LANSING | The job of White Inventory Service Inc.’s employees is to count everything: cans of coffee, bottles of wine, stalks of celery, bags of chips and anything else, sold in each retail site they inventory .
They tally every item and put a value on the merchandise.
The company, which was founded 60 years ago by Bob White, operates within a 150 mile radius of its Lansing headquarters, inventorying grocery stores, mini-markets, service stations, liquor stores and other retailers.
Bob Novak bought the business from its second owner four years ago. But his ties to the company go back to its inception.
White was head auditor for Kroger’s Chicago division when he founded the company, and hired Kroger employees to work for it, mostly on a part-time basis. Business was brisk from the start, said Novak, who was one of White’s original employees.
“I’d leave Kroger at 5 p.m. and was inventorying by 5:15, and then would work all weekend,” Novak said. “There was no competition then. He (White) was so successful there were 45 part-time employees and five full-time. We did Stacks and many other small chains, we were going to Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana and even the Grand Cayman Islands.”
About 30 years ago, White retired and moved to Florida and sold the business to Harold Myers. In the past three decades, the business changed as other companies entered the market, scanners were introduced, a large number of White’s employees retired and many small grocers ether closed or were bought by large chains.
White’s business changed too, especially when Myers began to have health problems that stopped him from seeking new clients. In 2010, he offered to sell the business to Novak.
“It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Novak, of Chicago Heights, who has worked as an independent insurance agent since the 1980s and is semi-retired from that profession. “I bought it to pass on to my grandson.”
Myers remains with the company, setting up appointments and doing whatever his health allows, Novak said.
The company currently has 275 steady clients, mostly small retailers, grocers and service station and mini-marts, he said. He’s currently trying to increase his client base.
“In the inventory business you have feast and famine,” Novak said. “From Dec. 2 to March 1, we go gangbusters and do up to 80 percent of business for the year. Right now we’re trying to get bigger accounts that would be done on quarterly bases.
“There’s money to be earned,” he said. “Even with this being a bad year, I expect a 15 to 18 percent increase in business.”
Despite the financial and business hit retailers took from the recent recession, stores still need to take inventory, he said.
“Taking inventory is cheap insurance,” Novak said. “It keeps employees honest and allows a business investor the opportunity to keep his eye on what’s happening.”
It’s also needed for insurance, taxes and other record keeping.
Novak’s employees take an inventory by counting every item in a location rather than by using a scanner, he said.
His employees count how many items are in a row, how many stacks in a row to determine how many items in each category. They then take the result and enter the value of the item on an Intel 100 computerized calculator, Novak said.
It normally takes 45 minutes and four employees to complete an inventory of a small store, he said.
Manpower is his business’ biggest expense, thus the longer a job takes, the higher his costs and the lower his margin.
“With a scanner you have to pick up every item, and that takes time and manpower,” Novak said. “The job is really just counting.’’