Black Friday however busy is just one day in your peak period. It might be the busiest day, it might be your peakiest peak but it is still one day and the responses you deploy to deal with one day or even a couple is not necessarily the responses you need to successfully negotiate and manage your whole peak period. However planning for peak will mean that Black Friday becomes a more “normal peak”.
As a warehouse professional you probably do not have much input into how marketing and sales work and generate the demand on your warehouse. This plan looks at the actions and areas within your control and areas where input from the rest of the business can help.
There is stock you want and there is stock you don’t. In advance of peak the stock you don’t want needs to be moved from your “best” areas and locations (those nearest despatch or easiest to access). You will need to have space to accommodate the new stock coming in for peak, which means having free locations. Holding too much stock in the warehouse will result in an inability to put incoming stock where you need it and creating more activity in moving pallets around to free up locations. It is better if you do not have sufficient storage locations to store stock that isn’t required for peak off site. The costs for offsite storage are frequently less than the costs involved in moving pallets around, and dealing with congestion.
If there is any time of year that is good to clear out old unsaleable stock, returns to suppliers, or to write off and dispose of stock it is the period before peak. This will help clear the decks for the stock you need.
This is all about scheduling and resources, making sure that you have the doors and marshalling space and labour required. You may have adequate space for your normal inbound profile, but as you go into peak can you smooth the inbound flow or does it follow the outbound profile and spike. Your inbound and outbound flows may be sharing some or all of your doors and marshalling space. A plan would need to be put into place to allocate and programme activity.
It should be remembered with any marshalling areas that they exist to enable you to manage and control your material flows. For example an inbound marshalling area should be used to build pallets when de-stuffing containers, not storing completed pallets. Squeezing such areas can lead to congestion and double handling of pallets as they are shuffled around increasing cost and adding time to an operation
There are a number of considerations; starting with the have you got the right location mix. If your demand profile just increases you may just be increasing the replenishment frequency, this may be inefficient but not necessarily a problem if there is product in the pickface when the pickers want it. However you may be able to improve by for example by establishing a temporary pick from pallet area for some very fast moving products. If you still have pick locations for very slow or non-movers these should be eliminated and a procedure put in place to pick the infrequent demand from a reserve location. Getting your faster movers into the right size location will minimises out of stocks in the pickface and replenishment activity which can interfere with picking. As you presumably don’t have spare prime locations lying empty some of the slower movers would have to have smaller locations so a review of the whole pickface should be undertaken. It is unlikely that a complete overhaul would be required but some tweaking will help reduce the pressure on picking as you go into peak.
When looking at the pickface, take the opportunity to undertake some ABC analysis (identification of fast, medium and slow movers)and review the location of the SKUs making sure your fast movers are nearest packing and despatch etc. Don’t forget that new SKUs don’t have a sales history and that you either need to get some sales projections from the marketing or sales department or make your own assumptions on fast, medium and slow. If you have to do that, it may help to look at the stockholding or inbound schedule – if a lot of stock has been bought it is likely to be a fast mover.
There are three things to consider with replenishment, when you are doing it, what are you replenishing, and where is it coming from. Crudely you need to replenish the pick face when product has been picked and the location is empty or nearly empty. There are two types of replenishment - planned and responding to a shortage / emergency. In the planned replenishments, they should be identified and a sequence of work generated and then planned to fit around picking so that congestion and interference with pickers is avoided. In the other type where during picking the requirement has depleted the location an emergency replenishment has to be initiated and completed during picking so that the orders can be finished. This can result in orders being held up while the replenishment is made and / or congestion in the pickface especially if a number of products are involved.
The what depends on the trigger. If you have set a minimum stock quantity to be held in the pick location, when that is breached a replenishment to fill the location is actioned by the system. However other approaches or triggers can be used, for example you could simply fill the locations before the next tranche of picking is scheduled. This approach is taken when you want to minimise the need to replenish a location during picking.
The third consideration relates back to storage – the product to be replenished should be held in reserve locations near to the pick location to minimise time and labour involved.
Packing & Despatch
The first priority should be to maintain the flow. The capacity of the packing area should be sufficient for the flow rate of picked orders, otherwise the buffer / marshalling areas will rapidly fill and aisles and routes will become blocked. The capability of the packing operation may have to not only deal with a larger number of parcels but an increase in size or number of items per order. Any additional equipment and resource required should be planned to take account of any variation between peak and the rest of the year.
There is a limit to how orders can be managed, if at the order point the number of orders for a day can be capped this will reduce the danger of overloading the warehouse and leading to customers getting their orders later than expected.
A peak period with increased demand usually means more resources are required, both temporary labour and equipment. Temps by their nature lack the training and experience of your regular staff, and therefore need to be managed, by setting tasks they can accomplish without error and supervision. In order to integrate the temps time should be allowed for planning and training to enable you to be ready for peak demand, but do make realistic assumptions about performance and how long it will take to achieve.
Safe Systems of Work
Lastly do not forget safety, your warehouse is going to be accommodating more staff, (including temps) and more movements, possibly activities being undertaken where they aren’t usually. Separation and segregation of pedestrians and forklifts and vehicles are as important as ever it is, so don’t forget that safe systems of work and make sure you have compromised them and all your staff are familiar with them.
Implicit in your planning for peak is your experience of the previous peak period. It is therefore a good idea to conduct a review of your peak period shortly after it is over to assess and review things like what worked and what didn’t. A record of peak while it is fresh in your mind will help the planning for the next one.
It may be that your growth is such that peak is becoming more challenging each year. If this is the case you need to start considering whether you need to re-engineer your operation. This will take time to consider the options, determine a solution and go through preparing a business case before you can consider implementing any changes. It should start as soon as possible after peak as you can, but bear in mind significant changes may not be possible until after the next peak.
In the points above I have summarised some of the things you should look at in the run up to peak. A little time spent considering and planning helps to get you on the front foot and minimise the number of stressful days you know you are going to get.