The freight transportation industry is traditionally not overwhelmed by the peak holiday shipping pandemonium recently experienced by some prominent logistics providers, but for integrated providers offering multiple supply chain services, warehousing is one area that often comes under strain from consumers and partner companies during this time. While the distribution process frequently ends at a consumer’s front door in a small package, it begins mostly with large shipments and pallets of freight arriving at a warehouse—the temporary but bustling home where the thousands of SKUs are then processed and shipped.
Even though we are bombarded with imagery and industry news reports of advanced robotics and automation within the warehouse environment, the reality is at multiple touch points there are still human hands utilizing these tools and human feet navigating the numerous aisles of inventory. Technological innovations will undoubtedly continue to drive new and greater efficiencies within the warehousing and distribution industry, but true operational efficiency often begins not with sophisticated tools and technologies, but rather with an excellent team on the ground floor.
Listen to Your Internal Publics
Your team is invaluable to the success of your warehouse. They interact with your facility daily and can recognize operational weaknesses before upper management even identifies them as being problematic. By listening to and valuing your team’s input, you gain an extremely beneficial and added level of oversight. Not only does fostering a sense of collaboration throughout your facility decrease potential operational dysfunction, it also enhances everyone’s sense of belonging to your company. Team morale significantly improves when employees are possessed of a genuine desire to help your business succeed and feel personally invested in your organization’s welfare.
To help attract and retain such employees, warehouse and logistics managers should aim to cultivate a top-down culture that demonstrates exemplary leadership. In addition to listening to employee concerns, managers should implement initiatives such as annual surveys to help employees realize the value placed on their input. After reviewing and analyzing the results of this annual survey, it’s important to provide constructive feedback on how employee concerns are being proactively addressed by leadership. Developing such initiatives provides companies with a wealth of analytics for gauging employee satisfaction while also offering up insights on improvements needed in other key areas.
Strengthen Your Labor Force
With more high school students attending college than ever before, there is perhaps less interest in considering alternative options like trade school as a path for a future career. In light of this trend, warehouse managers must get creative and invest in the necessary resources to ensure they are adequately staffed.
-Educate New Hires: In what is often unfairly deemed a low-wage, unskilled labor environment, prospective employees have more opportunities than expected for learning new and more sophisticated skills. An entry level position in warehousing permits individuals with limited experience the chance to learn new software applications, diverse logistics functions, as well as earn specialized material handling certifications. These and other opportunities are excellent training grounds for those pursuing a career path outside of a traditional four-year college.
-Recruit New Hires: Look into developing visible recruitment initiatives that inform students of the diverse career possibilities that exist within the logistics field. Many part-time positions serve as great entryways for students to learn and explore the industry, while those who are not pursuing a four-year college path can begin careers that offer real opportunities for professional growth.
-Implement New Technology: Tools are only as good as the hands which use them. Use these innovations to your people’s advantage and enhance your overall workforce productivity.
Assess Your Warehouse Layout
Present day consumer expectations have become ever more demanding as the overall warehouse real estate market has grown tighter: 89 percent of storage space in the United States was built before 2000 and development of new space is not keeping pace with demand. It’s important for warehouse managers to optimize existing space since developing new property is often a long and arduous endeavor. Consider these limited cost strategies:
-Revisit Your Blueprint: Perform a detailed inventory analysis and reevaluate your warehouse blueprint to see where process improvements such as repositioning frequently picked inventory can be made.
-Space Utilization: Think in cubic feet. Depending on what you store or manufacture, there are a multitude of different racking, storage and other creative options available for getting the most out of your space, no matter the square footage.
-Optimize Workflow: Set your people up for success. Performing the above steps should allow for greater productivity and efficiency gains as employee work tasks become more streamlined.
Although the space available to develop new warehouse facilities may be limited, warehouse managers who use these tactics are making the most of a challenging situation. With the pressures of e-commerce overhauling many traditional dynamics of warehousing & distribution, we can expect to witness more providers scrambling for much needed additional capacity, so a little bit of innovation can go a long way.
We are so enticed by the power and potential of new ideas and tools, we often forget that successful operations start with employees, are supported and enhanced with technology and guided by the vision and ingenuity of trusted leadership. With the right culture in place and by recruiting and developing the right talent, in regards to operational efficiency, the old adage rings true: the simplest solution is often the best one.
Frank Granieri is Chief Operating Officer of A. Duie Pyle and a member of the company’s Board of Directors. He joined Pyle in 2012, bringing more than 15 years of transportation industry, logistics and executive management experience to his role with the company. Facilitating company activity in marketing, sales, technology and logistics consulting, he is also responsible for A. Duie Pyle’s Custom Dedicated, Warehousing & Distribution and Brokerage business units, which comprehensively serve a wide-array of industries.