In an opening session at the National Conference on Operations & Fulfillment in Las Vegas on Monday, Susan Rider , president of logistics consulting agency Rider & Associates, wasted little time in getting to what was on the minds of nearly all attendees: How can you make your warehouse more efficient and thereby more profitable? Here are just five of the many tips Rider provided to help answer the aforementioned question:
1. Realize your employees are your most important asset. To develop talent within your organization, Rider recommended the following:
- Communicate and share the goals and focus of your company, but remember with who and what you are sharing. There are some things that don’t need to be shared, Rider cautioned.
- Empower your employees to make decisions on their own without the fear of looking over their shoulder.
- Give positive affirmation when appropriate. Recognition of a job well done goes a long way, Rider said.
- Take a leadership approach rather than a management approach. A leader stresses the importance of execution to the employees.
2. Collaborate with other departments in your organization. Do the sales people at your company only care about their sales goals and nothing else? Does the same apply for your merchandising team? Sadly, this is the case at many businesses that operate in silos, Rider lamented. Your warehouse should be in constant communication with every facet of the organization — e.g., sales, merchandising, IT. Break down the barriers to create a culture of “one team, one dream.” Overall profitability of the company should be the overarching goal for all employees.
3. Reduce walk and touch times. Easier said than done for most warehouses. Here are some ways to help you achieve this goal:
- Find out what your “golden zone” is. This refers to slotting products where they can be picked most efficiently. For example, don’t put your best-selling products on the bottom shelf of your pick flow, Rider advised. By making people bend over, it slows down their productivity.
- Make your pick lists as easy to read as possible. If your pick lists are paper-based, for example, increase the font size to make them as easy to get ready as possible. If your pick lists are printed, ensure that the toner in your printer is changed frequently. These simple solutions will increase productivity, Rider said.
- Use clear labeling and signage. Have big, colorful aisle markers to make finding products easier, Rider said.
- Identify the velocity of SKUs. How quickly a product sells will help you determine where it should be slotted in your warehouse.
- Don’t rotate employees in a fast-pick module, Rider advised. You want your fastest pickers on your fastest moving products at all times.
4. Make training a continuous process. With how quickly technology is changing the face of operations and fulfillment today, it’s necessary to evaluate the need for training in your warehouse every three months, Rider said. Tenure with the company shouldn’t be a factor. In fact, some of your more experienced staff might need a refresher course on how to use the technology available to them to its full capacity, Rider noted. Regular systems training is a must in order to be as efficient and productive as possible.
5. Explore new technology opportunities. From web and transportation management systems to paperless picking to robotic palletizing, there’s intelligence being developed wherever you turn in the warehouse. And most of it’s quite helpful, Rider noted. But be careful not to be bowled over by the sexiness of the technology, Rider warned. It has to make business sense from an return on investment perspective. And don’t think that by purchasing an expensive warehouse management system all your problems are solved. “Don’t pave over cow paths,” Rider said, making an analogy to businesses paving over bad processes with new technologies.