Best Advice on MRO Inventory Management: Just Start

By Susan Avery

May 02, 2012 at 11:33 AM

The ultimate goal of inventory management is to ensure the right products in the right place at the right time with minimal expense and effort. This is easier said than done. 

That’s the word from Kevin Hartler, Senior Director, Grainger Brand Services and Solutions Development. At Grainger, Hartler leads a team that develops services and solutions for inventory management, safety, sustainability and emergency preparedness and preparation, among his many responsibilities. 

Hartler_pic.JPGHartler spoke recently to procurement and supply management professionals attending a live webcast, What Does Your MRO Inventory Really Cost?, broadcast at My Purchasing Center. The webcast now is available for viewing on demand at 

At the webcast, Hartler began his presentation by setting the stage with some important facts on MRO inventory. MRO stands for Maintenance, Repair and Operations, the goods and services that keep a facility up and running. 

In 2012, U.S. businesses will spend more than $100 billion in MRO items--everything from light bulbs to cleaning supplies to nuts and bolts, Hartler told attendees. Of this figure, some $10 billion to $12 billion will remain on the shelf, and potentially never get used. 

A study of 500 organizations by Grainger Consulting Services finds that more than half of U.S. businesses are not effectively managing MRO supplies, he said. 

“It’s a rich opportunity for MRO procurement professionals to take costs out of the business through a more aggressive approach to inventory management.”

Not effectively managing MRO supplies is a universal problem that can be explained: The actual consumption of MRO materials is less than anticipated demand. Most organizations expense MRO materials at the time of purchase; users are accountable only for what they buy and typically not for what they use. What’s more, most facilities don’t have visibility into historical usage for MRO materials and no way to reconcile the difference between what they buy and what they use.

Ultimately the effort to manage MRO inventory is worth the return, Hartler said, adding that organizations can expect 25 cents for every dollar. “You can get that money back by having discipline and thinking about the processes around four key inventory management activities stock, consume, analyze and adjust.”

He said that best-in-class organizations have defined processes in place for these activities, and the glue that holds them together is data.

Data makes MRO inventory manageable, he told webcast attendees.  “Data provides visibility and knowledge of demand and usage patterns and helps optimize inventory levels,” he said. “It’s important to ensure that your process includes some means to collect and capture information today and on an ongoing basis,”

But many organizations don’t take the time to go after data about products and usages.

Hartler suggests organizations “start tomorrow with 5-10 items you know you use. I don’t think you need sophisticated software to do this. You just need discipline to meet with a cross functional team” representing procurement, maintenance, engineering and other users.

Data on MRO inventory should provide the facts of any given item in stock. The team can get to the facts by responding to such questions as: What is it? Where is it located? When is it used? If it’s not in stock, where is purchased from and how is it reordered? Why is it in stock? For convenience? For insurance? Is it critical?

With responses to these questions, or data, organizations can then complete routine analysis to determine which items are critical or fast, to make sure “you’re not putting slow or inactive inventory on the shelf,” Hartler said. What to do with inactive items? Donate, auction or give back to suppliers.  

“All this enables you to make necessary adjustments to your inventory such as increasing replenishment or decreasing on-hand levels,” Hartler said.

Also, he suggested organizations look to their supply chains for help. “They tend to have a lot of knowledge,” he said. 

To view the webcast What Does Your MRO Inventory Really Cost? on demand please click here

See also the My Purchasing Center articles Grainger Global Strategy: Serve Customers Locally  and MRO Buyers Focus of Grainger Show

Tags: Strategic sourcing Inventory management Supply chain management MRO procurement Industrial distribution
Category: News Article

Susan Avery


Susan Avery is Editor-in-Chief at My Purchasing Center. She writes articles, blogs and white papers and manages and creates other content for the online procurement and supply management publication. She produces and moderates roundtable discussions, podcasts, webcasts and video interviews. Susan has 30 years experience covering procurement and supply management for Purchasing magazine and 

Please add a comment

Posted by adamkinneylawsonproductscom on
Not effectively managing MRO supplies is a universal problem because the proper assets have not been utilized. Having a company that specializes in on-site inventory management is the fast track to results. It takes more than just a catalog and showing up to maintain a lean inventory and to meet your operational goals. Look for a company that has seasoned representatives with long tenure. There experiences with hundreds of other companies provides a wealth of knowledge and ideas of solving problems and challenges faced daily in your organization. Very few MRO companies can offer a complete package that meets the needs of every individual from end user to CEO. Consider a partnership with a reputable company that is flexible to your unique needs. There is no "one size fits all" solution.

Adam Kinney is a Business Development Manager at Lawson Products, Inc
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