I mentioned in my last post that I was going to come back and delve a little deeper into our new packing area.
The process outlined below is a combination of George’s prior e-commerce experience, my industrial engineering experience, Greg’s overall business experience, and the work that Mike has done in studying how our competition and other e-commerce sites ship orders (specifically this great newegg video), along with a whole lot of trial and error. It allows us to process orders faster, with less mistakes, and with less variation. As any process should be, it’s been designed explicitly with future employees in mind. Not only is it efficient for us, but it will be very easy to learn and the built-in checks and balances make it very hard to mess up.
The general “flow” of packages follows the red arrows in the diagram below, flowing from the puller’s table to a packing area, and eventually out the garage door into a backed-up FedEx truck. (I should note that prior to this, we just had a few packing tables without much organization or flow. It worked, but as we’ve grown the need for a well structured system became readily apparent).
The system is built to work with anywhere from 2-5 people. I’m going to describe a Monday morning when all four of us are working. That’s when we’re the busiest and therefore that’s when we see the biggest impact of having a system in place like this.
- 2 pullers – these people are responsible for physically pulling the orders from the shelves and then for picking a box-size for the order (now automated with our new box-size system). For small orders, they just make the box and place the items directly in the box. For larger orders they use one of the bins and put the box underneath the bins. Once they’ve pulled an order, they double check it and place it on the packing table next to the #1 in the image below, sliding any existing orders down the table in the direction of the arrow.
- 1 packer/inspector – this person stands behind the tables, near the #2 in the photo above. If the box isn’t already made, they first make the box. If the order was in a bin, they put the bin back. They then take the order, double check that it was pulled correctly, and then arrange it in the box in the safest manner. They tighten tops, wipe off dust, and do anything else to ensure that the order is ready to ship. They separate the invoice from the shipping label, place our promotional cards (located in the black organizer) in the invoice, fold the invoice up and place it in the box, and finally pass the order to the left, again following the arrows.
- 1 shipper – this person also stands behind the tables, near the #3 in the photo above. They fill the box to the brim with packing peanuts, seal the box, and push it forward onto the double tables. When FedEx shows up, they back their truck right up to the door and it’s only a walk of a few feet to put the boxes on the truck.
The peanut dispenser is what really tied the whole thing together for us. Previously we used all sorts of packing material, from bubble wrap to re-used material from our vendors and pretty much anything else you can could imagine. Not only did our customers receive packages with different boxes and packing material each time they ordered, but more importantly the quality of the packing job was left up to the discretion of that individual packer. Now we simply have a rule that every single order gets these strong anti-static biodegradable packing peanuts filled to the top, no exceptions. Every order is presumably packed just as well as an order shipped out by someone else.
We keep a shared spreadsheet with any shipping mistakes or damaged items. Since implementing this a few months ago, we’ve dropped off to almost zero, which I take as a testament to how good of a system we built. The real test will be when we plop a few employees in. If McDonald’s can train any zit-faced 15 year old in the world to make the exact same Big Mac, we think we can infuse any competent employee into this system without a drop off in results. Only time will tell, but for now we couldn’t be happier with what we’ve built.