Successful distribution center managers do more than just oversee the workflow and delegate tasks. They look at their business with a critical eye, and assess what is currently working in their distribution center, as well as what needs to be changed. They implement processes and ideas that help the business work at its optimal level, which in turn results in overall success. The following strategies, ideas, and solutions will help you maximize the potential of your distribution center and employees—and in turn will keep your customers happy and coming back to do business with you. If you want to run an efficient and productive business, follow these top distribution center tips.

Track Inventory with the Cycle Count Method

When it comes to inventory, one of the best distribution center tips to follow is to use the cycle count method. Doing a yearly full inventory is a strategy of the past. Rather than sticking to this inventory schedule—which can disrupt daily functions and cause a lot of unnecessary stress—implement the far more efficient cycle count method. Through this system, you create a schedule around doing inventories of certain sections of your space throughout the year. By using the cycle count method, you are able to stay on top of your inventory, but don’t have to face the colossal task of tracking every product in your warehouse at once. Depending on your inventory needs and size, you can do this method on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. You could also assess the products that moves more frequently more often.

Automate Data Collection

Data collection is essential for making smart management choices. You can collect just about any piece of data—such as product movement, movement frequency, condition of product, where it is coming from and going, and more—and use this information to your advantage to establish efficient and effective distribution center operations. By automating the collection of data, you will speed up the process and be able to track information without disrupting or slowing down the functions of your employees. Today, there is technology available that allows employees to automatically track data using barcodes and radio frequency identification, or RFID. Employees can simply scan barcodes of products as they are coming in and going out as they are going about their usual business. If you want to collect data quickly and accurately, making the move to automated data collection is one of the best distribution center tips you can follow.

Assess Your Floor Plan

If employees are unable to physically move through the distribution center without facing any obstacles, they won’t be able to work productively and efficiently. Take a look at your floor plan, and see if any adjustments need to be made. Adequate physical space is incredibly important, so be sure to maximize your available space so that there is as much work space as possible. You’ll also need to ensure equipment, shelves, tools, work benches, and products are easily accessible.

Also be sure to look at the floor plan from the eyes of your employees. The layout should be optimized so that it makes sense with your employees’ daily routines. Walk yourself through their processes, and see if anything needs to be moved around. As you do this, keep in mind that there will likely be multiple people moving through these areas at once—there needs to be enough space for people to move about freely. 

Clearly Label Product

This distribution center tip covers a small detail, but it can make a huge impact. If employees can’t easily see what a product is, they will waste valuable time trying to determine if a certain product is what they are looking for. Make identifying stock easy for employees by creating signs and labels for aisles, product groups, and products that are easy to read. Whatever labelling system you decide to use should be consistent throughout the distribution center, as it will help employees become accustomed to a certain style. They will know exactly what to look for, which will in turn help them navigate the space and inventory more efficiently.

Organize Product for Efficiency

In addition to clearly labelling products, you need to make sure they are organized to maximize productivity. Organization is key for a well-functioning warehouse, so follow these distribution center tips.

For optimum distribution center organization, go over your inventory and make note of how quickly different products move. Your layout should be designed around this information.

For the products that move the fastest, you will want to keep them as close to pickers as possible. This means your employees won’t have to waste time constantly going into the depths of the space to get the product they need. These popular items should also be kept in an easy-to-access space (such as close to the ground) so that employees can quickly select them. Items that see less movement can go further back in the space, as they don’t require as much of your employees’ time.

Maintain a Clean Space

In order to maximize your properly organized space and well-thought-out floor plan, you will need to maintain its cleanliness. A messy distribution center will only slow down processes, and can even pose a safety risk to employees. Make sure employees know that it is expected that the space will be kept clean, organized, and free of any obstacles in pathways. One distribution center tip you could try is assigning each employee to an aisle. They will be responsible for keeping their own aisle clean and organized, and in turn the entire space will be kept in great shape.

Properly Train Your Distribution Team

By not taking the time to adequately train your employees, you will only end up hurting yourself and your business in the long run. Proper training helps your employees fully learn the ins-and-outs of the business, understand the technologies and equipment used, absorb important safety information, and gain confidence in their roles. By investing time in training upfront, you will reap the benefits for years to come, and you will avoid unnecessary employee mishaps in the distribution center. While it may be tempting to save time by speeding through training, the only way to truly save time long-term and have your employees working at their fullest potential is to provide thorough training.

Regularly Reassess Organization and Methods

Your distribution center will evolve over time. The warehouse will expand, you’ll fill new roles, advanced technologies will emerge in the industry, and the needs of the market will change. In order to keep up with these evolutions and stay competitive, you’ll need to regularly assess your methods. While a certain process or organization scheme may have worked for you a year ago, another one may better serve your needs now. One of the most important distribution center tips to follow is to stay ahead of the curve and always be looking at how you can optimize functions and adapt to the changes of your business.