Times are changing. There are innovative technologies, new demands, and more significant expectations from clients — and everything that is new can be a challenge for a warehouse manager.

This year has been a constant march forward with greater demands in every aspect of a warehouse’s operations. That makes it a bit tough to pick the biggest threats facing warehouse managers, but we’ve delved into the research and done some asking to find out what is keeping today’s leaders up at night.

There is hope, however, because they also provided us with insight into how to tackle those challenges. Here’s your recipe for success through the next few quarters.

Automation Is Becoming Standard

We’ve seen this slowly build over recent years, but now automation tools are the must-have instead of a differentiator in most cases. Everyone in the supply chain is looking for faster, more reliable service. You’ve got to pick the right investments to keep up.

Look for low-hanging fruit and gaps in your existing operations. If you’ve got too few workers, then look for solutions that emphasize your picking efficiency. Automating pick, pack, or scan will typically be a way to show an early and immediate savings for your operations, with a chance that it’ll also reduce returns due to incorrect shipments.

Start with tools that already work with the platforms you use, such as your warehouse management system.

Changing Inventory Space

While not unique to 2018, we see shifts in customer desires and product trends happening faster and faster. Part of that is due to quick manufacturing changes and another part is due to the sheer volume of choice available to your customers.

That means you need to optimize your inventory space for quick rotations and to limit the amount of product you carry. The leaner you are, the better you’ll be able to respond to shifting demands.

For warehouse managers, that means continually evaluating your workflow and running predictive analysis to get the best forecasts. If you have a strong map of your warehouse, including notes on the speed of a product getting out the door, you’ll have a strong guide for what to move or replace as trends generate different inventory space needs.

Fast Omnichannel Shipping Needs

Retailers, whether they’re you or your partners, are working to address the last mile as much as they can. This typically means finding multiple partners who can manage two-day shipping no matter how the order is received. Customer demands are burning out the silos that many operations had previously.

Warehouse managers need to start returning to their carrier relationships to ensure that they can meet faster delivery needs regardless of how an order is generated. If you’re providing support for other retailers, the warehouse manager needs to reach out to sales and other teams to learn as much about end consumers as possible.

Understanding consumer habits can help you negotiate rates with carriers, allowing you to give them order estimates that might lead to lower costs.

Partner Transparency Requirements

Customers want more information about their individual shipments, but your partners are also going to demand more data throughout the year. It’s getting easier to document forecasts, inventory levels, delivery times, error rates, and more. For most, ease of collect should mean ease of sharing.

What this means for you is that it’s time to be proactive. Take steps to track and improve your operations, and then share data before customers ask. Of course, you’ll want to look at and share your best metrics, like being accurate 99% of the time. However, it’s smart to share areas where you aren’t as good as you want to be, as well.

Tell partners how you’re doing and where you’re investing to improve. You could get help with those areas, and you are giving your partners another reason to rely on you for the rest of the year.

Managing Each New Location and Channel

So far, 2018 has been a year of growth. More companies are adopting fulfillment channels from 3PLs and Amazon, while other companies are expanding their own distribution. Consumer confidence and spending are up, as is the use of e-commerce to buy just about everything.

Company leaders will love this, while warehouse leads will worry about getting in over their head. It’s time to shore up your IT infrastructure to tackle the biggest problem of growth: managing it.

Look for a smart warehouse management system or partner who can help you control every location, from staff and inventory to shipments based on best pricing for you, from a single platform. Bringing it all together in a piece of software will help you see the entire board and make the best decisions for your company.

Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an e-commerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of e-commerce. He has years of experience in e-commerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.