From hiring skilled workers to providing comprehensive warehouse training, implementing the right warehouse technologies, and monitoring key warehouse metrics, there are a lot of moving parts – from the initial job post to the 10-year review and beyond – that can play a role in the productivity and efficiency of your warehouse.
Whether you’re focused on improving warehouse operations, boosting employee satisfaction, or adopting the best warehouse technologies, improving warehouse efficiency and productivity is always top-of-mind among today’s warehouse managers. To find out what strategies and tactics are getting results for today’s warehouse operations, we reached out to a panel of warehouse experts and business leaders and asked them to answer this question:
“What are some ideas to improve warehouse efficiency and productivity?”
Meet Our Panel of Warehouse Experts & Business Leaders:
Mihai Corbuleac is the Senior IT Consultant at Bigstep.com, a Chicago based IT company.
“To improve warehouse efficiency and productivity, you should consider…”
Implementing a big data strategy in order to gather, interpret and use big data to understand trends, decide what to stock, how to promote etc., which eventually will increase efficiency and profitability. With cloud technology purpose-built for big data, warehouse managers are able to run their businesses hassle-free, without stock-outs, and they can easily scale as their inventories grow. Also, cloud and dedicated software can help them restock, capture real-time status of orders, digitized documents from suppliers, logistics and protocols etc., basically making the overall business process more efficient. Almost everything is now visible and just a few clicks away.
Libby James Co-founded Merchant Advice Service, a company which helps businesses to secure card processing and business funding. The company works with industry experts worldwide to bring readers up to date and straight forward advice enabling businesses to make informed finance decisions.
“Use tech to your advantage…”
Working with a cloud-based EPOS (electronic point of sale) system within a warehouse environment can bring business benefits way beyond accepting orders. EPOS systems can manage stock levels, alerting when new orders need to be made. EPOS are well beyond a till point; backend reporting can establish high earning staff members ensuring they work in busy periods and make up sales when needed. Cloud-based systems can work alongside hand-held EPOS; therefore, all staff have live data in the palms of their hands, increasing productivity and efficiency all around.
Carlo Sciortino has worked in warehouse logistics for Target Corporation before taking on larger logistics roles since 2014. With his accolades for innovation in efficiency and expertise in talent management, he has reduced annual business expenses in excess of $250k.
“Improving productivity and warehouse efficiency first and foremost comes from…”
A company’s secession pipeline – the method in which new leaders are recognized, developed, and promoted. Talent management is a lost art in the business world where more and more executive-level industry leaders lack development tools to, quite frankly, lead. However, ability to identify leaders in a warehouse is the first step.
Even if you, as an employee or hourly team leader, are the first one identifying leaders, efficiency and productivity can still be implemented through proper training – cross training. Committing task lists in delegation-format to challenge identified leaders in managing multiple scenarios on an intra-warehouse scale is a method of efficiency equivalent to killing two, or three, or more birds with one stone.
Once you’ve facilitated cross training and have implemented an efficiency scale for your most adept leaders (perhaps that’s you), the next step is productivity. Take the invaluable process you just created and replicate it. Become a mentor, assign an assistant, or otherwise condition camaraderie among your identified leaders. Talent management will be further needed if leadership is scarce. Continue cross-training until you have a team of extreme efficiency and you will effortlessly maximize productivity.
George Keliher has been involved in the making and stocking of parts for over 30 years, both as an entrepreneur and as a small business consultant, specializing in inventory management. George is having so much fun with LOCATE Inventory that his retirement plans have been put on hold. In addition to growing and expanding LOCATE, George keeps himself busy with a regimen that includes inline skating and standup-paddleboarding.
“The best way to keep track of your warehouse is…”
With an inventory management software that instills best practices into each step of the workflow. A program that supports shortcuts and workarounds will inevitably lead to missing inventory, inaccurate costing, and ultimately, loss of profits.
Robert DeStefano is a senior product marketing manager at Ivanti Supply Chain. He has more than 18 years of experience helping businesses understand the value of mobile technology solutions when it comes to boosting worker productivity and enforcing mobile security.
“Faced with growing demand to cut costs and improve productivity, many retail and warehousing organizations are now looking toward…”
Modern mobility solutions to help them achieve these objectives. Stepping up to modern mobility with Android, for example, can provide these organizations with an edge over the competition by driving productivity gains through speed and agility. For example, with modernization, warehouses can begin unlocking the power of Android-based mobile computers through a touch-driven interface for their existing telnet or web applications. This includes the ability to make data stand-out with bold, highlighted text so workers spend less time looking at screens and more time filling totes. Plus, it can include screens that look and work similar to the experience workers know from their personal devices, which can speed training. In addition to modern mobility solutions, voice technology is also helping to improve warehouse efficiency and productivity. By voice-enabling their telnet and web-based applications, for example, warehouses can reap even bigger productivity gains, through reduced training times.
Nina Pineda is a consultant for PodM2M.
“Many companies are now investing in different technologies to improve warehouses or to build smart warehouses…”
Jenna Erickson is a Chicago-based digital marketer, currently in a role as the Marketing Manager at Codal, a UX design & development agency. Jenna is a forward-thinking, creative self-starter with a passion for technology, eCommerce, the Internet of Things, startups, and all compelling digital experiences.
“When it comes to warehouse efficiency and productivity…”
By implementing a robust warehouse management software that can manage every aspect of your business, you can save a lot of time, money, and overall improve on the business workflow. Warehouses typically have many different tools and processes for different things: a shipping process, inventory management, payments, packaging, and equipment management.
With many different tools integrated into one robust software, you’ll be able to streamline the entire warehouse management workflow, and improve your efficiency. I work for a software development agency, and we have developed a custom software for a local Chicago warehouse. After the software was designed, developed, and implemented, the company was able to accept more jobs, complete jobs on time, improve production speed, save approximately 45 hours of work per week, and even re-deploy three employees.
Eric Allais, president and CEO of Washington-based PathGuide Technologies, Inc., has over 30 years of experience in marketing, product management, and sector analysis in the automated data collection industry, including warehouse management practices in wholesale distribution.
“My advice would be to start by getting your warehouse in order…”
If there are boxes in the aisles, inventory scattered across bins, and trash on the floor – finding product is encumbered, forklifts get bottlenecked, and putting stock away is difficult.
Whether you’re using a picking cart, carousel, or conveyor – design your processes to handle inventory as few times as possible because more handling usually means more labor. This doesn’t necessarily ensure better accuracy. Multiple touches can introduce errors, and nobody wants that.
Employee performance metrics let warehouse workers 1) know how they’re doing, 2) consider improvements, and 3) understand goals and benchmarks they can shoot for. Measuring successes and challenges promotes opportunities to improve work flows, suggest better employee training and celebrate achievements.
Stacy Caprio is the Founder of Stacy Caprio Inc.
“One of the best ideas to improve warehouse efficiency and productivity is…”
Try implementing an electronic system to keep track of your inventory, so everything updates across your entire network with the push of a button, instead of trying to keep track manually and missing things due to human error.
Liam Ridings is a SEO Specialist at Sparesbox.
“Frontline managers have dramatically changed the efficiency, morale, and overall output of the fulfillment center…”
By identifying talent within the team and giving them new responsibilities, we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in productivity and drive in the team. Encourage the managers to go one-on-one with employees to identify individual needs and what makes them tick. Providing experience in other elements of the business, such as ordering and customer experience, also helps them to better understand the merchandise, the customers, and the end goal.
Austin Power is the Vice President at AME Industrial.
“Two areas to focus on for improving warehouse efficiency and productivity are…”
Facility design and automation.
Small changes make big leaps in efficiency and cost savings. First, you must set a goal. We help our clients by asking them what benchmark they would like to achieve and then work backwards on how to make that happen. Every part of the internal process must be examined. Look at each and every step and examine the stops along the fulfillment route. How can these stops be improved or eliminated?
Would it be more efficient to move staff inside the warehouse? A modular office is a relatively simple solution that can consolidate your staff in comfortable and appropriate accommodations.
Are you making the most of your space? Maybe your floor-space is all taken – but what about the vertical space? A mezzanine level can add an incredible amount of storage, office space, or anything you need! Again, this is a relatively simple solution that can add so many solutions to an existing space.
Phil Johnson has been working as leather and warehouse expert for over 30 years. He currently works for the luxury leather brand Maxwell-Scott, which is based in York, England. Maxwell-Scott is the epitome of fine Italian artistry combined with timeless British design.
“I recommend automating the fulfillment side of the warehouse as much as possible…”
Especially if you ship internationally. The shipping matrix decides the courier and the shipping method dependent on product type and customer preference. This takes continual development but saves an enormous amount of time. However, I recommend that deliveries are unpacked, and orders picked by hand even if it takes longer. I think at the luxury end of the market it’s important to check every product individually to ensure the customer gets a perfect item. We recently had a whole restructuring in our warehouse in order to make it more efficient, as we found that the biggest mistakes are those taken in haste. I’m always making sure that I have enough staff in the warehouse so that nobody has to perform tasks while being under time pressure.
Jessica Thiele is the Marketing Director at VL OMNI, a point-to-multipoint iPaaS data integration platform and official technology partner of Shopify Plus.
“The best way to improve efficiency and productivity in any warehouse (beyond investing in good hardware and physical tools to assist staff) is to…”
Consider the technology, applications, and other systems that keep the operation moving forward. If there are good API endpoints on said applications, your organization can strongly consider partnering with a data integration specialist company or integration app provider to allow for your customers to integrate into your systems directly. If done right, this will allow those businesses that are your customers to automate their data flows into and out of your applications and warehouse, including ship notices and much more, cutting down on the time warehouse staff spend manually assisting orders. With the automation of this key point of potential friction, any warehouse could stand to gain huge efficiencies. (And for those who already use automation, there are always advances and improvements in the sector, so there still may be improvements to be had.)
Tom Wilkerson is the CEO of ForkliftCertification.com, a national leader in online, OSHA-compliant forklift certification. Tom and his employees have helped thousands of companies discover the easy way to self-certify their forklift operators in-house.
“It pays to know which products are high-volume…”
Keep these products near aisle ends, exit areas and other key points for streamlined access. Depending on your software, you should be able to arrange products for optimum efficiency.
Instead of punching codes, product numbers, and other data into a handheld device, try talking to one. Honeywell and other manufacturers produce voice-activated software to better manage a warehouse’s entire infrastructure, from product placement to reordering to safety issues.
Restrict unnecessary foot traffic. Your warehouse needs to be optimized for forklift use. When pedestrians enter the area, it not only impacts merchandise management, but it’s also a safety hazard. Create clearly defined areas for pedestrian walkways so those on foot who must come into the warehouse do not disrupt the flow of forklift traffic.
Ross Palmer is a Digital Marketing Manager for Lab Society.
“As a rapidly growing eCommerce company, scaling up was a huge challenge…”
We went from a small warehouse space in the back of a brick-and-mortar store to a truly massive space in the span of two years. For us, using Odoo as a solution for our warehouse dramatically improved our efficiency. This isn’t a paid endorsement or anything, but the message here is that the right software at the back-end of your operation can not only help tremendously, but it can also make scaling a real possibility!
Adrian Crisostomo is a digital and content marketing specialist from Multico Philippines.
“Two ways to improve warehouse efficiency and productivity are…”
Automation and well-trained people. Warehouses these days will not be able to operate smoothly without automation. They will simply fall behind their competition that uses software and equipment to simplify their processes. Gone are the days where you have to put everything on paper. Of course, you need to have good people who understand the systems and are knowledgeable of the automated processes that are in place. Your people should also know how to professionally operate the heavy equipment that you have. The less effort they spend in moving stuff with equipment, the faster a warehouse will function. If you have both of these in harmony, your warehouse with a guy in a forklift and automated processes will run 2x faster than those that are stuck with 50 people with a pen and paper.
Tim Young is Director of Vero Solutions and an expert in tracking technologies for manufacturing and the supply chain. With a degree in mathematics, Tim believes that the best way to improve efficiency and profitability is to measure performance at every opportunity and to learn from analysis.
“Increasing productivity while saving time and money is central to great warehouse efficiency…”
While some warehouse practices can be carried out without using software, such as labeling, other practices require operating systems in order to improve accuracy – such as RFID systems, barcodes, and scanners.
It’s no secret that by improving efficiency, overall costs will be reduced. So why are so many companies – whether that’s a multi-channel warehouse or a small warehouse – not making the small changes necessary to improve this?
Let’s take a look at how we can improve warehouse efficiency and productivity even further:
Continually review effectiveness and analyze results
Communications between computer systems and warehouse workers is one area where opportunities for improvement should continuously be sought. One of the most effective ways to do this is through putting measurable metrics into place; having a strategy in place which means metrics are being analyzed thoroughly, and learnings and performance findings are then taken on board and implemented warehouse-wide.
Look forward to prepare for busy seasons
For almost every business, there are often times of the year which attract increased demand for certain items – for example, seasonal trends like Christmas. Consider using a business software system, which includes demand forecasting, that can predict shifts in your items and adjust the automatic re-ordering to fit the demand.
Simplify processes where possible
The fewer steps that need to be taken throughout the receiving, processing, and delivering orders process, the higher the efficiency levels. By taking a look at physical processes within the warehouse and seeing where operations can be simplified, productivity rates in the long-term will be improved.
Instill the 5 S approach within all employees
Reducing the risk of errors, improving organisation at workstations and increasing safety measures are all, undoubtedly, key contributors to the efficiency of how a warehouse is run. By going back to basics and reinforcing the importance of following the Sort; Set in order; Shine; Standardize; and Sustain method, it will prevent workers from having to waste time searching for tools.
Set up an incentive program
Performance targets are incredibly important to warehouses. By implementing an automatic data capture and identification (AIDC) system, it means that efficiency can be improved and pallet movements sped up. Through this, you can have access to extremely reliable and valuable data so incentive programs can be monitored, analyzed, and adapted to make them safer and more achievable.
What plans are already in place to improve efficiency and productivity in Warehouses over the coming years?
Before we explore how the likes of robotics and AI will be operating within warehouses, let’s take a look at the warehouse building itself. By 2030, warehouses will be part of an initiative to achieve zero net energy meaning that, thanks to solar panels becoming the main source of energy for warehouses, they’ll be able to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. By increasing the use of renewable energy within warehouses, warehouses will save costs and prevent harmful emissions, and it will also mean that warehouse lighting, equipment and recharging of electric vehicles will be done through solar panels.
The impact that robots are going to have – and are already having – in warehouses is no secret. But just how far should we expect this to go in terms of enhancing efficiency?
Well, given that robots are expected to be able to operate independently within warehouses in the next two years, some would argue that productivity levels will increase significantly. Robots will be able to report to their manufacturing companies of any problems with their function themselves, taking out the need for human involvement. Plus, their developing ability to learn from humans by repeating what a warehouse worker shows them can only mean that performance will improve.
Darren Cottingham is the director of DT Driver Training, Australasia’s largest provider of online training for forklift operators and drivers of work vehicles. He is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and is on the Safety First panel of Forklift Action.
“Clearly defining your pedestrian traffic versus vehicle traffic is an excellent way to improve both safety and efficiency within a warehouse…”
Forklifts and other machinery present a hazard to workers walking in aisles; if a pedestrian is present, forklift operators must maintain an exclusion zone or interrupt their work if this can’t be achieved.
Not having marked walkways means that pedestrians can get in the way of machinery and vice versa. This means that forklift drivers and workers that aren’t driving a forklift must be constantly on the lookout. Whereas, if you have separated walkways (especially with barriers), pedestrians on those walkways don’t have to be concerned about vehicle traffic running into them, unless there’s a crossing point. Identify in your warehouse where pedestrians need to operate and where you can separate them from motorized vehicle traffic. For example, is it better to have your pedestrians walk slightly further so that your vehicles can have a more efficient path?
Terese Kerrigan is the director of marketing communications for FreightCenter, a third-party logistics that makes it easy to calculate shipping costs, arrange pickups, schedule deliveries, and track freight shipments online or with an expert. FreightCenter takes the guesswork out of shipping by letting shippers select a rate and book direct with hundreds of carriers.
“Warehouse managers juggle many tasks, so…”
When there’s a kink in the supply chain, like a high volume of returned product, they tend to work longer hours and require more labor. In order to optimize reverse logistics, we recommend keeping receiving returns separate from general inventory. Too quickly replacing inventory with returned product can lead to broken items being sent out, which can hurt the customer experience. Give yourself time to inspect and sort so you can combine storage and restock. Tracking incoming shipments, which is a large part of what we do for shippers at FreightCenter, can help warehouse managers budget their time and labor requirements.
Tom Van Sickle
Tom Van Sickle is the General Manager at DJ Products.
“The best way to optimize labor efficiency is to…”
Set timelines, leverage focus, and use the right tools. Enforce timeliness by adding a sense of urgency to all tasks. Establish a realistic timeframe for all tasks and ask your team to meet those deadlines. The more you leverage focus, the more deadlines you will meet. When a team member is focused on a task, limit the number of distractions. Ask team members to complete what they can without changing focus until absolutely necessary. And lastly, use the right tools. Invest in heavy lifters, trailer movers and warehouse caddys because some tasks are just inefficient without the right tools.
Eugenia Lebedynska is a Digital Marketing & SEM Manager at McDonald Paper & Restaurant Supplies.
“A strict workflow algorithm will improve warehouse efficiency substantially…”
The best way to do that is to use the highly optimized warehouse management system. Just pick a warehouse management software that is most relevant to your needs. There are plenty of affordable options on the market. Such a system is unique for every business depending on the industry, a number of people working in the warehouse, items turnaround, and more.
Some basic rules will help to improve productivity no matter what kind of warehouse you have.
- Manual or automatic checking process for everything that has arrived. All listed in the invoice should be in the right quantity.
- Labels and categories for all items in the warehouse. You can come up with your own labeling system or use the specific programs.
- Thought-out floor plan with navigation and proper lighting will help to do the job faster thus more efficiently.
- Strategic location for the fast moving items is everything. The more easily accessible and closer to the shipping area your hottest selling items will be the faster you will ship them. And while we are at it, choose a designated area for damaged items as well. Nothing should be on the way of the warehouse workflow.
- Control. There should be checkpoints on every stage of the warehouse items handling. Double checking orders, shipping data audits, and so on. For the shipping process control, there are even specialized programs and websites made to help keep track of every aspect from labels to the weight.
Scott Crumrine is Guava Family, Inc.’s Founder & CEO. Guava Family is a family oriented design and manufacturing company that specializes in creating travel cribs and baby gear. Scott founded Guava Family 10 years ago after graduating from Stanford business school.
“Encourage employee feedback and implement it…”
Employee feedback is a crucial step to boosting efficiency and productivity in the warehouse and beyond. Warehouse employees have firsthand experience with what processes being implemented are effective and others that could be improved on. Encouraging feedback also fosters synergy and opens the line of communication between departments. Taking employee feedback into consideration is an engaging activity that communicates to employees that their feedback is recognized, implemented, and valued.
Lisa Chu is the CEO of Black n Bianco, a children’s formal wear brand.
“The most efficient way to improve warehouse productivity is to…”
Invest in a warehouse manager. They need to have experience and knowledge in warehouse management because they will provide tremendous value to your business. Your warehouse manager will have the ability to manage all aspects of warehouse logistics. Their main job is to increase the productivity of your warehouse by managing your fulfillment costs, worker morale, and the quality of customer order fulfillment. Don’t be afraid to also offer incentive bonuses because that will speed up the productivity and efficiency. There are always room for improvements; set objectives quarterly or annually to see what can be done to improve your warehouse productivity.
Mike Wolfe is the Director of Operations for Delgado Stone Distributors, a leading manufacturer and wholesale supplier of real stone veneer products.
“Invest in communication…”
One of the first things I did when I took over the Director of Operations role was improve communications. We went from an intercom/loud speaker to a walkie-talkie system. This has allowed for immediate responses and improved customer satisfaction. We took it a step further and invested in technology for the team leader of each section. This allowed them to see updates on their tablets in real time and communicate it to their team. Now we’re all on the same page and can minimize confusion and down time.
Dean Else is the co-owner of PPE Work Solutions, a leading ecommerce store. For 10 years they have supplied Workwear and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“Engage and incentivize your employees. They are the beating heart of any successful business…”
Warehouse work can be one-dimensional at times, and when your labor force don’t feel valued, you can be sure that productivity will drop off. Ask questions of your staff; see what their common gripes are and how they would fix it. You don’t have to act on their advice, but just by asking for opinions they will instantly feel valued, and you never know you may just unearth a real nugget that can improve your operations. Also, make sure you have a scheme in place that if targets are met, your employees will receive rewards. In this modern age of tech, having the right people is still number one for me.
Jim Milan is the Communications & Organic Search Manager for Auto Accessories Garage, a fast-growing online retailer of auto accessories and parts.
“Nobody knows how to improve efficiency better than your warehouse workers…”
Schedule a meeting with them directly and ask what areas they think could be improved. Even if you don’t hear knew ideas the first time, try scheduling a meeting once a month and ask your workers to keep efficiency in mind. It’s likely that by your second or third meeting, your workers will start to have ideas of how their day-to-day could be improved and made more efficient. Seeing their ideas put into action may also boost morale.
Angela Stringfellow is a writer with 10+ years of experience. She focuses on news, trends, and insights in marketing, business, and technology.