In the most basic terms, warehousing is figuring out where and how to store your products (or their components) before they’re needed for assembly, store display, online purchase, or another final destination.
Many third-party logistics companies specialize in handling shipping, warehousing, and delivery for other brands, allowing those teams to focus on other things, such as product development. However, many smaller businesses still handle their own inventory and warehousing.
Regardless of your company’s size or industry, it pays to be thoughtful about warehousing practices. Better warehouse management will allow you to maximize the storage space you have available and minimize the effort it takes to find items again when you need them. These benefits go on to speed up operations, improve customer experience, and yield more valuable insights for managers — all of which boost revenue and dramatically cut storage-related costs over time.
The Primary Tasks of Warehouse Management
Warehouse management consists primarily of the following tasks — and you’ll need processes, procedures, and protocols for each of them.
- Receiving – Establish how your products will be accepted into the warehouse and how you’ll keep records of what came in and when it came in.
- Stowing/Putaway – This step of the warehousing process should determine exactly how and where certain items should be stored within the warehouse.
- Picking – What are the procedures by which your staff will locate and retrieve the products when they’re needed? How will they keep a record of the fact that they retrieved each item and each group of items for an order?
- Checking/Verification – Do you want your staff to verify or check their item against the order, or make sure that product is intact or acceptable before it’s moved along to its final destination?
- Packing and Shipping – You’ll need standard procedures for how products should be packed up and labeled when it’s finally time to move them along.
Introducing WHM Software
Of course, most companies don’t keep track of their inventory and supplies manually anymore.
There are plenty of web-based software programs built specifically to make this work easier for companies of all sizes. Warehouse management software, or WHM, can come packaged into more complex ERP software or supply chain management software designed for the needs of logistics companies.
WHM software leverages the power of scanners and barcodes to automate inventory tracking, which makes every step of the warehousing process faster and more accurate. Employees scan inventory as it comes in and gets put away, and the software keeps track of each item’s location within the warehouse so it’s easy to find later.
In fact, smaller companies that don’t need a huge warehouse for their storage may be able to get by with inventory management software alone. Inventory management software assigns tracking numbers (stock tracking units, or SKUs, can help track things like price, color, style, brand, gender, type, and size) to inventory. Employees can scan items by SKU as they’re received and as they move through the facility. Retailers use inventory management software to alert them to when their stock is running low and they need to order more.
Inventory management software also makes it easy to print shipping labels when it’s time to move an item to its final destination.
WHM software usually includes some of these inventory tracking features, and in other cases, a company may opt to use both inventory management software and WHM software.
WHM software tends to include some valuable features that go beyond what inventory software can do on its own, such as:
- Warehouse design – Users may be able to use these programs to lay out their warehouses, including allocating bin and shelf space.
- Staff management – Because employees are using the software to scan inventory items throughout the day, these programs can also give users a good sense of what employees are working on. This data can help administrators plan workloads and staff schedules.
- Inventory storage conditions – Some WHM software can also track how goods are stored, including any conditions or processes required for the optimal storage of certain products.
- Equipment management – Some systems integrate with software that tracks the use of the equipment used in warehouses, such as forklifts, packaging machines, and conveyor systems.
All of today’s best web-based software (inventory management, warehouse management, supply chain management, or all of the above), includes access to helpful reports and digital dashboards.
For example, data from WHM programs can give users real-time snapshots of the warehouse floor, and can alert them to potential risk or compliance issues.
Tracking Other Warehouse Comings and Goings
Inventory, staff, and equipment aren’t the only things within your warehouse to track with software. You should also be monitoring and keeping records of visitors, whether your warehouse is attached to your front office, in a completely separate building, or is simply an “employees only” storage area within your retail establishment.
Tracking visitors is always a best practice for safety and liability. Plus, visitor data can help on an administrative level to assess what people need when they visit your facility.
However, in some cases, monitoring the people who come in and out of your warehouse can also be a legal requirement.
For example, food and beverage manufacturers need to make sure that only authorized people gain access to their facilities in order to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Logistics providers who are C-TPAT compliant also must limit the people who can access their facilities. And any company that manufactures or produces dangerous or sensitive products, such as those important to national security, is likely subject to a host of regulations about how this material should be stored.
To make sure that visitors are properly credentialed and don’t wander into any space where they’re not permitted, try using a visitor management system like The Receptionist for iPad.