Dell Computers: a Case Study in Low Inventory

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Dell Computers: A Case Study in Low Inventory

When managers discuss low inventory levels, Dell is invariably discussed. Hell, even I've mentioned Dell on this site. So why all the commotion? Has their low inventory REALLY helped out that much? In short, yes. This article is primarily going to discuss how much it helped. This article will not discuss how they achieved such high inventory turns using a state of the art just in time inventory system.

Reasoning behind need for lower inventory

The first thing that needs to be discussed is why low inventory has such a great effect on Dell's overall performance. The reason is quite simple: computers depreciate at a very high rate. Sitting in inventory, a computer loses a ton of value.

As Dell's CEO, Kevin Rollins, put it in an interview with Fast Company:

"The longer you keep it the faster it deteriorates -- you can literally see the stuff rot," he says. "Because of their short product lifecycles, computer components depreciate anywhere from a half to a full point a week. Cutting inventory is not just a nice thing to do. It's a financial imperative."

We're going to assume that the depreciation is a full point per week (1%/week) and use that to determine how much money high inventory turns can save Dell.

This means that for every 7 days a computer sits in Dell's warehouses, the computer loses 1% of its value. Ok, now that we know how much Dell loses for each day, let's take a look at some of Dell's data over the past 10 years that I pulled from

What I got from this was the inventory turns. An inventory turn, as this website successfully describes it, is "cost of goods sold from the income statement divided by value of inventory from the balance sheet". Typically, this is turned into a value showing how many days worth of inventory a firm has by dividing inventory turnover by 365. I divided the inventory turnover by 52 in order to show how many weeks worth of...
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