As a wholesale distribution business, warehouse management is a key component to your operations. The way in which your warehouse is organized, your processes for receiving, picking, packing and shipping and the people you hire to manage your warehouse will all have an impact on operations and your bottom line. It’s, therefore, a good idea to regularly review your existing processes to determine if there are any opportunities for automation and ways to increase efficiencies. It is also beneficial to speak with your wholesale distribution software provider to learn about the tools and resources they have available. If you’ve never done a full warehouse review in the past, or it’s time for another one, consider the following.
Back to the drawing board - literally.
The first step in warehouse management is designing your actual warehouse layout and determining the picking style that makes the most sense for your business. When it comes to picking styles, most wholesale distributors will implement either individual/discrete picking or batch/consolidated picking. How you plan to pick product will affect where to store inventory. Consider aisle layout and bin and shelf locations.
- How many levels of shelving will you have?
- What type of equipment is necessary to manage product (such as forklifts)?
- Do you sell large and heavy pieces of inventory?
- Do you sell fragile items?
- Do you sell full pallets and cases or mostly by individual pieces? Or some combination of both?
- Do you require cold-storage?
Your answers to the above questions will help determine where certain types of inventory should be kept in your warehouse and therefore the best design for your needs. Even if you operate only one physical warehouse location, consider setting up virtual warehouse locations within the building to help separate specific types of stock such as eCommerce inventory for online sales.
If you don’t currently have wholesale distribution software in place to manage your warehouse, it is time to start searching for a solution that can meet your needs. Manual processes are both time-consuming and error-prone. If you do already work with a software vendor, be sure to reach out and take advantage of their industry knowledge and expertise. This is why it’s important to find a vendor geared towards wholesale distribution companies.
Take advantage of specific tools.
Once again, it’s important to speak with your existing wholesale distribution software vendor to learn about existing tools available in their software. It is difficult to understand the entire capabilities of a software solution during the implementation process and therefore you may be unaware of features available in your current system. Many wholesale distribution software vendors will provide optional components that can be turned on at any time as your business grows and evolves. Wireless barcode scanning functionality is one specific tool that can significantly decrease the picking, packing and shipping process to help manage an increase in order volume without the need to hire additional staff. Wireless picking enables your employees to scan and pick products as they navigate through your warehouse floor, eliminating multiple steps and reducing pick times by helping to identify picking errors at the source. This is especially useful for companies who sell similar products. Barcode scanning also speeds up receiving times and eliminate errors. You can also implement barcode scanning at packing stations to double check inventory against orders before shipping product to customers. This leads to another determination – how many packing stations to set-up and where to locate them.
Wholesale distribution software with robust reporting capabilities allows your business to continually monitor warehouse operations and inventory movement to find new opportunities and address any bottlenecks in your current processes. Insight into fast and slow moving items and sales by channel, for example, help to dictate where to keep inventory in your warehouse and aid in setting re-order levels.
Determine the types of people you want to hire to work in your warehouse.
Although it might seem less expensive to hire employees with little experience to work in your warehouse, consider the extra costs associated with training these employees. This is why implementing the right software tools such as barcode scanning, allows your warehouse operations to become more process-driven meaning you don’t need to rely on certain individuals having all the knowledge associated with product locations and procedures. This also makes it easier to hire and train additional staff during peak seasons to deal with an increase in transaction volume. Depending on how you assign roles in the warehouse, certain people may be required for picking product while others are assigned to packing and shipping. If you have a smaller number of daily orders, one person performing multiple tasks may be the better option.
Remember, just because you set-up your warehouse operations a specific way in the beginning, does not mean that you can't change them down the road as your business evolves and grows. Continuously monitoring existing processes, working with your software vendor to find new opportunities and taking advantage of specific tools helps to ensure your warehouse is operating as efficiently as possible at any given time.
Want to learn more about wholesale distribution software? Download Blue Link's Software Buying Guide.