As we assist multichannel selling and industrial companies in selecting a new warehouse, we often see managers prematurely jump at seeing buildings and talking about costs. In our opinion, the most productive approach to planning a warehouse expansion is to outline your requirements first and then create a building requirements checklist to see how various buildings stack up.
Warehouse design and function vary widely. Having a checklist of your requirements helps make sure a warehouse you are touring has all the essential building characteristics. We have outlined a checklist of requirements as a starting point below to make your search more productive.
Building Characteristics To Consider
Strategic plan and space required. The beginning point in the requirements should be to determine the rough square footage requirements for the warehouse. This includes product storage, dock areas, office and employee areas, as well as any other space such as a customer pick up or counter sales window.
The largest portion of the e-commerce warehouse space is product storage. The life span of many facilities end up being not as long as originally planned. One of the reasons is that product assortment (number of SKUs) grows faster than planned. This leads to the number of stock locations - bulk, pick, floor locations – growing faster than planned.
Working with senior and merchandise management, project how the number and type of product will grow. By type of product, we mean are there potential products that will require more space or a different type of storage. The best example is an apparel business that decides over time to sell home décor. This may require more cubic feet of space than flat apparel. Or they decide to sell shoes which have dozens of SKUs per base style. Have you determined the number of SKUs, the cubic feet of storage required at an average week and peak week for each year for the life of that facility? This will require some serious number crunching.
From your strategic planning by year, determine how the facility will need to grow in terms of capacity to process orders, returns and value added functions, etc. From this you’ll have data to plan department space for staging pick carts, pack stations, returns processing and value added services.
Facility’s footprint and shape. Many times, warehouse space is odd-shaped or uses a mezzanine. Narrow and long buildings increase putaway and picking travel times. From a workflow perspective, trace how product flows through the facility from inbound docks through picking and to outbound shipping. Is this efficient?
If there is racking already in the facility, does it meet your needs? Is it installed in an efficient configuration considering product flow? Is it structurally sound, or are they upright and beams needing replacement?
Can the facility be expanded to increase square footage? What will happen to the product flow and efficiency with the building expansion?
Ceiling height and clear span. Older facilities may have a ceiling height of 20 feet or less. More recent construction has ceiling heights of up to 34 feet to increase cubic storage. How many pallet levels high can you rack and have clear operation of forklifts without hitting any obstructions and sprinklers?
Aisle widths and lengths. Are aisle widths and lengths in accordance with the type of forklift or order pickers you intend to use? Are there aisle tunnels or cut throughs in long aisles to cut travel? Are the building columns uniformly spaced to accommodate rack placement?
Docks and doors. The number of dock doors and the size of the docks is often where warehouse types vary widely, often undersized. Does the facility allow separate inbound and outbound docks? Are they located in the right building location for your anticipated product and customer order flow? Are there sufficient inbound docks for current and future operation? Is the dock and staging area sufficient for holding product and going through your quality control process? Do you require drive in docks? Do the dock levelers work? What is the condition of the pavement at the dock doors?
Are there sufficient outbound docks for shipping lanes to load carriers’ trucks? Will carriers drop trailers? Do you zone skip and have sufficient space to meet those needs?
Plan space use for picking, packing, and value added services.
Size of your workforce. The number of employees during peak and average weeks determines the number of parking spaces, the size of the breakroom and bathrooms and number of lockers. Are bathrooms located throughout the building? Check county code for requirements depending on number of employees.
Acreage requirements. Consider truck traffic flow to and from your facility. What size truck yard is required for trailers? Of equal importance: what is the direction for potential for expansion in relationship to the truck yard, docks and employee parking?
Building condition. Is the floor throughout the warehouse level for pick cart, pallet jack and forklift operation? Is the floor sealed to reduce dust and housekeeping? With regard to lighting, is there sufficient lumens for operation throughout the facility? Considering HVAC, what are the environment temperature requirements? Various types of warehousing have different county codes based on product type. Will the fire suppression system and in rack sprinkler systems meet county code? Is there sufficient electrical capacity for forklift recharging, etc.? Communications and cable requirements for radio frequency, data and voice communication often have to be upgraded to meet your needs. Also evaluate warehouse security in terms of camera systems; employee ingress and egress from building; caged protection of high value product.
Leasing or building a warehouse is a major capital expense and long term project. Not all warehouses
were constructed for the same function. Develop your future fulfillment center’s requirements first.
Then as you tour facilities, you can accurately compare how one building compares to another using this checklist.