Apparel (Matrix) Inventory

| May 12, 2008 | 42 Comments

QuickBooks is a flexible accounting product but it has limitations when it comes to anything related to Inventory. One of the areas CCRSoftware is interested in is the Apparel industry, where your basic inventory item may come in a variety of sizes, colors and styles. We call this a matrix inventory. This can apply to other industries as well, wherever you have a product line with many variations in options or styles.

In QuickBooks this can be difficult to manage. Do you try to set up an item for every variation/combination? Wouldn’t you like to have one line in an invoice with a matrix of sizes all in that line? Do you use sub-items to specify the variations? There are many approaches, and none of them work well.

The QuickBooks POS system has a “matrix” setup that lets you create variations of items fairly simply, but this doesn’t carry through to QuickBooks Pro, Premier or Enterprise.

What I would like to do is to start a discussion here of what features you would like to see in QuickBooks as it relates to this kind of inventory situation. Over time, if there is interest, I’ll discuss some ideas as to how we think we can add features to QuickBooks that will support these kinds of industries.

So, let us know – are you interested? What kinds of features do you need that relate to the topic? Please post a comment here if you would like to participate in the discussion.

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Category: General Tips, Inventory

About the Author (Author Profile)

Charlie Russell is the founder of CCRSoftware. He’s been involved with the small business software industry since the mid 70’s, focusing on inventory and accounting software for small businesses. Charlie is a Certified Advanced QuickBooks ProAdvisor. Look for Charlie’s articles in the Accountex Report blog, as well as his California Wildflower Hikes blog.

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  1. Bob says:

    Very interested in such an idea. Unfortunately, I am too busy with daily work to spend time working on it.
    My problem:
    I buy Apparel at a manufacturer, give them to a screen print company as well as to an embroidery and sell the final product (Screen prints and embroidery varies)
    The inventory in Quickbooks can’t deal with this. Idealy, I would love to create the item numbers for every single Sales Order (e.g. Item Number of the apparel plus screen print and embroidery options from a drop-down menu, in addition the different sizes of course). Basically a matrix solution, as you say.

  2. ZooKeeper says:

    We actually switched to Peachtree to obtain this feature but discovered that it only allowed 20 sub-products in the matrix. An example of what we would be looking at might be expressed as follows;

    S508 Easy Care Shirt (Short Sleeve)
    S508-XL-GC-GC (X-Large – Court Green/Court Green)
    S508-XL-BK-LN (X-Large – Black/Light Stone)
    TLS508-LT-BK-LN (Tall/Large – Black/Light Stone)
    S508ES-8X-BK-LN (Extend 8X-Large – Black/Light Stone)

    5250 Tagless Tee
    Comes in S-3XL and in about 34 different colors
    One vendor charges different prices based upon size AND color, the other vendor charges different sizes based only upon size.
    5250-XL-BK (X-Large – Black)
    5250-XL-WH (X-Large – White)
    5250-3X-BK (3X-Large – Black)

    This is the solution we have come up with to deal with the matrix issue – to have an SKU for each of the styles, colors, and sizes. Oh, the S508 garment above has about 24 different colors and comes in men’s, men’s tall, men’s extended sizes, ladies, maternity, and long and short sleeve for both genders as well. The primary style number does change for these variations though – color remains constant throughout.

    The simple way to summarize is that the first number is the garment style – usually assigned by the manufacturer, the second part follows the first dash and is the size – usually in the form of a 1 or 2 digit code (S-Small, L-Large, 2X-XXLarge, etc. though some are 3 digit.), the last part of the SKU is the color code – usually a 2 digit code, but may also have a hyphenated code following it to indicate a two-tone color as in the S508 example above.

    Peachtree would let us do the sizes as most garments only come in a size range similar to XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL, and 4XL though there are a few garments that go all the way to 10XL. Of course ladies and infants use a similar size matrix, but just have different abbreviations, like 1XP for a Plus 1X size women’s garment. When you enter this into the inventory item in peachtree it generates all of the variations in a flat listing much like Quickbooks does. The sub-product utility just helps create the variations I think, as you enter the full code into invoices and/or purchase orders, etc.

    We started out with something a bit different because we also have quantity price breaks AND different price levels for “dealers”. We sell to gift shops in museums and such and they get a better discount on certain items than what we would sell direct to a retail customer for as we want to encourage folks to visit the museums and such where they can get the garments, plus some are only available via the museum. You can see a web implementation of this at our website (www.thegraphiczoo.com/catalog) and if you want to see more you can visit the beta version by replacing the www with the word beta. Please don’t place any test orders as this is a live site. The beta site will likely be switched over within the next 30 days or so and if you (Charlie) would like to see how it looks on the backend, drop me an email and I’ll set you up a temporary access code so you can see how it looks on the admin side of the website. The matrix is being setup in the beta site to not use attributes for colors, but to use sub-products, similar to the implementation in Peachtree. The sizes will likely remain as attributes on the website as they are a relatively small number, however colors now have a 3 column full page of just colors and codes – so you can see why using attributes became a bad idea relatively quick.

    Hope this helps in some way.

  3. Thanks! I’ll pass on logging in to your web site at this time, but I appreciate the offer.

    It’s unfortunate that you have to go to these extremes to cover all your needs, but you do have a fairly complicated setup. I appreciate the examples. We’ll see if that is something we can accomodate.

    How many “basic” garments do you have, roughly, not counting the variations in size, color and so forth?

  4. Vic says:

    Ok, wow I’m glad that someone is actually looking into improving this dilemma. I am just starting a clothing line here and do not have much experience in dealing with Quickbooks or Peachtree but I am quickly finding out that I do not like peachtree much at all. So any way I can make my life easier with quickbooks would be awesome.

    My problem is very similar to one of the other posts. I purchase my apparel (shirts) as blanks then send them to get screen printed. It is much cheaper this way. But I run into a problem with inserting the blanks into inventory with my cost then putting in the screening costs into inventory and trying to sell the to items as one. I believe the assembly does this but I am unsure. Still learning this program. I need to sell these items as a whole but still subtract the two componets from inventory.

    Also I am trying to find the simplest most effective way to enter all my apparel into inventory. as the above person said, it gets complicated when you have one shirt style, in 20 different colors, in 6-7 different sizes. Do I sub categorize them, do I list them individually and how do I deal with my previous issue when I am finished and ready to sell.

    Finding a way to accomplish this in QB or to find a tool/add-on to QB would be phenomenal.

    Do you see any hope for me???

  5. Thank you for your comments. A solution, via CCRSoftware as an add-on, is not going to be ready in the short term. We’re still gathering information.

    If you are selling screened shirts that you are making to stock, so you have an inventory of finished shirts on hand, you would want to look into “assembly” items (see our manufacturing tutorial at http://qbblog.ccrsoftware.com/manufacturing-tutorial.html).

    If you are making the screen shirts to order, and have a lot of different combinations of shirts/designs, you might want to consider working with group items instead. Take a look at the ideas at http://qbblog.ccrsoftware.com/2008/06/groups-for-cust.html for some ideas on that.

  6. Ben says:

    My company had to give up on Quickbooks because of this. We have 2 lines.

    One where we design all of the outfits, but the raw materials and send them to the factory to be produced.

    The 2nd is buying blanks and appliques. With the blanks coming in 6 different styles, up to 10 different colors, and 15 sizes, it adds p real fast. Then multiply that by about 400 different designs.

    We ultimately went with a software solution designed for the apparel industry and began full implementation July 1. It was an expensive investment compared to quickbooks, but based on the man hours we will save, it will be worth it.

  7. malyn says:

    Matrix system recomended! We are a shoe designer/wholesaler and need the matrix system incorportated into our inovice and pack sheets, etc… in order to properly accomidate and keep things in order.

  8. Thank you, Malyn, We are still interested in developing this, unfortunately it is going to take awhile to come up with an affordable solution. Keep track of this discussion, we’ll announce things here when we get closer. And we are very interested in hearing what people would specifically like to see done that would help their situation.

  9. C F Burk says:

    RE; Drop downs.

    I own a elite custom fly rod manufacturing company. Our specialty is custom making individuals fly rods. We have many combinations; colors, components etc. and to hand enter all the all the different combinations / items is not practical to say the least.

    I am in the same mess as a lot of other small business owners. I can’t just run out and purchase expensive software and yet I can not run my company with common cents efficiency that seem so obvious. In excel and word you can create forms with all sort of drop down for various items. I was hoping this would integrate with QB. But so much for hope. Any way as you can tell I am quite frustrated with QB and it’s limitations. Any recommendations?

  10. Thank you for you comment, CF Burk. I agree, it is a problem. I’m working on some ideas, but it’s going to take awhile.

    In the meantime, take a look at my posting on using groups in custom manufacturing (in the Manufacturing Tutorial series).

  11. dana says:

    I’m a tiny apparel start up. I manufacture and sell my own product direct to consumer. Only a handful of styles and a limited color/size matrix. Not sure why I assumed that handling this would be easy but I did. Quite frankly it never crossed my mind that variables would be unheard of in such a popular piece of software. Product variables are a given in my world. I guess not in QB. Very odd from my standpoint. On top of all this I also use a Mac so can’t even get the manufacturing version. Oh and I have to integrate with my website too which has no problem handling variables. Appears QB ain’t the solution but not sure where to go from here.

  12. Chris Hendrix says:

    You have a big oppurtunity with this. The apperal specific software is outrageously priced. If you could buy it, that is. They only let you use it if you continue to pay them on an ongoing basis.

  13. Sandy Raddue says:

    We are an embroidery and digital garment printing shop. I would LOVE a matrix solution, but a far simpler stopgap would help tremendously. I spend 2-3 HOURS a day entering invoices into QB that would take 20 minutes if I ONLY had the ability to have multiple quantity columns – just by size. In other words – if I could have a line item of a shirt, and sizes that went from XS-4X and “other” it would accomodate almost everything I need. For the exceptions (eg larger than 4X, baby sizes) I can always keep entering the separate line.

  14. Matt Behr says:

    we manage by having a disciplined product naming convention and separate items for each variant.

    this is a very big pain though. We will be migrating to something that support this over the next year. PeachTree and NetSuite both seem to do a better job

  15. Viki says:

    I am a small wholesale apparel company. I had hoped to use Quickbooks for my inventory as well as invoicing and accounting but it doesn’t work the way I really need it to. My process is this:

    I receive items from my manufacturer once a month. I don’t have too many variables for my styles – most styles come in under 3 colors and usually two sizes (at most three sizes). Each color/size/style is listed as a different item in QB.

    I receive purchase orders from my customers (generally 2-4 months in advance). I make an invoice at the time I receive the purchase order and keep that in my binder of orders waiting to go out.

    Once an order is ready to go out it is sent and the invoice is marked “paid” at the time of shipping if they pay with credit card, or at a later date when the COD check is received.

    I don’t know if my system of creating invoices immediately from POs is correct. I spent almost $800 on a Quickbooks Pro adviser when I purchased the POS software (the software is about $400) and it seemed to only complicate matters. Fortunately the software and all the barcoding equipment was returnable.

    There seems to be a real dearth in the apparel industry of good inventory and invoicing software.

    Oh – and don’t even get me started on my inventory system. It’s basically an Excel spreadsheet with the items listed on the left and across the top the months with the quantities going out and the orders with the quantities coming in. It’s not a very efficient system and there is way too much room for error but it’s the best I’ve found so far…

    Any software that would help make this process easier would be SOOOO appreciated. It is definitely needed.

  16. Arlo says:

    Like many on here, I too have a small apparel company. Being a creative field we operate on Macs. The QB version for Macs is extremely limited (as has been well documented), so we installed a virtual PC explicitly with the intention of running QB Premier.

    All of my research had led me to believe that Building Assemblies in the Manufacturer/Wholesaler edition of QB would provide the solutions we were looking for. Unfortunately, I am once again scouring the internet (STILL) searching for the Holy Grail.

    Basically, I sell T-shirts. The final printed T-shirt that I sell is my “assembled item.” The inventory parts that “build” my T-shirt are:
    1. The BLANK T-shirt, bought in bulk from a supplier (in many sizes and colors). The price of the blank can vary depending on the size or color (for instance white blanks are cheaper than colored blanks).
    2. The PRINT (or graphic) that goes onto the shirt.
    2a. There are SET-UP and SCREEN charges associated with every print. This is because every new graphic has to be printed from a screen and the machines have to be set-up for each run of graphics. Unlike the PRINT itself (and the BLANK) which will have a set cost that is associated with every single T-shirt I make (if I make 100 “Garfield” T-shirts I will have to pay for 100 PRINTS and 100 BLANKS at some set cost), the SET-UP and SCREENS are one-time charges that need to be amortized across ALL of the T-shirts made for the life of the graphic. If I decide to do an additional run of the “Garfield” graphic, my BLANK and PRINT costs will remain the same per shirt, but since I don’t need to re-make the screens that cost will keep going down per shirt. The set-ups are slightly different, but you get the idea.
    3. FINISHING – Every T-shirt needs to be relabeled, folded, bagged and tagged.

    The problems associated with trying to create a single “assembled” item which reflects all of the above inventory parts and which can accurately track and maintain all of the associated inventories have been thoroughly expressed by others. I just wanted to add a detailed explanation of exactly what I (and I presume other apparel wholesalers) need.

    One additional note. A great feature would be if you could select multiple items, say from the items list and then have an option to create an invoice from the items selected, so that rather than manually entering every single item one at a time (style, size, color, etc!!) they would all appear in a new invoice with one click and all you would have to enter would be the quantities.

    Thanks for providing a forum for feedback and thanks especially for the great wealth of information provided here.

  17. JvG says:

    I think the answer is to bite the bullet and invest in Microsoft’s Retail Mgt System. I’ve talked to innumerable retailers who use it for managing apparel matrices. More to your point, it can track items through various “stages” like your embroidery and printing. It does this when used in bicycle and hobby shops that assemble complex items, or track repairs through various stages.

  18. Sean Thomas says:

    Please make a solution for apparel companies so that we can use Quickbooks Enterprise, but add multiple matrix characteristics to each item such as Color, Size, and Style varations. We attempted to use POS and integrate it with Enterprise for this purpose, but it turned out to be exactly what the intials suggest, a POS! Management of the integration issues was a full time job, so we dumped that solution. If Quickbooks Enterprise developed a matrix inventory solution (or just bought one of your partners such as Fishbowl, etc… who already have one), and made it so that we could integrate that matrix solution with our website, Intuit would rule the small retail market.

  19. ZooKeeper says:

    We’ve come full circle over this issue and found an application called Positive Retail Manager that handles most of what we need. We have changed our whole SKU system around a tad for uniformity to the following (in case anyone is interested):

    S508-HTR-2X (XX-Large – Hunter)
    S508-BLK-XL (X-Large – Black)
    S508-PPL-L (Large – Purple)
    S508-YEL-M (Medium – Yellow)

    We have opted to NOT include the secondary color at this point, but if we every do need it (same garment with the same base color but two different trim colors) we will either utilize a 4 digit (2 digit primary and 2 digit secondary) color code or hyphenate the color code as follows:
    S508-CRG-DGR-XL (X-Large – Court Green/Dark Green)

    The one issue that we have found with the $1200 PRM solution is that the accounting aspect of the software is quite difficult to work with. On a brighter note, it has a Quickbooks Interface that we are getting ready to explore, so after purchasing Quickbooks Premier Accounting (to use manufacturing edition), Peachtree Premium Manufacturing Edition and Positive Retail Manager (for POS and Inventory Control/Purchasing), we are now getting ready to go back to our Quickbooks application to try to handle the accounting side of this equation. (It’s too hard to track vendor payments and balances in PRM, as an example.) Let’s hope that the record limitation in QB doesn’t hit us for this integration. The PRM system has a QIB interface/translator that we have been told will work for this purpose, so maybe we won’t really have to update inventory, just payables, receivables and base accounting data for financials, analysis, etc.

    One thing that is very irritating for us is that Quickbooks AND Peachtree are constantly presenting small, incremental updates or updates with features that we really don’t want. And to keep current, we have to spend the money annually for the upgrades. This is becoming very annoying and costly, even for a low cost “entry level” system. We have QB Premier 2008 and have no intentions of upgrading anytime soon. If the economy gets better and the combining of PRM and QB works for us, then we’ll consider another upgrade to QB, but NOT every year. Especially since the upgrade price is nearly the same as buying the software NEW! If you do the math; at $300 per, skip two years and buy the third and instead of spending $900 for your software, you have $300 into it. A full one-third of the cost; of course, now that I’ve posted this, they’ll probably do something where you don’t have an upgrade possibility after the second year – you have to start your data over :(.

    (Of course if they do that, then we just won’t upgrade at all, once we have a version that we are happy with.)

    Hope sharing this information helps someone else find a solution. Oh, and before I forget, we also tried a package called POSitive Software from a company called POSitive Attitude. It cost us $1300, and even though we had a money back guarantee, the company refused to honor it after an incidient during setup with their technical support staff where they attempted to launch applications remotely on our system that they were specifically told NOT to launch. They got caught because our system wouldn’t allow the application to launch and they couldn’t close the modal window that notified of the failure to launch as our firewall cut them off when it detected the non-permitted application being launched. We’re still trying to get our money back on this one, the request was within 30 days of registering the software (which we had to wait 2 days since their servers were down) and it is now more than 6 months with BBB doing absolutely nothing except taking statements. Anyway, thought people should have a heads up as they say this software will handle matrix inventory – it was originally a restaurant package as I understand it, and it will not work for the clothing industry.

    • Charlie says:

      Thanks for the info, and let us know how it goes. Note that the QuickBooks POS system, which integrates with QuickBooks, also supports a matrix inventory of its own.

  20. brianpnicus says:

    Just came across this issue and I felt I should share my input to handle this the easiest way. My company has a very complex inventory model but to avoid explaing my setup in great lengths, let me tell you the solution. We decided the best way to handle inventory like on this post is to use a 128 Bacode which is Alphanumeric and have this on all items. This would be a concatenation of style/color/size and as such will make every SKU unique. Then place this barcode under a care/content label on the garment so your customers don’t scan it by accident. But this is what the warehouse should scan to record inventory under and then you will have accurate inventory count and is not held down by prepacks and any type of variations..

  21. Mena says:

    Hi Charlie,

    i have purchased QB Pro 2010 for my t-shirt printing comapny. As i am entering the data into the software i realized there is no option for BOM. What do i do?

    help 🙁

    Thank you

  22. Greg says:

    I’m currently consulting with a fairly large print shop in which they currently are using a custom color/size matrix we bolted on to a low end accounting system close to 12 years ago. Now we are looking to transition them to something more robust. I was going to write this in this thread to find out if there had every been a strong solution in Quickbooks. Specifically we would need color/size matrix for at least 20-30 colors and full range of sizes from child to 6x+. As we had already built an ‘acceptable’ color/size matrix on a rather low end accounting project we are now considering quickbooks for that addon. If there is enough demand… this maybe something we would write that we could offer to others and reduce the capital costs of our primary client. Regardless I would be interested in discussing solutions and determine what the best path forward would be.

    • Charlie says:

      Greg, usually when we look at matrix inventory in a QuickBooks realm we look at QuickBooks Point of Sale. POS handles a matrix inventory.

      There aren’t good options in QuickBooks itself because of the limitations of the inventory system. Coming up with a workaround in QB, if you rely on the inventory structure it uses, is a bit of a pain.

  23. Chris Nelson says:

    Oh my God! This is what I absolutely need and why I found you. Searching for a program I can use for oder entry that allows me to do as you mention. I will drop QB if necessary to get a program that allows me to enter order by size across the line, rather than a separate line for each size!

    If anyone knows where I can ge this, PLEASE let me know!

  24. Harlan says:

    All- I have a manufacturing company (which I just bought). The previous owners used an antiquated system called AIMS, which runs on DOS. IT WORKS for what you are asking for – all sizes for one style on one line!

    It creates Sales Orders, Pick Tickets, Invoices, and allows Payment Postings. However, its not an accounting software, and it only prints to XPS writer which you have to buy something like Able2Extract just to get the data into excel.

  25. Jessie says:

    @Harlan, I have a client that needs a QB inventory add on for matrix inventory, and was considering AIMS. I just spoke to them, and they said it was a hosted solution, but you mention it running on DOS?

    Are you on an older version of it? Has anyone found a solution, or worked with any other QB add-ons for the garment/apparel industries?

  26. Chris says:

    I cant wait for QB matrix any longer. Who has an apparel program that works and what is it? Thank you.

    • donna says:

      We use Apparel Data Solutions. Good for inventory, horrible for accounting. We need something else. Ilove quickbooks but it wont habdle the inventory items, help me find a goid accouning function that supports apperal please

      • Charlie says:

        Donna, there aren’t any “Gold” level apparel accounting products in the Intuit Marketplace – and there won’t be any, since Intuit is no longer accepting entries in the Marketplace and no longer letting any products upgrade to “Gold” level.

  27. Harold Pezzi says:

    Hello, looking to purchase quick books 2012 premier. Do you know if this version has matrix inventory or is there an addon module that works with it. Hope to hear from you soon. Thank you. Harold

    • Charlie says:

      Harold, QuickBooks 2012 doesn’t have a “matrix” inventory feature. At this time I’m not sure if there are any addon products that do, but I haven’t pursued this.

  28. Brian says:

    Does anyone have anything they can recommend? I really can’t afford ACCTivate or Fishbowl

    • Charlie says:

      Brian, unfortunately, QuickBooks just isn’t set to handle this, so you either need to look at QuickBooks POS, or one of the larger add-ons like you mention.

  29. Matt says:

    We are just starting in the apparel industry and my wife hates having to enter every new size or color as a completely new inventory item. It would save so much time to have matrix features at this point.

    How do the add-ons work?

    • Charlie says:

      Matt, other than QuickBooks Point of Sale (which handles a matrix inventory) I’ve not looked at any low cost add-on that would handle this. There might be some that work better if you look at the expensive (multiple thousands) addons. Haven’t gotten there yet.

  30. MOZI says:

    Very frustrating that QB being such an advanced software does not have this feature that is so much in demand. Please post if you guys come across any addon that solves this problem

  31. Ken says:

    Hello,

    I too have been looking for quite some time for an apparel solution. My main need is to be able to create sales orders from a customer’s po and then create subsequent invoices from the so. in a perfect world I will ship one time but most often it takes me several shipments to complete a po. i then need to be able to track my progress and get a report on what I still owe the customer on a particular po. I also need to do a report to know what I owe ALL customers on a particular style, color, size. apparel obviously gets very complicated. i think this is low hanging fruit for a software company. i am pretty sure there is huge pent up demand for this type of solution. the sme erp type solutions for apparel companies are way out of my budget. need something for $3K or less.

    Charlie, I am in SF. Do you do custom development? please contact me to discuss.

    thanks
    ken

    • Charlie says:

      Ken, if you want a solution that works with the QB database itself (which keeps the cost down), the problem is that the QB database is NOT suited to this kind of task. You have to do a lot of workarounds and it gets messy very quick.

      So the solution then is to store the data outside of QB – and that is when the cost/difficulty starts piling up, and you get into the expensive systems.

      QuickBooks POS has features that will support matrix inventory. I have not looked at addons like ACCTivate or similar products that work with QB and maintain inventory outside – but that gets you back to the more expensive realm.

      My firm does not do custom development any longer. Intuit is making it more difficult to do as time goes on.

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