The holidays are usually a time for joy and relaxation, but when you run a warehouse, they are both exhilarating and exhausting. To prepare for the sudden increase in order volume and the urgency of shipping orders on time, there are things you can do now to prepare your warehouse for the influx of order traffic.
2021 is set to be a record year for online orders during the holidays. The Washington Post even noted that “the pandemic is haunting the global supply chain and, by extension, shoppers.” To set yourself and your business up for success for what is likely a non-predictable season, consider some of these actionable steps ahead of the rush.
Holiday inventory management means looking into all the areas of your warehouse that might need extra support or extra supplies before the increase in volume surprises your team. Here are 17 top tips from our warehousing experts on how to prepare your warehouse for the incoming rush.
Assuming every year will be busier than the last is a good rule of thumb. You should take the time to analyze the staffing you needed last year and consider that you may need more. Plan to hire seasonal workers if needed. If the demand spikes, look into staffing agencies for temporary workers; these workers are trainable and easy to dismiss if the demand turns out to be less than you were planning for.
Pro Tip: Make sure you have comprehensive easy-to-access and easy-to-digest training resources available for any seasonal or new hires that come on during this time.
There are times when pickers can bring back products to pack stations faster than packers can package and label packages. To alleviate this and the potential bottleneck of a pack station, consider adding one or more additional temporary pack stations during your busy times. Space these pack stations out near high volume forward locations.
Do an audit of what items are selling fast and what items you expect to sell in higher volume around the holidays. Move these items to an easily accessible location for pickers. This can be an additional or swapped out forward location or moving them down from a hard to reach location to one that is eye level or lower.
Replenishments plans are crucial to ensuring that the product is ready and available to fulfill orders. Checking all of the currently set up replenishments will ensure that product is regularly being stocked. Educate your staff on the procedures for performing replenishments.
Keeping pack station supplies in stock is critical especially when packaging volume is particularly high. Plan for the rush and pre-order packing supplies in order to prevent supplemental packaging, or delayed order fulfillment because you are short on tape, labels, filler (dunnage), or packaging. Specifically, review the different size packaging that you have in stock, and make sure that your best-sellers are not going out in oversized packages.
The worst-case scenario for a warehouse is for an order to be ready to go at the packing station, but you ran out of boxes… or printer ink… or labels….or tape, etc. This will grind your operations to a halt, frustrate your employees, and become a huge barrier to success. To avoid this from happening, make sure you tally up the supplies you currently have and pre-order what you expect to go through ahead of the holiday rush.
Occasionally, orders that are partial, problematic, or errant can show up at the packing station. Designate and clearly label an area of the warehouse where these orders can be taken off the line and placed for review and correction. This will save on the backlog, and separate the orders that need special attention from the orders that are ready to go.
Warehouses can sometimes get alerts on products that need to be pulled out of availability. Or sometimes it is discovered that an entire lot is defective or damaged. Designate and clearly label an area of the warehouse where these items can be brought for review and potentially recalled.
During the holiday rush often specific items get ordered together or are part of special holiday sales. Do an audit of the most commonly grouped items and consider placing them near each other for easy, fast fulfillment. This has the potential to save your pickers extra steps and time when orders are being put together.
Weeks before the major rush, it is very important to schedule equipment and systems checks leading into the busiest times. There's nothing worse than a forklift, printer, or walkie-talkie going down in the middle of the busiest week of the year! If you plan at least three weeks ahead to check all systems, you will have enough time to have maintenance completed on any printers, forklifts, or hard-to-schedule maintenance equipment.
Printers can be a hidden issue, but they can lead to the biggest backup in the warehouse. Make sure that the scheduled maintenance is done, and the ink and paper are ready.
If there are multiple partial pallets taking up space in the warehouse, (especially in prime locations) combining partial skids will free up space and create more flexibility. High moving SKUs may have a pallet for replenishment that can now be moved to a more productive and efficient location that may have previously been occupied by a partial pallet.
This also serves to conserve the number of locations that pickers and the WMS need to identify to fulfill orders.
This is not suggesting double stacking skids. This is having bays and racks that can separate the items and keep the warehouse organized. If time and investment permits, getting these placed before the holiday rush will move the lesser ordered items vertically upwards in your warehouse, and keep the most trafficked items low where every picker can access them quickly.
Reorganizing your items or location addresses can really change the number of steps that your warehouse picker is taking. The goal is to get your pickers to take the least amount of steps possible. There are several ways to achieve that:
Package volume may be much larger than usual. For warehouses that have daily pickups with carriers (UPS/FedEx/etc), it would be wise to contact the account representatives for these carriers and discuss options for handling the increased package volume. Possibly schedule multiple package pickups per day.
Another option is to see if your carriers would be willing to drop off a trailer at your dock and once it is full, you can have the carrier pick up the full trailer and drop another empty one if necessary.
Note: USPS is generally not as responsive to customer queries as UPS or FedEx, so try to communicate with the carrier in advance if you know that you will have increased volume for USPS to work something out.
For special items that require unique permits and certificates (alcohol, hazmat, etc.), plan ahead and make sure that all the necessary paperwork is ready.
As well as the standard carriers (UPS, FedEx, USPS) make sure that all of your freight relationships are in good standing, and that there is nothing that could prohibit a pickup for any reason. In particular, if you are shipping out using full truckload services, there is no such thing as too much communication. The space taken up in your warehouse by fulfilled orders waiting to be picked up can cause other things to backup as well.
Consider having a pre-holiday meeting with the staff, especially the ones who were present during the last holiday rush. Take the time to share ideas about what did work and what didn't work during the previous holiday season. This also gives you an opportunity to get them to share their concerns and worries; voicing those is often a good way to get buy-in for the solutions provided. This can also provide an opportunity to team up experienced workers with the less experienced workers to provide better training for your temp and seasonal staff.
At the least, provide cycle counts on your highest trafficked items right before your busiest week of the year. If you have the staffing to do it, and the inventory is easy to review, perform a manual count with items that are expected to have increased activity at least two weeks before the rush begins. This can resolve inventory discrepancies that can be crippling to a fulfillment process.
Often during busy seasons, warehouses will utilize seasonal workers to meet staffing needs. These employees may not be familiar with the warehouse's processes or workflow. To minimize confusion and help maintain productivity, all responsibilities associated with their role needs to be clearly explained.
Pro Tip: Be sure to schedule out 30 or 60 minutes with the seasonal employees for a Q&A session to ensure everyone is on the same page and has clear directives.
Looking for more guidance through the stressful holiday fulfillment? Materialogic is here to help. Acting as a consultant in partnership, we assist in helping you create a seamless inventory management process: from the shopping cart to the vendor order, to the warehouse, and beyond. If you're looking for extra support in your process, you've come to the right place.
Contact us today to see how we can assist in optimizing your warehouse management system in time for the holidays.
This article was originally published on our sister site Infoplus.