Extended warehouse management: our top 3 tips for scaling your warehouse system
Scaling your warehouse system
Growth is the lifeblood of any business, but it’s rarely straightforward. Most businesses, even those started from bedrooms or garages, have various elements and operations that must be integrated and scaled when trade takes off. For example, warehousing is vital to any business that deals with physical products, but it can be challenging to scale, and extended warehouse management is complicated – there’s much more involved than just finding a bigger warehouse! In this post we provide some tips for easier, forward-focused warehousing that not only solve the problems of current growth, but also leave the business poised for future success.
If your business sells or transports any tangible product, you need a warehouse. At first, that warehouse may be a garage or a garden shed, but as the business grows you will need something bigger. And then, later, something bigger still.
That may sound obvious and reasonably simple, but of course warehouses and their processes are not simple at all. In fact, we are so conscious of that fact that we’ve recently published a comprehensive guide to scaling your warehouse, which you can download here.
The warehouse is the enterprise’s central point, it’s where most of the important data and physical processes come together to provide physical results: goods in, goods out, inventory, stock status and so on. The modern warehouse runs on data as much as, sometimes more than, manual activities. And as your business grows, so does the complexity of your warehousing – and that growth and increasing complexity continues (hopefully) throughout the life of your business.
With that in mind, here is our top trio of ideas to scale your warehousing effectively.
Tip 1: it’s never too early to integrate your warehouse system
Whatever the current size of your business, if you plan to grow then, depending on the extent of your ambitions, you may have to scale up your warehousing multiple times during the lifecycle of your business.
Each time you do this, you will need to form an overview of all of the numbers, processes, layouts, picking routes etc. that exist in your current warehouse, and strategise how you can map these over to the new site, extend and improve them and then integrate them with other systems (such as inventory management, returns data, ordering processes and your own ecommerce infrastructure).
This is extremely complex – but it is much easier if you can, from the outset, integrate your warehouse management systems (and your warehouse management system software, if you have it) with other business systems such as your website/ecommerce, retail sales sites and enterprise management/accounting software. This allows you to develop an overview of the whole business, and thereafter whenever you extend your warehousing you are much less likely to overlook or fail to upgrade anything vital, and to make the best decisions in terms of the business as a whole.
Tip 2: engineer processes for immediate & future growth
It’s very easy, when scaling up your warehouse, to think of the here and now, which means designing processes, layout and assets (such as specialist storage units, shelving and picking routes) that suit your current situation.
That’s not an entirely bad thing: when you move into new warehouse space it’s a great opportunity to incorporate new elements that will drive up efficiency and meet your needs better than previous arrangements. For example, you could use this as an opportunity to introduce a new barcode or RFID system to make stock management much easier and give you a 24/7 overview of your inventory.
However, your future self (and business) will thank you if, as well as this, you think a couple of steps ahead. For lots of businesses, the first or second scale-up of warehousing represents a tipping point: they move from a relatively small space, which allows them to know where each individual item is kept, to a much larger space that is much harder to keep track of. And when a business is nurturing fresh growth, losing track of stock and stock management can bring everything to a grinding halt.
As we saw in Tip 1, the warehouse lies at the heart of your business. Everything that happens in the warehouse is linked to other, top-level business functions including the bottom line. Control is paramount. That’s why many firms purchase extended warehouse management solutions, often in the form of warehouse management system software, at the point they make a first or second warehouse move.
They do this not only to keep track of and streamline processes, events and items within the warehouse, but sometimes also to incorporate the warehouse and its data into the wider business overview, functions and datasets. Some warehouse management systems (such as Peoplevox) can be linked not only to obvious applications like customs management and logistics, but also to company-wide enterprise resource management (ERP) programmes. This provides pinpoint management control at all times, and allows the business to use its own data with analytics to achieve better decision-making, efficiency and strategy.
Tip 3: your workforce is part of your warehouse system
Although some firms are giving fully automated warehousing a go, the vast majority of warehouses rely heavily on their people and are likely to do-so long-term. Few companies can cope with the sudden exodus of many warehouse staff, so it is important for businesses to take their people with them as they scale up – not only in body, but also in mind. That requires you to pay attention to your internal communications (to keep staff informed and engaged) but you may also want to examine your warehouse workers’ contracts. For example, you may want to include provision for longer commutes, so that you can move staff easily from one warehouse location to another as your business grows.
If you would like to read about warehouse scaling in greater detail, we have recently published a practical guide to scaling your warehouse, which you can download by clicking here. Alternatively, why not contact us to see if our extended warehouse management solutions might be a good fit for your business?