So, you’ve cleared all the initial hurdles. You’ve established yourself as a distribution company, you’ve built up your customer base, and you’ve plotted a path for growth. Now it’s time for careful, long-term planning and intentional organization of all of your company’s assets. There are few things that can slow a company’s progress more definitively than a disorganized and chaotic warehouse. But, with some careful thought and planning on your part, you can prevent your warehouse from hampering your growth in the first place.
Some of the elements to keep in mind when considering how to organize your warehouse may seem obvious, but they’re vitally important and, if overlooked, can result in some serious problems down the line.
1. Keep your warehouse clean and clutter-free. This is just common sense. A clean environment is always easier to control and maintain, and it’s safer for your employees who have to navigate the warehouse day in and day out. It’s a simple concept, but it’s crucial. Take pride in your warehouse, and keep it sparkling.
2. Think about how many different shipping containers you really need. While it might be tempting to have 10 different sized boxes for all your differently-sized inventory, too many options might actually slow down your warehouse employees and take up too much valuable space in the warehouse. In the interest of both efficiency and maximized space, less could very well be more when it comes to boxes or other shipping containers. Keep in mind, though, that larger boxes cost more to ship, and could offset your savings. For more on how important choosing the right box is, head to a great blog by Ecommercebytes on choosing the right shipping box.
3. Consider using bins, or creating a multi-bin environment. Sometimes numbered aisles and shelves aren’t enough. Would lining your shelves with numbered or lettered bins make finding a piece of inventory quicker, or would it add an unnecessary layer of complexity? Do you need a multi-bin environment, with nested bins? Depending on the type of inventory you sell, this could be a huge improvement in your warehouse’s organization.
4. Evaluate your signage. As they say in the warehouse business, “Labels, labels, labels.” How long does it take a new warehouse employee to learn to quickly find everything? Can someone not familiar with your warehouse walk in with simple inventory location information (such as aisle and bin) and easily find what they’re after? Is it obvious where the receiving area of your warehouse ends, or where an employee can find more supplies for the packing area? Good signage in your warehouse can greatly expedite almost every warehouse task, from receiving to picking to packing.
5. Perform regular stock counts/warehouse maintenance. Another obvious, but extremely important, warehouse organization mainstay. No matter how careful and methodical you think you are at operating your warehouse, best practices dictate that you periodically perform an audit to make sure nothing’s slipping through the cracks. Take a stock count, where employees physically count the inventory in your warehouse, and compare that to what your warehouse management software says you should have. If the numbers don’t match, do some maintenance to correct the disparities, and look into methods to prevent future inaccuracies.
6. Consider adding barcoding or RFID chips. Speaking of stock counts…if you’re not using barcodes or RFID chips to digitally track your inventory, you should probably at least look into the possibility. Barcoding or similar practices make maintaining accurate inventory records infinitely easier, and it removes a lot of potential for human error. Rather than carrying a clipboard around and writing down information on a piece of inventory, a warehouse employee can simply scan the item to pull it for a sales order, record it for a stock count, add it to a transfer, and more.
There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to barcode your warehouse, though. Here are three key questions to ask yourself before proceeding.
7. Utilize lean inventory practices. A “lean” inventory practice is one that helps you achieve your goal of only having the inventory you need on hand. Lean inventory practices keep costs down, and they prevent the wasted space and labor (a.k.a. costs) associated with having too much inventory on hand. Do you have an aisle or two in your warehouse dedicated to collecting dust? Then it might be time for you to consider implementing some leaner inventory practices.
There’s a lot that goes into adopting lean inventory methods, but knowing your inventory is the most important element. Know what you have, where it is, what the demand is, what the reorder point is, etc. Need some help with that? Check out this blog post.
8. Evaluate whether your warehouse management software is working for you. If whatever warehouse management software you’re using makes your job harder, rather than easier, that’s a huge red flag. Some of the signs that you’re using the wrong software can be subtle, though. Does your software sequence orders to streamline the picking process? Is it compatible with your barcoding solution? Is stock count functionality built into your software? Can you easily access detailed information on each of your inventory items? Is your software so complicated that only a handful of employees (or worse, only one or two) can use it? Are you only able to track inventory in your system, or are you able to effectively manage your inventory?
These are just a few questions you should ask yourself about your warehouse management software on a regular basis. Never assume that the solution that worked for you a year ago or five years ago is the solution you should still be using. There are a lot of options out there, and it’s important to be sure that your software is helping you grow, not holding you back.
9. Listen to employee feedback. Our final recommendation to you is that you consider what your warehouse employees have to say about your warehouse’s organization. After all, they’re the ones in the trenches. They’re the ones who have to navigate the warehouse every day, and they’re most likely the ones with the best feedback for you as you evaluate whether or not your warehouse is performing as it should. Make sure your employees know who to talk to if they have ideas on how to improve your warehouse, and make sure that someone listens to them when they do speak up.
No two companies or warehouses are the same, and only you can determine the best organization strategies for both your warehouse and your business. Hopefully this list of considerations will serve to guide you in the right direction. Whether you’re just starting out and eager to make sure you avoid potential pitfalls or you’re currently bogged down by an inefficient warehouse, addressing these key considerations in organization will be a big help as you continue to improve your warehouse operations.
If you need some more help determining how to best keep your warehouse on the path toward success, feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
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