How to Improve Your Warehouse Operations

The Wall Street Journal confirms that 2020 was a record-breaking year for the supply chain demands and no one felt the surge stronger than warehouses across the country. Even Amazon faced the challenge of keeping up.

2021 is a time to regroup and identify improvement opportunities. Refining your processes now puts you in the best position to prepare for whatever is ahead.

What are Warehouse Operations?

Warehouse operations consist of all activities involved in serving the needs of the customer and that of the warehouse facility. Running a warehouse includes receiving inventory, organizing stock, the fulfillment of orders, and distribution.

Some notable benefits of warehouse operations optimization are:

  • Balanced ratio of workload to labor (reduces employee fatigue and overtime).
  • Better preparedness with planning and forecasting.
  • Customer loyalty
  • Improved safety
  • Reduced waste and costs.
  • Savings of time, money, and resources.
  • Improved resource allocation.

Tips to Improve Warehouse Operations

There are many objectives for implementing warehouse improvement plans, but what is generally top of mind is to better serve the customer. Streamlined processes allow the fulfillment of tasks to be completed quicker and more accurately. Side benefits are reduced costs, increased workforce productivity, and a balanced movement of inventory.

Every facility has a set of warehouse best practices that work best for their setup, but there are some proven methods that many managers may not have yet considered. Below are four ways to improve your warehouse procedures that can be easily implemented into your current operations.

1. Business Seasonality – Preparing for Peak Seasons

Seasoned warehouse management knows that the best time to prepare for peak season is well before it arrives. Those periods in between spikes give you time to recalibrate your processes as the supply chain structure isn’t often fixed.

There are a couple of key warehouse operations best practices to have firmly established year-round that mitigate overwhelm ahead of peak times. Space out shipments and promptly process products upon arrival. An influx of inventory that is slow to move out easily creates a bottleneck. In reality, for every one error made by the receiving department, ten more errors will happen in the warehouse.

If despite your best efficiency efforts you still end up with too much product on your hands, you need to have a backup plan for additional storage. If this need for extra storage is temporary, seek short-term solutions like renting outdoor storage containers or leasing space month-to-month.

The next consideration is where to put inventory with the most product velocity. These should be in areas where they can be easily picked and close to the exits for shipping.

  • Picking planograms – How fast can your workers pack orders and still be efficient? Some managers do multi-order picking, or synchronize picking to be done in “waves.”
  • Reduce travel time – Where is your fastest-moving product and is it binned where is unobstructed and can be grabbed quickly? More than half of a picker’s time may easily be spent moving about the facility, so locate things in a way that reduces travel.
  • Coverage – Do you have enough staff to cope with spikes in demand without compromising safety? There should be enough people to cover for absences, illnesses, and regular breaks.
  • Pause routine tasks – Have a list of non-essential tasks that are not be done during peak times. This allows you to have all hands on deck during peak times.
  • Gather insights – What happened this year that points to improvements needed for next year?

2. Have a Contingency Plan for Worker Shortage

In 2021, Logistics Management shared warehouse and distribution center survey results that reveal ongoing concern over labor scarcity. Bottom line, we are hampered in our capacity to serve our customers when we don’t have enough people to support warehouse operations.

Because of ongoing demand on supply chains everywhere, it’s never too soon to establish a backup plan for staffing shortages. The more accurately you forecast staffing needs, the more you keep chaos at bay and reduce your risk of falling behind

3. Create a Warehouse Operations Master Plan

With so many warehouse procedures to keep track of such as the facility itself, workers, workflow, and performance metrics you’ll need a master plan to keep everything aligned.

Having an inclusive plan ensures that all of the management is on the same page about efficient operations as adjustments happen as needed. Below are things to consider adding to your plans.

  • Use of space – Some fixtures are permanent, but you can build your workflow around these. Use the “5S” method to best utilize the space available: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and systematize. Clear out clutter and old inventory to make more space for staging and new inventory. Also, where are you encountering bottlenecks and how can you rearrange things to clear those up?
  • Use of resources – Take inventory of all your equipment and supplies. How can these be better designated? Do you have enough equipment and is it fully functional? For example, a faulty forklift can destroy products or cause injury.
  • Team performance goals – What performance metrics do you need to see from every department so that your business best serves your customers? Put together clear and specific expectations. What tools and training do your workforce need to best perform?
  • Checklists and audits – Routine check-ins and audits reveal whether or not these plans are being effectively implemented.

4. Warehouse and Fulfillment Center Locations

According to Forbes, 48% of leaders in supply chain and transportation see a need to adjust warehouse locations because of changing trade patterns in the economy.

Before we mentioned that travel time can increase time to fill orders and move product. Similarly, the proximity between a warehouse and fulfillment center (3PL) saves time for transporting products to customers and partners.

Analyze where most of your product is headed for shipment. The best place for a fulfillment center is where orders can get to your customers faster. A competitor who can get items to customers faster may end up taking your customers.

Hire On-Demand Warehouse Staffing With Adia

To best serve customers and retain talent, every facility needs a robust warehouse operations master plan to maintain efficient operations. Everything about this plan centers around how to best serve the customer and avoid wasted resources.

Not having enough staff leads to turnover, spending too much on overtime, and an uptick of errors with customer orders.  Aida is not your typical on-demand temp agency. We’re here to help busy facilities stay ahead of the spikes in demand whether it’s seasonal warehouse staffing or more help needed for unprecedented circumstances. Secure the workers you need now with Aida!

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