Our growth feels so slow and steady sometimes that I forget that we’ve actually grown a ton in a short amount of time. The visual representation of this is our warehouse.
This is what our product selection looked like just after we moved in on 2/25/2008:
Pretty bare. Like an empty cave. Compare that to yesterday:
Inside the little room there’s our shipping computer, laser printer, label printer (courtesy of FedEx), and printer/scanner/copier/fax that we bought because we have to send so many faxes to our vendors (eh):
Not much has changed since November of 2008 when I wrote a post about how we pull and pack orders. However, while I was taking the pics I realized that if I got up on top of one of our tables I could get a birds-eye view of almost the entire process. I couldn’t resist.
This is what it would look like if the iGuy tried to pull an order for us:
- The invoices are printed out along with the FedEx labels, both in alphabetical order so that each pile is in the same order. Now that we’ve done away with international, Tastefully Driven, and Amazon, it takes less than 5 minutes to process and print all of the orders regardless of volume.
- The puller (in this case the iGuy) takes the top invoice and top shipping label, checks to see if the name matches, and then proceeds to pick a box. Our box size system suggests a size. I’d say it’s right 85% of the time now.
- Because of our new layout and inventory zone system put in place last Summer, the invoice is ordered in the order that the products appear on the shelves, sending the iGuy in a zig-zag pattern through our warehouse to get all of the items for his order.
- After he’s finished, the iGuy checks his order, puts it on the table, and moves on to the next one. A checker will review the order and pass it along to the packer who seals it, puts the label on, and pushes it forward onto the table that is in front of the garage door where FedEx backs up to pick up the packages.
How long are we going to stay in this location? My answer: as long as we possibly can.
We view our warehouse as a competitive advantage for a number of reasons, namely how affordable it is. We can probably expand a few more rows with our current design. We just freed up a few shelving units by clearing out all of the TD products. By early 2011 we’ll probably need a full redesign. We plan on turning our rows the other direction and putting the shelving units back to back. The shape of our warehouse lends itself to fitting more shelves in the same space if we go in this direction. By going back to back you can eliminate one aisle for every two rows. We estimate that this will allow us to at least double capacity (plus, remember that inventory does not need to grow as fast as sales – you can double in sales and go up only say 25% in inventory if you order more frequently and do a good job of projecting sales).
The lease itself expires in February 2011. I see no reason why we won’t sign the new lease that will put us there until February 2014. We have a clause that allows us to renew at essentially the same rate for another 3 years (I say essentially because the increase is pennies on the dollar). We’re going to request a few minor improvements, but other than that we’re happy. Our proprietor also owns a ton of warehouse space in the area and we have a clause that allows us to break the lease at any time for no charge as long as we move to another one of their properties…a nice way out in the event that we need more space than anticipated.
Overall, I don’t think that we could have found a better fit. The place we almost moved into in the fall of 2007 would have been a disaster. Even if we made it out of that winter without going broke (I’m not so sure we would have), we would have definitely run out of space and we would have definitely had a hell of a time getting freight deliveries without a shipping dock.
In a lot of ways, we lucked into this place. Despite what some people will tell you, luck definitely plays a role in becoming successful. We’ve had our fair share of bad luck since starting the business. This warehouse, however, was one of the lucky things that has helped propel our growth.