We’ve all been involved in a scenario where we have upcoming events and are either hoping we have enough gear to cover the upcoming orders or we’re scrambling to fulfill the needs at the last minute. Having worked as part of the set-up/strike crew, an on-site technician, and also as an in-house director for a large hotel-based audio visual company for the better part of four years, I’m well aware of the necessity of a good inventory management system.

Knowing what I know now, I see that inventory management encompasses more than simply making sure you can fulfill upcoming orders. It is also a way of knowing where your gear is (or last was, for that matter), and it provides peace of mind that you are retrieving all of your equipment as you are taking down after a show. In doing so, you’re also able to cut down on man hours because, with the right software, you can assign different responsibilities to your team during either the set-up or the take-down process. For instance, when I was working on the set-up and strike crew, I would have relished the ability to digitally mark off gear as I load out or prep it for a show. This also helps enable management to know who was responsible if equipment was either lost or left at a venue.

I can’t recall how many times I had to purchase miscellaneous items at the last minute because we either didn’t plan ahead and order what we needed, or just simply didn’t load it with the rest of the gear. For me, it was no big deal because it wasn’t my money I was spending and it didn’t affect my pay one way or the other, but those “little” expenses can really add up in the long run. Let’s use a 10’ XLR Male to XLR Female cable as an example. Assuming you’re able to get these cables for roughly $6 each and you have to replace them every other show/production and you do 100 shows per year, you’re spending $300 a year just on extra 10’ XLR cables.

However, there are ways of making this number dwindle substantially using computer-based inventory management software. You can use RFID technology, barcode scanning , GPS integration (telematics), or simply creating kits and packages for your pre packed items.

RFID: RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is an ideal solution for making your daily loading and unloading of gear a cinch. By choosing an inventory management system like Point of Rental Software with built in RFID integration, you can tag your items with RFID chips, and then when an RFID reader is waved over a stack, the items are automatically entered into your system.

Barcoding: Barcoding is still a very viable option for those of us who still like to make sure we get a physical touch on items as they are going out or coming back. Using software that allows you to do a “blind return,” you can do returns from multiple shows at once by simply scanning item barcodes. The software will automatically return the items to the contract they are associated with. Because you are not spending as much time physically counting the equipment and trying to make sure you got all the items back from that job, this gives you more time to dedicate to training, product knowledge courses, and troubleshooting/repairs of equipment. Barcoding tends to be a less expensive option than RFID, but with a little more work it is just as effective.

GPS (Telematics): While using GPS could seem like overkill, the utility of  it is endless. Sure, you could know where your equipment is in case you need to track it down, but some projector manufacturers have taken it to another level by allowing you to see the lamp life and hours associated with it. What this allows you to do is have a real-time look at how many hours are on your projector. With integrated software like Point of Rental’s, you can be proactive rather than reactive. I can remember a handful of times off the top of my head where a projector was out on a job site and the lamp died in the middle of a presentation and I had to scramble to get them a new one. Given those one-off scenarios, I am sure that there are certain procedures that you probably have in place where you simply change your lamps every “x” times it goes out or every “x” amount of weeks or months. Using software helps to automate that process and let you know when those tasks need to be done. Using telematics, you can be automatically notified when a projector is nearing the end and inform you to change the bulb in advance. I believe that more A/V gear will be integrated with this in the future where it can let you know how hot an amp is running and if you are seeing channels start to clip even if you are not on site.

Creating Kits/Packages: While this is the probably the simplest of the solutions, it can also be very beneficial when using RFID, barcoding, and telematics. Essentially, kits and packages are a basic form of lumping your items so that everyone knows what goes with what. The main difference is that packages are a set group that goes together and kits can be used to select what additional items are going with what you selected. As an example of a kit, when I used to send out a microphone kit, it came with the receiver, power cord, a 3’ jumper XLR, and either a handheld mic or a lapel mic. Using kits, I could determine whether or not I was going to give them the lapel, handheld, or both. If you were using packaging instead of kits, you could have an audio rack that permanently housed a mixing board, amp, jumper cables, and power distribution. You could title this something like “rack 1” and every time you allocated it to a contract via barcode, RFID, or telematics, it would notate that all of those components go with it and remind you to check for them whether they are going out or coming back. This will save you loads of time because you are not relying on your employees to remember what goes with what and it gives them a breakdown of what they should be looking for.

In summary, inventory management software should be a tool you count among all your snazzy AV equipment. Think of it as insurance to protect your inventory investments. Besides the life-changing features mentioned here which will make you wonder how you ever managed before, reporting is another important part of a good inventory management software. Powerful reporting features will help you discover under- or over-utilized items so you can determine which inventory investments would be worthwhile to make…which is probably a wise idea before heading into the temptations of shiny new equipment at your next AV show.

About the Author

Brian McBroom, Sales Representative from Point of Rental Software, combines his knowledge of inventory management software with practical industry experience to offer AV professionals real help in managing their assets. A featured speaker at Live Design LDI in Las Vegas (October 17-23), Brian brings his own brand of quirky humor to the stage and may even liven the atmosphere with some hard-hitting dubstep beats. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with him there or email him at [email protected].