Having upgraded my warehouse twice (from 1,200 sqft to 4000 sqft and currently at 6600 sqft), we’ve learned the warehouse layout is probably the most difficult part of managing inventory. With an ever growing product line, properly arranging shelves, rows and items is essential to an efficient business.
We’ve made many mistakes in this regard, and are paying for this mistakes now. So here are some easy mistakes you can make:
- Not anticipating growth (adding new skus, specifically)
- Not preplanning product sizes
- Not arranging shelves properly
I’ll discuss these one by one.
Not anticipating growth
Each time we moved; we had to rearrange our products. When putting items on the shelves again, we never left open space which would allow for future skus that are related (thus making it logical to keep them together). Having to move large sections of boxes/items later is a real pain, and a needless waste of time.
Not preplanning product sizes
This was our biggest mistake, I believe. When we first started looking into shelving, we looked at auctions. We spent about $100 on shelving that would have cost us about $1000 regularly. A great deal – always check out local auctions before going to a retail outlet for racking (even if it used; auctions get you a FAR better deal). They were all pallet racking. We fixated on this and continued to buy pallet racking, even though many of the items we carry are very small. This results in not only making items hard to put on shelves but also leads to lots of dead space (air) that cannot be used.
So, think about what you are selling, not only now, but in the future. Most pallet racking is between 36 inches and 44 inches deep. We’ll discuss problems and issues with this later. Pallet racking shelves are difficult to adjust after they are assembled (especially if you buy used ones!) so we recently purchased these (96 inches long x 24 inches deep x 84 inches tall). Shelves can be adjusted about an inch at a time and can be done in seconds, which makes it perfect when a product line changes or you want to put different stuff on the shelves. Buying extra levels is rather cheap too, so increasing the system from 3 shelves to 5, 6, 7 or more can happen very cheaply.
These are perfect for smaller items as well, but Rick pointed me out to this item as well, which he says is perfect for even smaller items. Look at how many skus can fit into a small area. That’s awesome; but we don’t sell stuff that small. At least not yet.
I guess the moral of this is; don’t get married to one type of shelf. I’d recommend buying shelves as you need them, rather than filling a warehouse with shelving in anticipation of future needs. Changing or moving shelves later on can be really difficult.
Not arranging shelves properly
When arranging the warehouse, I think its best to work from your walls and then move inward. The walls are the most difficult to arrange, and the biggest lost space in the warehouse. We currently have 44 inch shelves against the wall. This is stupid, because it is hard to reach items in the back of the shelf – if indeed items are even sitting back there. Unless you are going to put large box items against the wall, I’d recommend putting shelves against the walls that are about 24 inches deep.
When working your inner shelves, think about your arrangement before you do it. This is probably part and parcel with buying shelves as you need them instead of buying them in advance.
Are you planning on pulling product from one side of the shelf or both sides? Large items can typically all be pulled from the same side, smaller items probably from both sides. I’d try to keep a row consistent; if you make a section with items to be pulled from one side, do it all the way down the line. Other way around as well.
So, if you have a row of shelves where you pull from one side, instead of making an aisle on the other side, back up another row against it. This lets you double your rows without taking up un-necessary room. With my excellent photoshop skills, I demonstrate how much more efficient this is:
Each of these layouts features the same number of shelves and the same number of sides to pick product from. The one on the left has 4 columns of shelves – one against the wall (picked from one side), two in the middle (picked from two sides) and one on the left (picked from two sides).The one on the right has 6 columns of shelves. One against the wall (picked from one side), 4 rows of shelves in the middle (picked from one side each) and a row on the left (picked from 2 sides).
Both setups – if given the same number and types of products – can hold the exact same number of items/skus. The layout on the left takes up about 20% less floor space, allowing you to maximize your total warehouse space far more efficiently. If you have a lot of large products (or ones that you stock a lot of), the layout on the left is more a far more optimal setup (and probably pallet racking is a good idea for those shelves). If you carry a lot of small products (and you can ensure picking from the right AND left sides of the row), then the layout on the right is better for you (and probably normal shelving – not pallet racking) is your optimal setup.
Many companies will have a combination of this of course; but remember – think before you put down rows of heavy shelves that are difficult to move in the future.