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Inventory Fundamentals - Lesson 1

Why Organize ?

Every theatre has a collection of costumes, props/sets, and equipment.  All those items were either bought, created, or donated to be used in a production or a class.  Someone had a purpose in mind for each item.  But over time as more items were collected some items were forgotten, misplaced or mishandled so now the collection is just a big room (or warehouse) with a lot of items but no one is quite sure what they have.  Many items are not used and just sit there for years taking up space and collecting dust.  
The main reason to organize that collection is that you want to know what you have so everything can be found and used.   There are many benefits to organizing your collection as well so keep this in mind as you begin the inventory process - because it is a lot of work.  
To organize a large collection of items you need to create an inventory (a very organized list).   There are many ways to create an inventory but we will concentrate on using a database because it has the most features and will give you the most options to enter complete data, do a variety of searches and print reports.
But ... databases require software, hardware and a lot of time.  Most costume shops will need to justify the expense and time to get the needed funds and allocate the people and time to inventory the collection.  
This lesson will discuss the benefits of creating an inventory to organize the collection.  In later lessons we will go over all the details you need to make it work.

1)  What do you have in your theatre ?   Identify the main groups of items :
    A.  Costumes
    B.  Props
    C.  Sets
    D.  Lights
    E.  Sound Equipment
    F.  Scripts
    G.  Sewing / Knitting Patterns
    H.  Tools
    I.   Construction Materials for costumes and props
2)  Decide which group of items you will inventory first, second, etc.  
      Then within a group (i.e. costumes) decide which areas you want to inventory first.  By setting your priorities you will have a good way to mark your progress.   For example - some shops will inventory all the costumes for a production, then tackle then next production.  Others will divide the collection by costume type and gender (doing all men's shirts, men's jackets, men's pant, women's shirts/tops, women's jackets/coats, women's pants, women's skirts, etc.)  It really doesn't matter which group you inventory first  as long as you have a plan. 
Make a list of the items you intend to inventory in order by priority.  Place this list in your binder to help keep you on track with your plan.

 3) Make a list of the benefits to the Costume Shop of having an inventory.  Here are a few ideas:

         Benefits to the Costume Shop:
          -     Know what you have available for :
                       Audits - for insurance and school asset management

                       Student Projects

          -     Find thing quickly - do a search in the database and see the details, photos and the storage location 


          -    Be able to put things away quickly so you can find them again.  Have students and volunteers look up the storage location so they can put things away correctly and quickly.


          -     Set up a rental system to generate income for the shop.  Check things out quickly and check them back in with a barcode scanner.  Be able to know who checked items out and when they are expected back.

          -     Review what costumes and props/sets were used in past productions.  (Costumes and Props can be assigned to one or more productions in the Theatre Inventory Database.)

          -     Be able to run reports at any time in case the theatre manager or school principal wants to know anything about the database (# of items, value of all items in the collection, how many rentals have you done this year, etc.


4) Make a list of the Benefits to the Theatre or school:

           -    The Theatre Tech director or the principal can request reports at any time to provide:

                 An accurate count of the number of items in the Theatre
                 An accurate value of the items for insurance or asset management
                 A summary of the rentals of costumes, props, etc to know the number of rentals and the income generated by those rentals

            -    Build good will between the theatre/school and other organizations.  Having a collection that is inventoried allows other schools, theatres, churches, etc to call and ask if you have something.  Being able to find an item and loan/rent it to another organization builds good relationships and makes your theater/school the one to call first.

            -    Generate income by doing rentals.  This money can help the costume shop directly so offset the costs of maintaining the collection.


            -     Help students learn inventory and computer skills that they can take with them to college or jobs  

5)   By identifying what you have you can plan your storage areas better.  A better storage area means you can:

       -    Find and rehang/return items to their storage place quickly.  (With the Theatre Inventory Database you can run reports by Storage Area and print "Box Reports" that will list everything in a box or bin so you can put the Box Report on the front of the box.) 

       -    Keep things in good shape so they can be used again (get rid of the black plastic garbage bags !)


       -    Have things in a safe and secure place so students and staff don’t get injured by heavy items falling down.

        -    Be ready for the fire marshall visits.  Fire marshalls want to see items stored on secure racks and shelves with plenty of walking space in the aisles.  Check your local requirements to see how high you can stack things and how far apart the racks need to be.

6)   Theatre Property (Costumes, props, equipment, etc) has value.  Often theatre companies and school just see the items in the production area as a lot of stuff taking up room.  By creating the inventory and placing a value (cost to make/buy, replacement cost and rental price) on each item you (and the theatre owner / school principal) can quickly see the value of the items you have.
Here are a few ways to think about the value of the collection:
    A.  Value in $$$ - the cost to make or buy the item

    B.  Value in $$$ to replace everything in case of a fire or flood.  (A few costume shops, theatres, and schools are destroyed every year by fire, water damage from rain, floods, pest infestations and a few tornados.)  


    C.  Value to a production - without the costumes, props, sets, lighting and sound the production value is greatly diminished


    D.  Value as a income generator - money collected from rentals can be used to help fund new costumes, props, equipment, or production costs.

What have you added to your binder?

  • A list of the items in your theatre  

  • A list of priorities - what are you going to inventory first?  

  • A list of the benefits to the costume shop  

  • A list of the benefits to the theatre/school  

  • A list of the ways the collection has value


What’s next ?

    Lesson 2:  Recognize what you have.  Teach your students how to describe your costumes and props so you can enter the best data in each inventory record.

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