When it comes to inventory, you need every process to move like a well-oiled machine. As one of the last and most important steps in the retail pipeline, you never want picking to be the step that slows you down. But your machine won’t work if the parts don’t fit together well. This is where effective inventory organization comes into play. A great layout that makes the most sense for your space can assist everyone in pulling inventory quickly and easily, making the whole process run a little bit more smoothly.
Inventory organization is rarely easy, though. Space and time limitations, the constant in and out flow of of product, and the sheer overwhelming feeling that comes with tackling such a big task can cause re-organizing your inventory space to fall by the wayside way too often and for far too long.
Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to get started, and get your inventory space organized in a way that maximizes your space and optimizes your resources.
Stock Optimization Starts With Space Assessment
What’s happening? Where is it happening? And is that the best possible place for it to be happening? There are a few of the questions you need to be asking when deciding on the most efficient layout for your picking space.
Of course, keeping things at ground level, whenever possible, will help make picking easier and faster. But without ample room and well-planned paths to navigate, even the simplest setup will slow down and eventually create bottlenecks and jams.
Organize your inventory so there is a well-defined flow for employees to take on their picking journey. Simple steps like grouping items that are commonly shipped together, and routing traffic to avoid doubling back or constantly retracing their steps can make a big difference, especially when space is limited.
Visualize Product Movements to Improve them
Your current setup may seem like it is working. But your current layout is likely masking a huge problem. Wasted motion and needless traffic in the wrong places.
Wasted motion in warehouses costs billions in productivity every year. In food warehouses alone, wasted motion consumes 6.9 weeks annually, at a cost of $4.3 billion annually.
In order to help you conduct the space assessment and optimize your warehousing, try literally mapping out the current flow. A paper and pen are all you need to start. Or use the time-lapse camera function on your phone to watch a whole day’s traffic Which routes are being taken most often? Do they make sense? Do they involve lots of long trips or out-of-the-way detours to pick the right products?
Also keep an eye—and make note of—where things are going wrong. Is there a particularly overstuffed corner where people get caught up? Is there a reshelve tub that’s constantly parked in the wrong place? Are there areas where too many people are picking at once because of the popularity of the item?
Knowing of these issues with certainty—witnessing them and taking note—can help your get to the root of your traffic problems and visualize how to begin fixing them.
Storage Cleaning and Upkeep Are Mission-Critical
From a safety standpoint, from an efficiency standpoint, and ultimately from a financial standpoint, cleaning and upkeep are an absolutely critical part of inventory organization. Just like you plan ahead to ensure you never run out of an item, you should also be planning ahead to ensure your inventory space stays well organized and tidy.
Having a plan and arranging your space once is not enough. Once everything is in place for optimal picking time and function, you have to make sure things stay that way. Everything needs to have a designated area. Empty pallets, boxes, and other trash should be removed as soon as they are created. Any spills or other messes should be addressed immediately.
Clean-up and reset at every position and every shift or day have to become second nature. Perhaps use project management tools to ensure this clean-up process happens each day. A place for everything and everything in its place. Enforce a no-mess policy for a couple of weeks and you’ll be amazed at how big an impact it has on overall energy and flow.
Constantly Do Warehouse Audits
Is there any bigger headache than trying to work around inventory you just don’t need? It takes up space, it requires time and energy to try and figure out what to do with, and it ultimately means more work to finally get rid of it.
Well, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the best thing to do with unneeded inventory is to avoid having it in the first place. By regularly evaluating low-turn, out-of-season, EOL inventory, you can create more accurate forecasts for what you need, and prevent the buildup in the future. And for any excess you already have lying around? Have sales/marketing develop strategies to sell through, return, or liquidate.
Product Location Is The Most Important Thing
It really is everything. According to Supply Chain 24/7, “travel time can easily account for 50% or more of order picking hours” so it is imperative that travel time is reduced and picking strategies are in place so time is never wasted. So much of this depends on location. From the location of the item within your space, to the space itself, location plays a vital role in determining the efficiency of your picking. Make sure your understand your location, its drawbacks, and its strengths, and plan accordingly.
And while all these tips might help make you make a better plan for achieving inventory organization, the biggest predictor of efficient picking is this: treat inventory process initiatives as mission critical for the company. Sure, there are lots of steps that come before and after, but in the long run, good business depends on good picking.
This is a guest post by Laura Hudgens, a writer for TechnologyAdvice.com. She is a communications instructor and freelance writer who studies and writes about technology, media, science, and health.