Ironically, as the retail industry embraces technology, so too should we embrace our own food storage strategies. Twenty years agomost grocery stores provided ample food storage for their communities, filling back stockrooms full of food and supplies. As soon as a customer would pull the last box of Cheerios from the shelf, a stock boy would quickly crack open a new case of Cheerios in the back. Delivery trucks were far less frequent, and therefore brought much larger quantities at a time. This traditional inventory model was the standard because nothing else would adequately keep the shelves full for the customers.
Corporations are always eager to keep inventory to a bare minimum, mainly because they must pay substantial taxes on their entire inventory. Once computers became affordable these companies shifted from the traditional inventory model to one called Just In Time. Instead of a store manager manually ordering all the items as their inventory gets low, maintaining an ample supply in the back to account for unexpected demand, the Just-In-Time (JIT) model automatically anticipates the needs of the stores by looking at historical trends, and real time inventory data. With JIT a large grocery store may be visited by various delivery trucks though out the day. No longer does a store require a stock room. Once the last box of Cheerios is taken from the shelf, a delivery truck is arriving – Just in Time – with more boxes. Basically, a store’s stock room has become mobile, existing now on a fleet of delivery trucks who precisely dispatched by very advanced computer models. The result, inventories have been greatly reduced, saving corporations millions of dollars every year.
This model is very efficient and works very well…under predictable conditions. A grocery store of 80,000 unique items may only be out of a few particular things. That efficiency is truly remarkable. It is also incredibly vulnerable. Most of us can remember a time within the last year when transportation was impossible. Ice storms, earth quakes, floods and fires can cut off communities for days. Hurricanes shut down entire regions for weeks. All of these fairly routine natural occurrences wreak havoc on the JIT model. No longer can the delivery truck replenish the needed everyday items. Within hours of a disaster, the shelves of a grocery store will easily be barren. Recently, the people of Charleston West Virginia learned the lesson. Within hours of being informed their water was contaminated, the local stores sold out of bottle water. They leaned how little supply was truly on hand that night.
Our society was once agrarian, and hard wired to think ahead. Our grandparents new the value of planning for uncertainty. Our society can learn to thrive in hard times, so long as we all shift our thinking from Just-In-Time to Just-In-Case.
Matt, An Independent American