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Become the Expert
Planning and Budget

Every inventory project requires planning, money and people.  Most of you will have to prepare a proposal to give to your principal, theatre director or booster club to get funds to make the inventory project happen.  As we go along in this lecture we will be going over several points that you will want to include in your proposal.

I have set up seven steps for planning your inventory project.


1)  What is your goal or motivation for inventorying your collection?

Get organized to make better use of your costume and props?
    □    Generate revenue from and manage rentals?
    □    Your theatre manager or administrator is requiring you to do a count/value assessment?
    □    Or all three?  Or something else?

It is a good idea to know what your goals are so when it comes to budgeting and purchasing software, hardware, tags & labels, and other equipment and finding people to help - you are committed to getting what you need to meet the goals.


2.   Start planning your project !

Recognize that this is a project.  Like any big project it should have :

   +)  a planning phase where you gather information, list benefits of the project, and more

   +)  a budget - there are costs that will occur so there has to be money


   +)  find sources for software, hardware, inventory tags & labels, storage racks, bins and other equipment.
   +)  identify a group of people who are or can be trained to do the hard work of putting the id tags and labels in your costumes or on the props/sets, and entering the data in the inventory software.

As part of the planning phase you will want to :

       Gather some data about your theater

        List the Benefits of having an inventory

Gather data about your theatre:

a) What are your current activities and services?

□    How many productions (black box, main stage, children’s theatre and traveling shows) do you do each year?
□    How many people (volunteers, students, etc) are involved in the productions?  What are the attendance numbers?
□    How much revenue do you bring in from ticket sales or other sources?
□    How are community members involved?   Do you do shows for schools (like elementary/middle schools) or take productions to other venues in the city or district?

You want to show that you do a lot of productions that use the costumes, props, lighting, etc. and that lots of people are served.  You also want to show that 
members of the community benefit from the productions.


b) What are your estimates (emphasis on estimate) of the number of items you have in stock 

How many costumes?    ___________ 
Props ?        ____________ 
Lighting Equipment ? ____________ 
Sound Equipment ?    ____________ 
Tools ?    __________

Remember and remind the reader that these are estimates and that a complete inventory has never been done.  You will have very good numbers after you have completed the inventory.


c) What is the value of the stock (costumes, props/sets, etc) ?  Think of the cost of buying or making the item, the replacement cost (if lost or damaged) and the amount you would charge for a rental.   Again this is a rough estimate as you haven’t inventoried each item and placed a value on it.



List the benefits of having an inventory system.  Here are a few examples:

   1) The inventory will provide a count of all the costumes, props, etc in the theatre.  It will allow you to enter many details in the descriptions, take photos, and list a storage location and current location (where is my costume now? ) Additional features of the inventory program are that you can do searches to find costumes and props that will meet your current needs and print detailed reports.

   2) You will be able to plan productions by knowing what you have so you will know what new items have to be bought/created and what you can use from your stock.

   3) An inventory system will allow you to set up a rental program so you will know what items are checked out and to whom.  You can charge for your rentals and generate money for the theatre program. You will be able to teach students/ volunteers new skills that they can take beyond the theatre :
 a)  Computer skills - using a database, managing photos, creating reports from the database and emailing them to production staff
 b) Costume & Prop knowledge - learn about different styles, time periods, construction and sizing.
 c) Inventory management - understanding how an inventory works and using the inventory program to help them do their job.  Using a barcode scanner and understanding barcoded tags.
 d) Customer relations - helping customers with rentals and returns
 e) Photography - learning to take photos of costumes and props that have good lighting, composition, and show important details.

            The Inventory Database Project Plan has 6 parts:

Starting an inventory project requires a well thought-out plan.  The plan may include:

    ❖    People

    People are the most important part of the plan.  Who is in charge?  What staff, volunteers, or students are available?  How much time can they commit to the project?  When are they available?  How much training will they need?  Who in the organization has to approve the project?  What do you need to convince them to allocate the funds and resources?
    ❖    Software                        

    How will you store your records?  In a Database or Spreadsheet?  What functions do you want in the software?  Do you want to include photos?  Who do you want to have access to the data?  How much control do you want to have?

    ❖    Identifying Tags / Labels                                            
    Identifying tags for costumes and labels for props, accessories, shoes, and equipment are needed to track each item.  What kind and how many of each kind do you need?  What numbering system do you want to use - sequential numbers or letter and numbers combined? Do you want barcodes?  Do you have the tools to apply tags (small iron, sewing machine) ?

    ❖    Computer Equipment            

    PC or Mac or In-the-Cloud??  Do you want to share it on a network? Do you need access from multiple devices and locations?  How much IT support do you have (try to be realistic) ? Can you get more IT support if you need it?   If your tags have barcodes you will need a scanner.  What kind of barcode scanner do you want?  How many ??
    ❖    Storage

    How are things organized now?  How would you like to change it?  Do you need more racks, shelves, bins, ladders ?? Are you planning a move soon?  Does your storage area meet fire codes?

    ❖    Budget                

    All parts of the plan require money.  Where can you get the money - existing budget, grant, donations, rental payments ??  How much do you need?  When will the funds be available?  How can you bring in more income to support the inventory system?

3)  Make Preliminary Decisions (and stick with them !)

 1)  Investigate which software to use.  You will be spending many hours over many years with this software so pick one that you like, is easy to use and has the features you need (to meet your goal).

2)  Test a variety of tags and labels.  There are many manufacturers and different types of tags (for garments) and self adhesive labels (for accessories, shoes, props, sets, equipment).  Get samples and test them to be sure they will be suitable.

3) Check if your current computers meet your needs.  If not, start looking for new or donated equipment.  You need to get a computer before you can install any software.

4)  Buy the software, hardware, tags & labels and other equipment.  Get it all in the place where you will be doing the work

4)  Become the Expert

Complete all the lessons in the Become the Expert series.  Once you have the training and skills to manage the project you can train everyone else.

5)  Train your staff and students

    1)  Gather your training materials - so they are handy when you work with your staff/students

   2)  Download the "Data Entry Guidebook" from  It has 6 chapters with pictures and descriptions of costume types, styles, fabric patterns, fabric swatches, and size information. Encouraging your volunteers to use this will help them enter better descriptions into the database.  The better the data is going into the database - the better the results are.

   3)  Set aside training time for each new volunteer, staff person or student

   4)  Teach everyone which tags to use for garments and which labels to use for everything else.  

   5) Say Thanks ! and reward your staff/volunteers/students.   Make sure to tell everyone how much you appreciate their help and have a few snacks/coffee available.

   6)  Look critically at your storage area 

       1)  Calculate how many racks you need. 

       2)  Review your bins.  Often you don't know what you have in them.

       3)  Know your local fire department regulations and follow them.

       4) Review your stock - do you really need to keep everything?

         A)  Is it torn (not distressed) or just worn out?
         B)  Does it smell or is dirty?
         C)  Is to too bad to wear on stage but has historical or sentimental value?  If so take it out of the collection and                         create a special place for these items.
         D) Do you have too many of one item? 

   7)  Set up a schedule and get started!

       a)  Set up a time line with the following dates when:
          ● the money is available to purchase what you need
          ● the hardware and software will be installed
          ● the inventory tags and labels will arrive
          ● the storage area is cleaned and ready to work in
       b)  Contact your staff, volunteers, and students to determine their availability.
       c)  Make a schedule and let everyone know when they are needed.
       d)  Review the Resource Guide on “Suggestions for a Costume Inventory Day”.  Create a plan for setting up stations for everyone to work.  On the first day - take a deep breath and get started. 

Budget - Almost all parts of the Inventory project takes money.  Using a spreadsheet is a good way to list all the expenses you anticipate for the project.

                                                  Download the Inventory Project Planning worksheet from this link: 


                                                  You will need it for the Exercise.

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