A few weekends back we re-organized the product layout in the warehouse. When we first moved in we only had one row of products. Since then we’ve just been adding shelving units as we go, with no real organization other than trying to keep items of a specific brand together. It grew to the point where pulling and packing a large order took forever. You’d be running around like a chicken with your head cut off, going up and down rows on one side of the warehouse to get a few products, then back to the other side for a few. On really large orders the process would repeat itself over and over again. It could easily take 30 minutes to pull, check, and pack a large order.
For some companies, this might be acceptable. For us, it isn’t. We’ve managed to grow without hiring because we’ve always offset our growth with new efficiencies. In this case, the solution was rather simple:
- Space out products so that they have adequate room for growth as we expand.
- Put the most frequently sold brands closest to our pulling table (this post from last year has a good overview of how we pull/pack orders)
- Put the most frequently sold products on the middle three shelves, with less frequent sellers like gallon sizes on the bottom and top shelves. We have reports in our admin system that tally all of this data for us.
- Number each shelving unit as a “zone”.
- Record the “zones” for each unique product and size in our database
- Display products on invoices according to their “zone” (previously they were just in alphabetical order)
Here’s the chart that we used to number the different shelving units. The red shelf is TD only, the grayed out shelves are future units, and the row of boxes are for items like buffers that do not fit on shelving units and are left in boxes.
Now when the order is printed out on the invoice it prints in ascending numerical zone order, with products in zone 1 on the top and products in zone 85 on the bottom. As you can tell, we snaked the zones. So if you need products in zones 2, 6, 9, and 11 you’ll take less steps by snaking down to the next row as opposed to walking back to the start of the rows each time. Shipping boxes are located in a row before Row 1, so in theory you can pick up your pre-made box for the order (as determined by our box size system and printed on the invoice) and then just plop all of the items into it as you snake through the warehouse.
You can also see how many more steps you’d take previously if, for example, you had an order with items in zones 4, 18, 22, 33, and 80. You could easily travel the length of the warehouse several times if they were ordered 10, 33, 22, 4, 80 on the packing slip. Or you could miss an item if you tried to re-arrange them in your head according to location. Now you can get the items all in one pass.
Here’s a picture of the first row of products:
Since we’ve put the system in place we’ve been able to pull and pack orders much faster, despite the fact that we’re not familiar with the new layout. Once a few months go by I can’t even imagine how many steps will be saved. This also gives us a much more refined process to teach others. We want to put systems in place that not only help us thrive, but will help our future employees thrive.
**Side note: if I was doing this project as a Six Sigma initiative at my prior job (or any large corporate job for that matter), I would have had to have spent a lot of time collecting data before and after the project to measure the improvement. I would have spent a ton of time tracking steps, timing packing time, and then organizing all of the data. Then I would have had to relate those time savings back into dollars saved for our company – in terms of saved labor costs and reduced mistakes. However, in our case, it’s totally fucking obvious to anyone with half a brain that this saves a ton of time and cuts down on mistakes. Since I’m an owner, I don’t have to spend time on “proving” the project value to justify my value to the company. One of my favorite parts of running my own business.