You have a retail store, online or brick and mortar, makes no real difference. In both cases you have products that you want to sell. Selling your product might be your main objective but the logistics cause the bulk of the workload.
A lot of people underestimate how much work actually goes into storing, packaging, distributing and refilling your products. In the last five years Amazon has added over 500,000 employees to its payroll, you can be sure that the majority are for the supply chain, not administration.
Organization and automation are the pillars if an optimal sales procedure. The objective is to save time, costs and stress.
Even the smallest store needs to be well organized. The moment even one station of the sales procedure slows down it creates a bottleneck, that will get tighter with time. The first step would be to optimize the physical storage of your products then work on automation.
Regardless of the size of your business, an optimized warehouse layout will save you time, space and money, increasing your productivity. Best practices that apply to large warehouses can also be used to optimize a basement warehouse for a small online retail store.
It is all about managing your inventory and fulfilling orders. The three main principles you should keep in mind are:
Space is usually limited and therefore valuable. It is important to maximize the efficiency of the space you have at your disposal to optimize workflows and leave room for expansion.
Make sure that all products are easily accessible by everyone, without the need to constantly move things around. This will increase the risk of misplacing products and will unnecessarily waste a lot of time.
Make sure there is enough freedom of movement, with as little disruption as possible, to fill shelves and fulfill orders. At the same time you should keep distances as short as possible.
It is best to plan your warehouse layout before you start but it is never too late to fix a problem.
How to store your products goes hand in hand with planning the layout. The size and packaging of a product plays an important role in how to plan the storage needs and how to organize shelves and space.
A good approach is to consider the main objective of a warehouse for your business, to better define the flow. Then determine the function of each section, like office, shelves or packaging, then on hand the available space for storage try to find the optimal solution for your needs, and budget.
Naturally storing small electronic parts needs a completely different approach than storing TVs. For smaller products you can find rack storage systems in all sizes, it is advisable to invest a little more and get systems that are certified for commercial use.
A good solution for smaller warehouses is sliding storage shelves, like the ones used in archives or librairies. You can save over 40% on space compared to conventional stationary shelves. The adventurous can try a DIY solutions, I found a reasonably priced certified solution here, but there also more pricey and customized solutions. It all depends on your needs and budget.
Automation doesn’t necessarily mean having robots rolling around the place. A laptop and a smartphone can bring you a long way.
The first thing you need is an inventory management program. The market is full of software solutions, each tailored for a specific industry, online stores usually have some kind of inventory tracking program built into the software. A cost effective, and sometimes easier, way is doing it yourself, you can achieve the same result with a spreadsheet and some basic knowledge. There is a blog post here with a list of templates that can help you get started.
Another essential tool is a barcode scanner. The best software and optimized storage will not help much if you have enter every product movement manually.
The classical solution is a handheld scanner that you see in supermarkets or department stores. They definitely do the job but have their limits, for one thing it is an extra piece of hardware that has to be purchased and maintained. Another handicap is compatibility with different barcode types and integrating it with your software. It can get especially problematic if you are using your own spreadsheet or change your software. Software based scanners are more versatile and arguably cheaper. Scandit has a new barcode scanner that can be used with any smart device and program. It is actually a software solution that adds a barcode scanning function to your device’s keyboard, assuming your device has a camera. Apart from being very practical there are lots of arguments in favor of an imaging scanner vs, a laser-based scanner.
No matter how small or large your business is, investing some time and money in the proper structure and tools will always pay off. Even if you have had your business for a few years, it is worth taking a closer look at the procedures in your organization and trying to optimize them. The results might surprise you.