The most productive warehouses have systems and processes that enable their operations to run like well-oiled machines. But with so many moving parts, fluctuations in demand, increased customer expectations, and other shifting dynamics, boosting productivity in the warehouse setting is often easier said than done.
From optimizing the warehouse layout to increasing visibility into KPIs, investing in updated equipment, and more, there are many ways to go about improving productivity. But what strategies prove most effective for warehouses when it comes to boosting productivity? To gain some insight into the productivity-boosting tactics and strategies today’s warehouse operators find most effective, we reached out to a panel of warehouse professionals and logistics and operations experts and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the single best way for warehouses to improve productivity?”
Meet Our Panel of Warehouse Pros and Logistics & Operations Experts:
Richard Scholes started at Parrs in 1992 and became its Managing Director in 1994. He has a wealth of experience in business management. In his fifteen years as Managing Director, Richard has helped Parrs work alongside companies such as Halfords, Lyreco, PSDA, and Domino’s, to name but a few.
“Investing in quality equipment is essential for improving productivity…”
Warehouses will often purchase equipment that is being sold at a cheap price in order to reduce their expenditure. However, staff cannot work efficiently without adequate equipment. Products that regularly break will impact the amount of work being completed. It might initially seem cost-effective to buy cheap equipment but cost should not only be monitored in monetary terms if you are running a warehouse; you should also measure cost in terms of productivity.
Tim Stevens is the Operations & Logistics Manager at Find Me a Gift.
“Ensuring a pick route is optimized to end nearest to packing / dispatch will…”
Deliver a more efficient operation, improving pick rates and ultimately reducing labor costs. It’s not always easy to create optimal picking routes, but it’s worth taking the time to ensure they are as efficient as possible.
Tyler Riddell is the Vice President of Marketing at eSUB Construction Software with over 15 years of experience in Marketing, Product Management, Advertising, and Public Relations. He has a proven track record for successful go to market and corporate communication programs in multiple vertical tech markets.
“While there are a few ways that warehouses can streamline their productivity, many experts contend that…”
Having better control over inbound and outbound freight is number one. This area should be your number-one ongoing focus in an effort to prevent profit loss. Hiring a consultant to help you bid competitively is wise. Even though most carrier agreements are proprietary, experienced consultants can find areas where you can negotiate reductions without hurting the level of service received.
Kevin joined the Newcastle Systems team in October 2013. He has over 20 years of experience within the Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) industry. He has worked in sales for Weber Labeling Solutions, Intermec, and Printronix where he developed solutions for complex labeling applications in a variety of verticals such as distribution, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail.
“The single best way for warehouses to improve productivity is to…”
Get rid of motion, touches, and paper. Wasted steps are costly in the warehouse, yet common place. Fixed desks with printers are inefficient and can lead to inaccurate inventory counts, improper labeling, and significant time delays. A good solution to reduce steps and movement in the warehouse is mobile power. Mobile-powered workstations allow warehouse associates to process packages right on the receiving dock. It’s estimated that each step a warehouse associate takes costs a business four cents. Reduce thousands of steps a day and that warehouse will save a significant amount of money and improve productivity. Meeting e-commerce demands is no easy task for a warehouse; mobile power will help warehouses get products on and off the truck faster and more efficiently.
As Director and Lead Solution Architect at itas, an award winning Sage partner, Hannah has a real passion for data and process design. With an academic background in Mathematics and Operations Management, she has spent the last 5 years applying that knowledge to the project management, design, and implementation of ERP and BI systems across a range of sectors and with organizations of varying sizes.
“The quickest and easiest way to drive productivity is to…”
Make your KPIs visible to everyone in the warehouse. Whether that is with is daily reports or dashboards up on the screen on the warehouse, just make sure the entire team is aware and has access to that information. Not only does it set the baseline initially, but it can also help identify problem areas as well as letting people know when they are doing well! The great thing about dashboards in particular is that they give instant feedback…you don’t have to wait until the end of the day to find out how you did. If you aren’t doing well….you can quickly re-adjust and catch-up.
Patrick Randolph is the Fulfillment Director for Logistics Plus Inc., a leading worldwide provider of transportation, logistics, warehousing, fulfillment, and supply chain solutions.
“Productivity gains can be quickly made through…”
Velocity analysis. Strategically placing the fastest moving inventory closest to packing areas will reduce the number of steps a warehouse team member takes. Placing the fastest moving within arms-reach will add additional productivity gains. Slowing moving inventory should be placed furthest from the packing stations and/or above arm’s reach.
Dr. Ashley Lesko has worked in leadership roles as a Naval Officer, in Fortune 100 companies, and at universities. She filled various senior leadership roles at Amazon, with over $45M in P&L, training programs, budgeting, and strategy across 4 buildings. She leads Square Peg Solutions, focused in creating leaders for companies who may not have the resources or time to do so.
“It may sound simple, but the single best way to improve warehouse productivity is to…”
Ask your employees. They have all the answers, you just have to listen to them. This may seem simple or overused – but it’s not. They have suggestions – sometimes they may not be fully formed, but they know the problems and have the answers. Asking them (and acting on it) – will not only improve productivity, but will also increase engagement in more ways than one!
Randy Schrum is President of Visual Impact Group. For over 30 years he has had the opportunity to lead an outstanding team of passionate professionals in the marketing, technology, and advertising fields. He’s worked with a wide range of clients in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, and education. His reputation and career was built on consistently delivering quality, creativity, and great value for his clients.
“In working as the technical and development team in a lot of manufacturing warehouses, we’ve found just how far behind in time some of them really are…”
Whether it is still using spreadsheets and documents to track everything or technology that is causing something that should take a few minutes a few hours, most warehouse employees aren’t equipped properly to resolve productivity issues.
We’ve been tasked with developing a number of applications that are designed for tablets to increase these efficiencies that a management level position can receive reports from and act on to resolve future inefficiencies. Whether it is a way to report to loss-prevention, accidents, time tracking, deliveries, or just minor day-to-day activities; data never lies!
Louise Procter is a writer for Preowned Forklifts Australia. Living on the sunny South Coast of NSW, Louise enjoys writing articles that have a strong emphasis on OH&S practices and loves sharing helpful tips on creating safe and effective workplaces.
“We are living in a highly competitive marketplace, and it’s vital for businesses to come up with new ways to streamline their supply chains…”
When you simplify and streamline your supply chain you will automatically see an increase in productivity. How, you ask? Revolutionizing aspects of your supply chain will not only give you better control over your business but will also help you stay ahead of the competition.
Here’s how: the more links there are in your supply chain, the more convoluted and complex that chain becomes. Start by streamlining and cutting out the unnecessary links in your chain. This will increase productivity and efficiency and reduce expenditures.
Make some small changes to your supply chain, such as dealing directly with manufacturers, integrating emerging technologies into your business plan, and above all focusing on the strengths of your business and outsourcing the rest, such as repetitive projects or one-offs.
Issa Asad is president and CEO of Q Link Wireless, the third largest provider in the country of voice and data service through the Lifeline Assistance Program. The company has nearly two million customers and operates in 28 states.
“The single best way to improve warehouse productivity is…”
We use large-screen monitors throughout our vast fulfillment department that detail the productivity of the entire room and each individual employee. This allows us to oversee all aspects of performance, such as daily, weekly, and monthly goals. We compensate the leading employees each month with a monetary bonus. The healthy competition keeps the entire department working effectively, increases quality control, and the bonus motivates everyone to produce more.
Cristian Rennella is CEO & Co-Founder of oMelhorTrato.com.
“Undoubtedly, the best way for warehouses to improve productivity is…”
Voice enablement technology. Some vendors improved their speech recognition technology and reduced costs to make this technology available to companies of all sizes today.
Voice enablement can be applied to all processes and departments, but especially for warehouses to improve productivity. From receipt to shipping and returns, better inventory control, and increased productivity.
Jan Bednar is the CEO of ShipMonk.
“Recently, we actually doubled down on productivity improvement by hiring an automation engineering expert…”
The automation revolution in warehousing and fulfillment increases productivity and reduces errors.
I should point out that, at this point, automation is best paired with employees. Robots are very helpful in warehousing, but there are still opportunities for errors. For this reason, your staff will move from a manually-intensive job to a quality-assurance position, working in concert with the robots.
Cris Grossmann is the CEO and Co-Founder of Beekeeper, an award-winning digital workplace app that merges operational systems and communication channels into one intuitive hub. Since completing his doctorate in Electrical Engineering at ETH Zurich, Cris has dedicated his career to building technology that will transform the lives of non-desk workers across the globe.
“When it comes to inspiring productivity within warehouse workspaces, leadership teams should…”
Do everything they can to bring communications and chat tools under the same digital roof as their operations suite. Having a centralized digital workplace hub that functions intuitively across many types of mobile devices and can accommodate international translations will keep employees on the same page throughout the day, even when they are dispersed or in constant motion.
Amber Lesser, the warehouse manager at Shinesty Inc. has increased the efficiency of the warehouse operations to new heights, increasing the accuracy of the packing and shipping system to well over 99% and instituting such initiatives as having all warehouse staff write personalized notes for customers in every package sent.
“Improving productivity in a warehouse is a three-part process…”
It starts with setting clear expectations. Know the rates your team is hitting, set a goal above the average rate, and make this expectation clear. My team knows the pick, pack, ship, and even receiving rates they should be hitting. These are also rates that I, as a manager, can hit or beat.
Then, make it visible to everyone. A live feed so everyone can see, in real time. Now, each individual knows what’s expected of them and can actively see their progress, along with their colleagues. Adversely, they can see when they aren’t meeting expectations. No one wants to be that guy pulling the team down. These individuals will evaluate what they are doing differently from their colleagues. They will either pick it up or seek guidance. If they don’t, it’s time to move on. Find the next stellar candidate that wants to be productive.
Tom Wilkerson is the owner of ForkliftCertification.com. A national leader in online forklift certification, FLC makes it easy to get OSHA-compliant certification. Tom and his employees have helped thousands of companies discover the easy way to self-certify their forklift operators in-house.
“You can improve warehouse productivity and efficiency by…”
Tracking volume. Know which of your products are the most high-volume so you can keep these near aisle ends and exit areas for streamlined access. Depending on your software, you should be able to arrange products for maximum efficiency.
Amy is a Content Marketing Manager at Wooden Blinds Direct, manufacturers of made-to-measure wooden blinds.
“Streamline your warehouse layout and create dedicated work stations to increase speed and efficiency…”
Model the process on the chronological journey of the order, from stock replenishment, to order picking and batching, to packaging and shipment. You should also consider the available space in your warehouse and use it to its maximum. This might involve relocating certain items or rearranging your storage system.
Alan Griffin is a Warehouse Design Consultant at Paul Trudgian Ltd, a leading supply chain and logistics consultancy based in the UK. Alan has 25 years of experience in the design and delivery of warehousing solutions and has worked with a diverse range of clients including Bombardier and the UK Ministry of Defence.
“Firstly, productivity cannot be considered in isolation from cost…”
If productivity was the only consideration then every warehouse would have fully automated storage and replenishment with robot order picking. Consequently, the question that needs to be answered is, ‘What’s the single best way for warehouses to improve productivity, cost-effectively?’
In my opinion, and beyond commissioning of automation and robotics, the best way to improve productivity, without significant expense, is through the optimization of layout and work-flows.
Warehouses very often have a host of activities occurring, crossing the same spaces. Typical activities will include vehicle unloading, goods receipt, putaway, replenishment, picking, packing, dispatching, returns, and often supplementary activities such as kitting. The result of so many activities in a warehouse that has not fully considered its layout and work-flows, is bottle-necks and safety issues.
Firstly, a company should consider the warehouse layout. This can often be achieved through simple observation – building an understanding of functional areas, material flow into those areas and where functional activities physically cross over. The aim of an efficient warehouse layout is to ensure that there is sufficient space, that the material flow distances between points are minimized and cross-over is reduced.
Once an optimized layout is in place, you can then start to consider work-flow around that space. Simple changes such as moving from order picking to zonal picking can have a huge effect on efficiency and consequently drive increased productivity. Furthermore, the introduction of picker aids such as powered Low-Level Order Pickers will further drive efficiency and productivity.
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. His focus is helping organizations and individuals to become more efficient, more effective and more satisfied at work. Robby is a regular contributor in several regional magazines and has been interviewed by national publications such as the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of four books. His latest is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
“The single best way for warehouses to improve productivity is to…”
Interview frontline employees and genuinely listen. Those who are handling inventory daily are closest to the problems and opportunities. And even if they don’t have any ideas, you’ll increase engagement and efficiency merely by including them.
“The best way to improve warehouse productivity is to…”
Batch tasks in bulk so staff don’t get broken off with multitasking. Have set times for each task and be strict with the times.
So, for goods into the warehouse you book in and check off quantities at the same time every day and do it all at once. The same with goods out and also the customer returns process. Ask your suppliers to send goods for a particular day and time so you can predict workload and arrange a schedule for this.
Sean Farrell is Operations Manager at Johnston Logistics UK, overseeing the smooth delivery of warehousing, logistics, and fulfillment services. The Norfolk-based company provides third party logistics solutions to businesses across many sectors.
“In our experience the best way for warehouses to improve productivity is to…”
Ensure they are using the space available to them in the most efficient manner. Maximizing and optimizing all available space will increase efficiency, resulting in better productivity.
At Johnston Logistics UK we operate a variety of different types of warehousing and storage of a wide range of goods from wine to furniture, to state of the art technology systems. When we were looking to improve operational efficiency, we found better use of the vertical space rather than expanding at ground level was the answer. By introducing specialized reach trucks that can lift to just over 10 meters, we have increased pallet movements by one third.
Gary C. Smith
Gary C. Smith is President and CEO of NAEIR, National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, the largest gifts-in-kind organization in the U.S. Galesburg, Illinois based NAEIR has received donations of excess inventory from more than 8,000 U.S. corporations and redistributed more than $3 billion in products to non-profits and schools. Gary may be reached at 800-562-0955.
“If your warehouse is like most, one of your great ongoing challenges is disposing of surplus inventory…”
Chances are, you’re discounting, liquidating and auctioning unwanted merchandise — labor-intensive work that yields little profit. Good news: there is a better way. Have you ever considered donating your overstock to charity? It’s called ‘product philanthropy’ or ‘gifts-in-kind donations.’ It’s faster and easier than the methods you’re currently using. It’s more financially advantageous, too, thanks to a little-known tax break. Donating Stock to Charity is Tax Deductible You may never have heard of IRC Section 170(e) (3), but it’s a key piece of tax code. It states that when C Corps donate their inventory to qualified nonprofits, they don’t just receive a tax deduction: they can receive a tax deduction equal to up to twice the cost of the donated products.
Under the tax code, deductions are equal to the cost of the inventory donated, plus half the difference between the cost and fair market-selling price, not to exceed twice the cost.
For example, if your product cost $10 and you sell it in store for $30, the difference is $20. Half of $20 is $10. So, $10 (Product Cost) + $10 (Half the Difference) = $20 Deduction .
$20 does not exceed twice the product cost, so it is does not exceed the maximum allowable deduction. It’s that simple…and advantageous. Donating Unwanted Stock Is Easy You don’t have to go hunting for worthy not-for-profits to accept your excess merchandise. A gifts-in-kind organization will do all the work for you. Gifts-in-kind organizations are 501c3 nonprofits that exist to collect corporate product donations and then distribute them to qualified nonprofits. A gifts-in-kind organization should accept 100% your overstocks, at any time throughout the year. It’s particularly helpful when consolidating a warehouse, transitioning between selling seasons or dealing with a run of returns.
How the Donation Process Works
Your first step is to contact a reputable gifts-in-kind organization and ask how to become a member of its donor network. Typically, you’ll be asked to complete a simple form about your company and its products.
Once you’re accepted, you’re ready to start donating. Make a list of the inventory you want to give, and submit it for approval. Once it’s approved, simply ship it to the designated location. The gifts-in-kind organization assumes responsibility for sorting and cataloging the merchandise, and then making it available to member charities. When your merchandise is received, the gifts-in-kind organization will send you tax documentation. And after the products are donated, you’ll learn what specific charities received your goods—which you and your coworkers will find very gratifying.
More Benefits to Gifts-in-Kind-Donations
The time you’ll save—and the tax benefits you’ll reap—aren’t the only advantages to making gifts-in-kind donations. You’ll also:
- Protect your brand – Discounting inventory devalues your products and your name, while making corporate donations elevates your brand.
- Enhance employee engagement – Employees like working for companies with heart. Sharing the names of the charities that benefited from your gifts-in-kind donations makes great employee newsletter content that raises morale.
- Keep your inventory current – There’s no reason to hang onto obsolete stock when you have such a simple process for moving it.
- Keep your warehouse uncluttered – Storage space is valuable. Most gifts-in-kind organizations will accept both large and small volume donations at any time, allowing you to better manage your warehouse space. Most important, your company will offer a helping hand to people in need and the charities that serve them. Your unwanted products can enjoy new life in the hands of those that will put them to very good use. Why discount or liquidate when you can donate?
Lindsey Brown is the Director of Marketing and Sales at Port City Companies. She is a graduate of Northwood University where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in ADV, MKT & MGT.
“Knowing what you’re going to receive and when is crucial to achieving an optimized receiving department…”
Often times when busy, lack of communication happens, and shipments either bring too little or too much inventory. If a warehouse doesn’t communicate how much shipment to receive, and ends up receiving 50% more than expected, this not only requires more staff on hand to unload the goods, but it also takes twice as long to receive the actual shipment. On the other hand, sometimes a warehouse receive less than expected, and this too can create unnecessary chaos. Receiving less than expected could increase costs due to over-staffing. Keep in mind its very hard and not always possible to expect and receive 100% correct quantities; however, by communicating often and closely with suppliers, shipping carriers, and your team members, you can greatly decrease receiving costs and turnaround times.
Instituting the workflow can lead to increase speed, efficiency, and hopefully reduced costs. To maintain a momentum and standardize the workflow, there are things to keep in mind and ensure each station has what it needs to be the most effective. Make sure your flow makes sense. Is there an area set up to allow for the flow to work properly? Are there adequate supplies at all stations easily accessible to each worker? Having a de-cluttered area can also speed up the process and create less confusion. When a shipment arrives at the dock, making sure SKUs are labeled properly and in order and not combined with others can drastically save you time during the unloading and organizing process.
Alec Sears, Communications Specialist at Cut Cable Today, is a digital marketing expert who specializes in the business applications of artificial intelligence and the internet of things.
“I firmly believe that the future of productivity lies in the development of the Internet of Things…”
There are so many applications that are not yet possible with smart technology, but when it comes to warehouse productivity, the IoT has already advanced enough to make a huge difference through the use of RFID.
Radio frequency identification is a way to read tags and transfer and organize data, even for objects that are out of sight. This will allow warehouses to track inventory, expiration dates, location, and so much more. Employees will no longer have to manually sort through and scan products. While there are obviously many things that can boost productivity in warehouses, RFID is easily the smartest choice (pun intended).
Linda Parry Murphy
Named a ‘Top 40 Under 40’ Rising Star by the Westchester Business Council, Product Launchers CEO Linda Parry Murphy has a love for growing businesses. She grew up in a family-run business, mopping floors and helping customers at a very young age. This experience taught her more about business than any MBA class. Prior to Product Launchers, Parry Murphy was the youngest Senior Vice President of a New York-based global marketing firm.
“For increased productivity, communication with internal members is key…”
Our account executive team needs to let our warehouse know when new inventory is coming in, for example, so that everything is set up appropriately in advance. And it ensures that the manufacturer packages the goods as they should with labels, inner cartons and master packs, etc. This prevents costly errors and delays at the dock and ensures an overall smooth operation.
Daniel Theobald is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Vecna, which is a leader in robotics and earlier this year launched an innovative solution for warehouse logistics, which is saving money and time in the supply chain.
“Expect to see an increased interaction between humans and robots…”
Complete lights-out automation will not be the norm for most industries. Instead, robots will be used to improve worker productivity and job satisfaction by taking on the unwanted parts of jobs that humans don’t find interesting or fulfilling. With turnover rates as high as 300% for many manufacturing, shipping, and order-fulfillment jobs, employers are struggling to find and keep the staff they need to meet customer expectations. By strategically deploying robots as helpers and promoting the human workers to more value-added tasks, everybody wins.
Angela Stringfellow is a writer with 10+ years of experience. She focuses on news, trends, and insights in marketing, business, and technology.