A little over a year ago I wrote a post entitled New Warehouse Layout, Inventory Zones, & Efficiency where I explained our new “inventory zone” system. Prior to implementing that system, packing slips would just print out items in alphabetical order, potentially sending one of us all over the warehouse to pull the products for an order. We smartened up and assigned a “zone” to each shelving unit, which was then entered into our database to correspond with the products in the “zone” so that the packing slips printed products in “snaking zone order” like so:
This helped pulling speed immensely, but it didn’t solve all of our problems. Our packing slips didn’t actually say which zone the product was in so it was still hard sometimes to find a product in a brand that encompassed five shelving units. The idea of snaking the puller through the warehouse, while making sense in theory, didn’t play out on the average order and just served to confuse people by ordering products in reverse order for half of the rows. And most importantly, as us owners removed ourselves almost entirely from the pulling process, errors climbed above our acceptable level.
So we decided to start over. Today we unveiled our new system, one that should be a marked improvement. Throughout the entire process everyone was involved, particularly our employees who actually do the pulling. I made sure to run everything by the guys in the warehouse at each step of the way to make sure it passed the common sense check.
Anyway, here’s what we did. We now have a “three-dimensional zone” where every product is categorized by it’s row, shelving unit, and shelf. This is the image that’s in our Admin system for whomever might be working in the warehouse and entering new product locations in the future:
The packing slip now shows the zone in the first column. We also bolded any quantity of two or more, which has been a common mistake for us to make.
We all pulled some orders today to test it out. My initial thoughts were that it sped up my pulling time quite a bit. I was able to see which row to start at and just go right to it, rather than thinking “I’m pulling a Meguiar’s product, which row is that in again?” If there’s anything we might change, I could see us getting rid of the letters from the zones (so R1-U-7-S3 would just be 1-7-3). We’ll play that by ear and solicit feedback from everyone who tries it out and then go from there. Like with anything new, it’s good to give it some time and see how it plays out over the course of a few weeks before tweaking it too much.
After I completed work on the packing slips, I tried to estimate how much time was spent on this project, from conception to reality. I came up with about 10 hours total. There was probably an hour of discussion. I probably spent 2 hours programming it. Charlie probably spent 7 hours total logging all of the products into our new system and then marking all of the rows/units/shelves with large magnets. Not bad at all.
The other nice thing about this is that while it will almost certainly speed up pulling and reduce errors, it will also make training a new employee much easier. You can literally give a new person one of our packing slips and it will tell them what box size to use and the exact location of each and every product. While they’ll probably be slow at first, they’ll also probably be pretty accurate right from the start, which is what’s most important to us (I mean, if I told you the exact product name and the exact shelf it was on, it would be hard for you to pick up the wrong one, even if you knew nothing about our products).
All in all, this should be a big gain for us, especially considering the minimal time spent. I think it’s also significant in that it’s the last major warehouse procedure change that I see us making in the near future. We’ve built the processes that we’re going to be scaling with, and there’s still plenty of scaling left before those processes will need to be revisited. Aside from minor tweaks, we can turn almost all of our focus to the stuff that makes us money on the front end.