Every business reaches a stage where they’re ready to expand, and this means opening not just multiple locations for the actual business, but also multiple sourcing locations such as warehouses, storage facilities and fulfillment centers.
As soon as you add a location — or several — operations and management duties suddenly become that much more complicated, no matter how experienced you are. Looking at warehouses specifically, the logistical requirements increase significantly. Everything from inventory management to staff sourcing suddenly becomes much more involved and substantial.
So, why would you do it? Well, a variety of benefits that are only available to companies with extra warehouses. Some of those benefits include lowered shipping and fulfillment costs, especially for local regions, access to a broader customer base, added storage and inventory capacities and backups or redundancies in the event of a major disaster.
Benefits aside, though, it’s no small feat to manage multiple locations. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can find yourself in a bit of hot water. To that end, we’ve put together several tips to help you efficiently manage multiple warehouses and locations.
1. Tailor Solutions to Each Location
There’s no question you will be employing some form of warehouse management solution —most likely cloud-based software. It is a promising idea, but there’s one thing you should know when deploying such a system or network.
It won’t take you long to realize every location within your operation is different. That means each place will have different nuances, including sales figures, customer demographics, related preferences and performance. A product or service that is highly desirable in one location may not experience the same patterns in another.
Supply and demand can also differ from location to location, which calls for a more personalized system that can handle locally relevant logistics. Furthermore, depending on how far apart your locations are, you may have to work with a diverse group of vendors and partners.
The solution, then, is to have one interconnected system that can still operate independently from location to location. You’ll want to sync inventories, overall business solutions, customer experiences and data, but you’ll also want to maintain distributed solutions for each warehouse.
2. Establish Pinpoint Accuracy for Inventory Management
When you’re managing one location, inventory systems are much easier to maintain and work with. You can see, at a glance, just how much you have of each product, and accuracy remains fairly accurate across the board.
When you’re dealing with multiple warehouses and locations, however, it’s not enough to know the total supply of goods. You must also be able to break down how much of each specific item is available on a per-location basis.
Does one warehouse have an excess of stock, while another has a shortage? If one location is missing a particular item, where can you borrow within your network? These are the kinds of questions you should be able to answer with your organization-wide inventory system. That becomes even more crucial as you open up your operation to the e-commerce market. You’ll need to know when and where is the best warehouse to fulfill orders for various online customers, as well as what they have on hand for inventory.
3. Automate Regular Processes
Attempting to manually and consistently manage all the various processes, requirements and logistics that go into inventory, retail and warehouse operations is not only going to emotionally and physically bankrupt you, but also cause significant issues for your business when you — or your employees — fall behind. Besides, there’s absolutely no reason you should do this in the modern era anyway. There are plenty of reasonable and affordable tools at your disposal to automate such operations, for both big and small businesses alike.
It’s best to automate such processes entirely if your goal is to improve accuracy and manage stock levels promptly. You can do this easily with the right warehouse and inventory management software solutions. The most prominent proponent of automated systems is Amazon, as you likely know, but other retailers like Walmart and Tesco also use the technology.
In fact, more than 10 percent of U.S.-based warehouses already use automated warehousing equipment as of 2016, such as goods-to-person technologies.
Even more eye-opening is the fact that worldwide sales of warehouse automation technology — including robotics, logistics and software — reached $1.9 billion in 2016. By the end of 2021, that number is expected to grow to a market value of $22.4 billion.
4. Employ More Collaborative Processes
After you’ve established a proper inventory management system, of course, it’s incredibly beneficial to deploy collaborative processes between your locations. In other words, you should learn although each warehouse and location operates independently, it is possible to source goods, staff and resources from fellow properties.
If you are short on staff in one particular location, for example, it can be helpful to transfer staff from another, more lucrative, site, with the appropriate benefits going to transferees. The same can be true of goods and items one location may have a surplus of.
That speaks even more to the idea of tailoring your software and management solutions for each location. Because by understanding the strengths of your individual warehouses, you can better manage the entire operation.
In the end, the tips discussed here will contribute to a more efficient and more successful operation for any business, big or small.
Megan Ray Nichols is a STEM writer and blogger.