Industry Question: I have been trying to get permission from my boss to get some outside help in conducting a warehouse assessment of my fulfillment operation. I really to make sure I am prepared for the “Christmas Crush”. Last year was almost a train wreck, and I am very worried about this coming season. Last week I received approval to hire a consultant for the warehouse assessment, but it’s already the beginning of November. I wanted to do this back in July. Is it too late to do the warehouse assessment? What should I do?
Fulfillment Doctor’s Answer: Good news! It’s not too late. We have worked with many clients during their peak season. As you know, it is not unusual for Holiday-based businesses to receive 50% or more of their annual orders between September and December. If the wheels are going to fall off the cart, that’s when it’s going to happen. That’s when the systems, processes, product throughput, facility layout and staffing are the most stressed and under the most pressure. The best time to identify the weak points is when they have the potential to actually fail. Consider doing the following:
Bring in an objective, independent fulfillment/operations expert when the things that work fine for 9 months of the year have the potential to start breaking down.
Work closely with this consultant to identify things that can be fixed “on the fly”. Working with our clients during the peak season, we are often able to find several quick fixes to some basic problems which can immediately be implemented without disruption of the busy workload.
- Have the consultant conduct a full, detail warehouse assessment. This should include making short term and long term detail recommendations. Some of these recommendations will obviously have to wait to be implemented until peak season is over, but identifying and discussing them while your processes are very stressed is easier and more apparent than during slow workload periods.
Share all your fulfillment metrics with the consultant to make sure that you are measuring all the important ones during peak times (for example backlogs, oldest order, picking accuracy, initial fill rates, inbound turnaround, etc). If it is found during the warehouse assessment that the most important data is not being collected, put processes in place to do so while you are busy. Establishing metric baselines is critical to all operations. If you don’t measure where you are, you can't set realistic targets about where you want or need to be.
Bottom line is this: Don't be afraid to conduct a detail warehouse assessment during your peak season. Flaws and imperfections or just downright meltdowns will be exposed and can begin to be corrected at that time and as well as in the off-season.