When you are working in the supply chain, July is when you start planning and getting ready for Christmas. Yes, it’s hard to think about Christmas when the heat index is approaching 100-plus degrees, but the success of your company’s supply chain warrants a focus on preparation.

It’s time to get your ducks in a row and ready for the Christmas rush. Many of you have already started receiving inventory for the Christmas season. Where are you storing these items? Are there any forecasts that come along with items being received? If so, you can make sure they are being slotted according to projected volumes. Of course, there will always be the outliers, or an item unexpectedly becomes the next hot thing, but if you can get 80% of the items slotted by projected velocity, it will save you big in productivity cost.

Have you checked with HR? Are they ready to gear up for the Christmas rush with part-time help? Can you get creative in finding a dependable and productive labor pool? HR must be your friend in distribution, therefore, it’s imperative to meet with them and do some job fairs at the colleges, high schools, and trade centers. One company I recently worked with set up a table at the sports park in order to recruit part-time workers. They picked up 10 truly dependable part-time workers from this effort.

Check your supplies (boxes, tape, box cutters, dunnage). This may sound minimal, but what happens when you run out of shipping boxes? If you have material handling equipment being installed or expected before the rush, check with the suppliers and make sure it’s on time and won’t hold up your throughput. Production and delivery times have not recovered from the COVID shutdown. Many have improved, but they are still not back to their pre-COVID delivery times.

Hopefully, if your company has purchased new software in 2023, it is installed and debugged so you’re ready to hit the ground running during the Christmas rush. If you are in the mist of installing and it has been delayed, right now is when you make the hard decision: Do you move forward, potentially putting the Christmas rush in jeopardy, or do you put the project on hold? Installing new software during Christmas rush has been done before, but everyone will tell you it’s not advisable.

Do a once-over of your facility or network, much like a pilot does before a plane takes off. Look at everything from the receiving docks through the shipping docks with a critical eye. Do things need to be adjusted, fixed, or streamlined?

Meet with your maintenance personnel and make sure the packing stations, conveyor, and any automation equipment are ready for action. Have you tested the level of redundancy at every critical step in your facility? Simple things, like toner in the printer for the pack station, available paper, etc. take time and create bottlenecks when the volumes increase.

Meet with your front-line managers, ask them to review areas in their department, and make sure they’re ready: barcodes should be readable, labels are fixed, packaging areas are stocked, all the little things that take time and money from day to day operation.

Readjusting slotting is usually a great move to increase productivity by 10% or more. Check with merchandising and see if they can send you a list of incoming products by date so you can start planning. Most companies don’t make this information available to the distribution center, but it’s extremely helpful in planning, and someone in merchandising has this information.

Meet with the IT personnel and see if there are any projects affecting your facility that would hamper throughput. In many companies, the left hand isn’t always talking to the right hand. An IT department of a top company planned an upgrade for October and shut the distribution center down for over 24 hours. Not a good thing to happen during peak season! Make sure your barcode readers are working properly and you have enough for the temporary people you’ll need for the holiday season. If you have Voice, do the same preparation.

Training is important for the temporary employees. Make sure the training tools are in multiple languages and are simple and concise so everyone can understand. Allow the temps to take a picture of the instructions so if they are out on the floor and forget they can reference the information. If you don’t have a laminated cheat sheet, now’s the time to get those done.

In a world when AI is dominating conversations and everyone is talking about autonomous robots, I’m suggesting you get down to the basics. Because at our level in supply chain, that’s where it starts and where you set up your facility for success!

Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, can be reached at susanrider@msn.com.

This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2023 issue of PARCEL.