Peak season creep is no joke. According to the National Retail Foundation, over half of the consumers are well underway with their holiday shopping in early November, and many much sooner. As seasonal shopping preferences shift, warehouse preparation must react in kind, prompting the question of how soon is too soon to get ready for that peak season rush.
Ramping up your operations with the expectation of more activity is one thing. But what about changing your warehouse processes or making some upgrades? Would these types of changes benefit your operations or give you one more headache that you’ll have to manage in the coming months?
Changing Your Warehouse Processes Before Peak Season
Whether you have 30 days or 90 days, anyone who works in eCommerce or third-party logistics (3PL) knows that there isn’t much time to prepare your operations for the challenges that come with peak season.
If you’re concerned about storage space, how will you address that issue without signing an additional lease? Do you have the right equipment and systems in place to make the most efficient use of the space you have? If you’ve struggled with order accuracy in the past or various bottlenecks, how will you address this with even more volume?
Just considering these questions is enough to give any warehouse manager pause. But, it would be unrealistic to think you could tackle the crunch of the holiday season without making a few adjustments. The question is what changes you should commit to and how soon you should get started before things start getting crazy.
The Benefits and Risks of Changing Your Warehouse Processes
The benefits of changing your warehouse processes are many. You can have a warehouse that runs more efficiently, saving you both time and money. Those efficiencies can not only help you serve your current customers better but also attract new ones. Even better, your business has the opportunity to improve its bottom-line results through those new efficiencies.
Sure, there are some risks to changing your warehouse processes right before peak season. You can make the argument that it’s never a good idea to change several processes at once or make any major changes just before a busy season. If something doesn’t go as planned, will you have contingencies in place to address the challenges?
That said, there aren’t exactly any “slow” times of the year anymore when it comes to eCommerce, retail, and order fulfillment. The National Retail Federation collects a ton of valuable insights in this respect. Interestingly, average planned spending for back-to-school purchases (including college) tops holiday purchases by well over 50%. Those activities start about mid-summer! And other annual events combined, such as Mother’s Day, Easter, Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day, equate to another holiday shopping event.
One of the predominant fears of upgrading warehouse processes is cost. The perception is that any changes will require a major investment of time and money. But, consider how much time and money is lost each day due to inefficient warehouse operations. You may find that your current system is costing you more than you realized.
What Types of Changes Might Be Appropriate?
Maximizing your warehouse space and operational efficiency is the best way to achieve your production and financial goals in the warehouse industry during peak season and beyond. If you’re looking for ways to improve your operations heading into peak season, here are several potential updates you can put on your list:
Upgrading Your Warehouse Machinery
If you’re using antiquated warehouse machinery, it might be time for an upgrade. You can consider addressing unskilled or high labor turnover issues by bringing in some robotic forklifts and other automation solutions. Particularly in large warehouses, automation can free up some of your human workers to perform other tasks.
Updated Storage Systems
A well-designed storage system can make the difference between an efficient and profitable warehouse and one that continues to struggle, whether in slow or peak season. But, if the busy season is approaching, you can update some of your storage systems by:
- Making use of vertical space
- Narrowing aisles
- Using more bins and containers
- Installing a mezzanine
Customized Warehouse Software
If you’re still using paper or spreadsheets to track inventory or pull orders, the opportunity for human error is significant. The right warehouse management software can help you better manage your day-to-day operations and give you the data you need to make the right strategic choices moving forward. Logistics software can automate receiving, processing orders, shipping, inventory checking, customer service, payments, and other vital functions of your business.
Improved Employee Training
Your business will only be successful if you have the right processes, systems, and people in place. Don’t forget about the last part of that formula. OSHA regulations and industry rules require that employees be trained on equipment best practices. Proper and continuous training can empower your warehouse employees to do their jobs efficiently, even during peak season.
The Best Approach to Manage Warehouse Process Changes
To remain competitive requires a process of constant improvement that involves making better use of warehouse space and cost and error reduction. If you decide to make some warehouse process changes, whether on approach to peak season or with a little more time on your hands, it’s essential to use the right strategy.
Here are some of the approaches that will make your warehouse process improvement projects successful:
1. Create Process Flowcharts
Creating flowcharts doesn’t sound like fun, but it’s a useful exercise when you are trying to make process improvements. These tools help you get a visual understanding of your current system as well as the relationships between different processes and how outside factors affect them.
2. Use Metrics as Indicators
In addition to flowcharts, make sure you are identifying and using the right metrics. After all, it’s tough to improve something you haven’t measured. Do you have standards and indicators for inventory turnover and accuracy, cost per line, warehouse costs per order, and ROI?
3. Consider Several Options
When planning any changes to your warehouse operations, it can be a mistake to jump at the first option. Investigate all of your opportunities for improvement before deciding to move forward. Ask yourself what the ramifications are for an implementation schedule and the potential payoff.
4. Focus on Continuous Improvement
You don’t have to change everything at once. And you probably shouldn’t. Broadly analyze your operations, but narrowly implement changes by choosing some of the projects with the highest potential rewards first. Since the goal is continuous improvement, you can create a schedule that incorporates the best ideas over time.
Start Thinking Ahead for the Coming Months and Years
Your peak season preparation for this year probably isn’t going to start 30 days or even a few months out. Keep a running log of the issues in your warehouse that is causing bottlenecks or inefficiencies due to various systems, processes, or people.
Once you have that list, you can start looking at the changes you need to make to your warehouse over time. These include improving storage space, adding better equipment, and leveraging the right warehouse management system technology.
Successful peak seasons are built on a foundation of efficient systems, the right equipment, and properly trained staff. When you have these elements in place, your warehouse will achieve the best possible results under any conditions.