This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2018 issue of PARCEL.
For many, August brings the onset of the busy season. Time to rev up the motor and get orders out to adequately meet the holiday demand! Many e-commerce companies see between 40-60% of their business during the holiday season. If your crystal ball was working, you might be able to know which one of your products would be the in-demand purchase for the season and prepare for the volumes accordingly. Unfortunately, there is really no way to truly tell whether your volumes will peak at a 15% increase or 60% increase, so the best way to prepare for the holiday season is much like how folks prepare for a weather emergency such as a tornado, hurricane, or natural disaster: contingency plans are created for every type of scenario. Here are some tips on areas to review and some action steps you can take to help you get ready for the busy (and profitable!) season.
People/Associates: This is your most important asset! Review your current associates to see if there is any need for cross-training. Are any associates in the wrong positions? Because the increased volume that pervades the holiday season will only worsen the impact of an associate who is under-preforming or cannot grasp the current task. Also, someone who is responsible for full case-picking may be able to perform the task when the volumes are low, but when volumes pick up, can they physically keep up? If they can’t, they will create a bottleneck in the facility. Based on volumes from both last year and this year (and possibly the marketing department’s projections), figure out how many full-time equivalent (FTE) and part-time equivalent (PTE) employees you will need. Starting these new people a couple of weeks before the demand may be costly, but doing so will also help ease the pain when the tsunami of orders hits your facility.
Review your directions and guides for completing work in every functional area. Are the instructions easy to understand by everyone employed? Many use detailed sheets in English when over 50% of their workforce do not speak or read English. It is very important to use bright bold lettering and pictures for people that can’t read English. If a first grader can understand it, it will work well with all associates.
Training: Does any of your existing staff need to be cross-trained? Review your training tools and cheat sheets. Are they colorful with pictures? Are they step-by-step with good directions that don’t leave any details questionable? Remember, in training, people need repetition. Going over everything in one to two days and then expecting on the third day for the associate to pick up the job without hesitation is unrealistic. Post laminated pictures of the simplistic training step-by-step guides. Sometimes people don’t understand but don’t want to ask. This will ensure they can get the information without having to ask, and it will help them be more accurate.
Tools: Too often, not enough attention is paid to tools that your order fillers, receivers, shippers, and other associates will need in the warehouse. Do an inventory on batteries, scan guns, tape, gloves, corrugate, knives, and any other tools being used in the facility. Do you have enough to get you through the busy season?
There are inexpensive scan guns that can be used for temporary associates if some are needed. Many are using inexpensive tablets for temporary supervisor stations, packing stations, and other functions that will need to be expanded this time of year.
Storage: Storage is an area that is often overlooked and at a premium. Now is the time to make room in areas that will often become bogged down and congested. Move old, outdated product to other off-site buildings or trailers. Many use trailers in the yard for added space this time of year. They are harder to pick from and require a lot more walking and touch time. If you move outdated stock to the trailers, you can close them up for the season and create space in your existing warehouse for premium stock.
Slotting: Reviewing the slotting of products by velocity and placing the fast movers in the best locations could have the ability to increase productivity by 15% to 30%. Now is the time to look at consolidating locations and topping off each location to maximize space utilization and picking optimization.
Software: There is a small window before the busy system to upgrade or implement any new features that will improve throughput or productivity. This is not the time to totally implement a new system, since getting the bugs out will fall smack in the middle of your busiest season and set up the facility for failure.
It’s time to look at the facility with an eagle’s eye to see how it can be improved and made ready for the busiest time of the year.
Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.