (e.g., Warehouse AAisle 2).

Serialized products:

If your business deals with products where each instance of the product is unique and serialized, you’ll want to be able to track every individual serial number. Certain pieces of inventory software (like inFlow Cloud) will let you enter this information into a dedicated Serial field that can take in multiple serial numbers at once, but if you’re using a spreadsheet, you’ll want to add an extra column to capture each instance of a serialized number:

Drawing of a product list: showing item name, quantity, location, and a unique serial number for each serialized item

Services or non-stocked products

Finally, there are products you may only carry occasionally, or services that you provide, where you don’t really need to track the quantity on hand. These would be classified as services or non-stocked products, and it’s up to you to decide whether to separate those in your own inventory system.

inFlow does differentiate between a service (like an eye exam at Archon Optical) and a non-stocked product (like a custom-ordered pair of sunglasses), but what the two product types have in common is that you don’t need to track their quantity on hand. Here’s an example of what services/non-stocked products would look like alongside the other product types:

Drawing of a product list: the item "EyeExam_Full is not a physical product, but Archon Optical does make money off of it, so they keep it on the product list

Deciding on product names, types, and locations are a good first step in setting up your shop.

Keep all your product info in one place with inFlow Cloud

inFlow already has dedicated fields for item names, descriptions, and locations — and if you already have a spreadsheet ready, you can import spreadsheets to quickly update your products in inFlow.

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Thomas Wong

About Thomas Wong

Thomas is a 100% human being who divides his time between writing medium-sized articles with his keyboard and taking large photographs with his camera.

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