While you may think that warehouse inventory management is simply the practice of arranging your inventory so that it can be found quickly, there is more to it than that. Good warehouse organization is not only about putting everything in its place, it’s about maximizing productivity while saving time and money to increase inventory accuracy.
Some practices like labeling are intuitive and can be done without the use of software. Others like barcodes, scanners, RFID systems, automatic identification and wireless LANs are all part of warehouse and inventory management systems that focus on monitoring the flow of products and enhancing accuracy with software.
Today, I’ve gathered some helpful tips on how to manage inventory and improve a warehouse’s performance that can be applied to any warehouse operation, with or without software.
1 | Good warehouse inventory management starts with upkeep
Inspect your operation regularly and review your warehouse’s organization - just because it was well-organized when you initially started, doesn’t mean that it meets your current standards.
You’ll want to look for things like: is the stock located in a way that it allows your crew to easily and a safely access it? Are the fasting moving SKUs located at between waist and shoulder height so that they be quickly retrieved? Is there a designated area for damaged items, and are the damaged items being dealt with daily? Without regular upkeep, a well-organized warehouse can quickly become disorganized and difficult to navigate which can slow your pickers down and lead to safety hazards. Rather than waiting for operations to slow down before you decide to reorganize, have a daily checklist for the manager, and hold him or her responsible for the upkeep of the warehouse. Click here to learn more about warehouse optimization.
2 | Know your high sellers
By placing your high volume items closer to the shipping area and making sure they are easily accessible, you'll eliminate a lot of unnecessary labor time, and your employees will think you are super considerate. Win-win! Obviously, this should only apply to your proven top sellers to avoid unnecessary physical inventory re-allocation.
If you really want to pinpoint what your high sellers are so that you can accurately organize and manage your inventory, you can use a tool like SkuVault’s Reporting Feature. This feature allows you to pull aggregated data using advanced settings to filter by things like brand, class, and supplier to help you to notice patterns and make more informed decisions about both purchasing and warehouse
3 | Utilize cycle counts
Don’t wait until the annual physical inventory count comes to perform regular inventory control audits. Perform cycle counts and analyze their discrepancies to perfect the time it should take you to go through all locations. For those of you who don’t know, cycle counting is a type of perpetual inventory counting that takes places in waves over time. Only small subsets of inventory are counted during each wave. It's good to have cycle counts go through all locations every quarter so that you have a more accurate back-office system. Check out our article on improving your cycle count procedure if this sounds daunting to you!
4 | Minimize unauthorized traffic
Do you ever notice someone walking around your warehouse and think, who is this guy? A new hire? A lost pizza delivery kid looking for your shipping office? Someone from customer service picking something they shouldn't? Eliminate the risk of having unauthorized people walking around the place where your inventory is stashed. Give your employees some kind of an identifier (like special t-shirts) that can distinguish those working in the warehouse and those that shouldn't.
5 | Make room for receiving
A lot of inventory errors can happen at receiving if your inventory management personnel don't have enough space to work. Avoid giving them a small office at the end of the room. Eliminating receiving errors will relieve you from all kinds of ugly issues later in the selling cycle, like losing time, money, and credibility.
6 | Label everything
Have any product in your warehouse without labels? Put labels on 'em to make it easier for pickers to choose the right inventory. It's all about reducing errors in the process. Some simple preventative measures will save you from having to put out fires in the future.
You can either come up with your own labeling system and purchase thermal printing labels to print them on, or you can use a labeling software. SKuVault allows you to print out your product and location labels. You can also determine what gets put on your labels within SkuVault so that you can customize them to fit your exact needs.
7 | Implement quality control
Avoid having to fix your mistakes after the fact by double checking your orders. This is called quality control and adds another layer of responsibility. The process usually involves checking a picked item against an order to make sure it’s the correct SKU and quantity. This is also the time for QC to check the item for damage to make sure that it is being shipped in it’s advertised condition and that the customer receiving it will be happy. Get one of your veterans to do this and save your business a lot of money.
8 | Practice priority picking
A nice trick we've learned over the years is to create colored orders or pick lists that will help your material handlers identify the products that go to your most valuable customers, according to the color priority they have been given.
9 | Finish right, start tight
Give your warehouse crew the chance to finish order processing and clean up before they clock out. You’ll need to schedule a time to stop processing orders, maybe 30 minutes before the end of the day, and allocate the remaining time specifically for cleaning. By the end of the day, your warehouse will be organized and your inventory will be right where it belongs, instead of just lying around waiting for the next day to start in disarray. Imagine how much faster your employees will
clean up at the end of their work day so they can clock out and get home, as compared to how sluggishly they'll get it done in the morning.
10 | Work on warehouse organization
You know how in libraries / bookstores / movie rentals / shoe stores / any place that houses a large inventory of product for rent or sale, everything is neatly categorized and the sections are clearly labeled so as to assist customers in finding what they're looking for? Yeah. That's super convenient. Make signs and labels to direct your personnel through your warehouse and help them find the inventory fast and easy, and ideally without having to continually bother supervisors by asking for directions.
BONUS | Use a warehouse management software (WMS)
Finally, when you’re ready to put it all together and take your warehouse operations to the next level, consider a warehouse management software like SkuVault. Warehouse management software allows you to use barcode scanners with barcode labels to ensure that you can locate any product in your warehouse at any time. With a software like SkuVault, you know that the quantities listed in all of your marketplaces are completely accurate.
Warehouse inventory management doesn’t have to feel like a never-ending cycle of receiving, picking, packing, and shipping with no method to the madness. If you take the time now to put warehouse organization into practice on a daily basis, it can actually feel quite refreshing. Operations can run smoothly, products can get picked faster, and employees can be happier with the right tools and techniques. So don't wait. Make the decision and take the steps to improve your warehouse inventory management today!