Top 10 Warehouse Preparation Tips for Peak Season

Warehouse Preparation
Preventative maintenance schedules should be established and adhered to for all equipment to ensure optimal performance during peak season - © [romaset] / Adobe Stock

The difference between a successful peak season and one that is fraught with inventory errors and customer service blunders lies in the preparation. Whether your business is large or small, planning ahead can make a huge difference during the busiest time of year.

With online retail sales expected to grow by 10.4% in 2023 and the e-commerce industry continuing to outpace traditional brick-and-mortar stores, the need for well-managed warehouses during peak season is more important than ever. To help you prepare for peak season, here are 10 warehouse preparation tips to get ready for the rush:

1. Review Lessons Learned from Previous Years


Lessons learned from past Peak seasons can offer a valuable roadmap for the upcoming one. Amid the excitement and chaos of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget the problems and successes of previous years. But doing so can help prevent costly mistakes in the future.

  • Were stockouts a problem?
  • Did you have enough staff on hand to meet demand?
  • Did service levels slip?
  • Were there any unexpected challenges that arose during peak season that you could plan for this year?

Answering these questions can help you create a plan for the upcoming season that takes into account potential issues. One of the most cost-effective ways to stay organized is to use a spreadsheet or database where you can log and store all the data related to previous peak seasons. If you did not keep track of these issues in the past, use this season as a learning experience and start tracking for future years. 

2. Create a Warehouse Preparation Checklist


For many businesses, peak season brings a sudden rush of orders that can overwhelm even the best-prepared warehouses. With as much as 75% of annual revenue coming through in the last two months of the year for some businesses, it pays to be prepared.

While they may seem like a hassle, checklists are an invaluable tool for managing the chaos of peak season. Without a way to manage the dozens of tasks that need to be completed, it’s easy for important steps to slip through the cracks.

A few things you should include on your warehouse preparation checklist:

  • Reviewing forecasts and customer demand
  • Hiring, training, and scheduling seasonal staff
  • Scheduling extra transportation services such as pickup or delivery from third-party vendors
  • Ordering additional packaging materials for the expected rush of orders
  • Updating warehouse management systems with current product information
  • Clearing out clutter to make way for new inventory
  • Verifying that equipment like forklifts and scanners are in working order
  • Scheduling additional shift times for peak season and training any new employees
  • Ordering extra equipment to handle increased activity

Checklists should be reviewed by all staff and updated regularly as the peak season approaches. Timelines should also be established to ensure that all tasks are completed on time. Before finalizing, make sure to consult with other departments such as customer service to ensure that your checklist includes all necessary tasks.

3. Consider Safety Measures


When it comes to peak season preparation, safety should always be a top priority. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that there are approximately 5.5 injuries per 100 full-time workers in the warehousing industry – many of which happen during peak season due to the increased activity.

Before the busy season begins, review safety protocols with all staff and make sure that everyone is aware of their roles in keeping the warehouse safe. Onboarding any new staff should include an introduction to safety protocols and a review of their duties in the event of an emergency.

Make sure that all equipment is up to date and that any necessary repairs occur before the rush begins. Check for any hazards in the warehouse and make sure that all employees have access to the necessary personal protective equipment. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff responsible for stocking, picking, and packing during peak season. An increase in the number of orders often means that there are more people working in close proximity, which can lead to accidents and injuries.

Finally, remember to keep an eye on employee fatigue. With overtime and long shifts, it’s easy for even experienced staff to become overwhelmed during peak season. Make sure to rotate staffing so members are not overworked and encourage staff to stay hydrated and take regular breaks.

Remember, safety starts at the top. Managers and supervisors should lead by example by following safety protocols and encouraging their staff to do the same. Performing regular safety Gemba walks, where senior staff members walk through the warehouse to observe any potential safety issues first-hand, can also be a great way to identify and address any problems.

4. Perform a Stress Test


A warehouse stress test is an often-overlooked but crucial part of Peak season preparation. It’s a way to simulate actual conditions and discover any process flaws or bottlenecks before they become an issue when it counts.

The best time to conduct a stress test is in the weeks leading up to peak season, as this will give you the most accurate results. During the test, simulate your busiest time of day by having your team process orders at a rate that mirrors what you’ll experience during the holiday season.

Pay close attention to your team’s performance and be on the lookout for any issues, such as slowdowns in order processing times or areas where productivity is lagging. This will allow you to address any potential problems before they become serious during the height of peak season.

5. Train and Cross-Train Your Team


Cross-training is often an overlooked but essential part of peak season preparation. It can help your team cope with the increased demand and workload by allowing them to move between tasks.

If your labor model uses critical roles that require specific expertise, make sure that each role has enough staff to cover the entire shift. Adding a buffer of a few extra people can help you stay on top of any unexpected issues that arise during peak season.

Determine shift needs at least two months before peak season to identify and fill gaps in skills with training or hiring if needed. Be sure to account for attendance rates and attrition, which may be high during peak season, when determining your labor needs.

6. Re-Evaluate Your Warehouse Layout


Your warehouse layout is the backbone of your operations; it determines how efficient your team can be when fulfilling orders. A well-planned warehouse layout can help you get the most out of your personnel during peak season.

Take a look at how the workflow moves throughout your warehouse and consider making any necessary adjustments to ensure that it’s as efficient as possible.

  • Is there an area where performance is lagging or orders are being mis-picked?
  • Are there any areas that need to be rearranged or where additional equipment could help the team’s performance?
  • Will pickers have enough space to move unobstructed and find items with the number of orders you’re expecting?
  • Will packers have access to enough packaging materials and boxes?

Taking the time to make adjustments before the holiday rush can help you get ahead of potential problems and ensure an efficient workflow. 

7. Assess Your Warehouse Technology


Every operation is unique and requires the right technology to operate at its best. What may work well for a large-scale e-commerce operation may be overkill for a warehouse that focuses on B2B sales. Deploying a pick-to-light system might make sense for a high-volume operation, but it might not be worth the cost for smaller operations.

Evaluate your technology and make sure that it is capable of handling the additional workload that peak season will bring. If your current system is outdated or isn’t up to the task, consider investing in new software or hardware if time permits. Many of today’s warehouse management systems come equipped with features that can help you optimize your operations, such as automated replenishment and slotting optimization. To track process performance, labor management systems can help monitor employee productivity and identify any areas that need improvement. 

Consider what technology can help you automate processes like stock replenishment or order tracking that would otherwise require manual effort. The right technology can maximize your team’s performance and ensure quick and accurate order processing.

8. Evaluate Key Labor Model Inputs


One of the most important factors in running an efficient warehouse is having a well-structured labor model. Depending on how your warehouse is set up, it may be necessary to adjust your existing labor model inputs or create new ones.

Take a look at any metrics that you are currently using such as pick/pack rates, order size, and product velocity. Consider any changes that you may need to make before the start of peak season, such as adjusting staff requirements or processes to meet increased demand.

Businesses often fail to account for lower throughput rates as a result of onboarding new hires or the increased complexity of orders during peak season. Worse, they may fail to account for changes in staffing needs due to higher absenteeism or attrition.

As the maxim goes, outputs are only as good as the inputs used to create them. Take the time to review your labor model inputs and validate what can be reasonably expected given the current environment.

At a minimum, consider the following labor model inputs:

  • Changes in absenteeism rates
  • Changes in attrition rates
  • Changes in order size and complexity
  • Changes in order fulfillment rates
  • Changes in shift lengths

With the right inputs, you can create a labor plan that highlights any gaps in capacity and allows you to address them before peak season begins. 

9. Prepare Your Team for Unexpected Delays


No matter how well prepared you are, there will be delays due to unforeseen circumstances during peak season. Whether it’s an unexpected rush of orders, a slowdown in the supply chain, or a power outage, it’s important to have contingencies in place to keep your operations running smoothly.

It’s best to educate your team on potential delays before peak season begins and ensure that they know what steps to take when they occur. For example, if you experience a slowdown in the supply chain due to weather-related issues, make sure that your team knows what alternative vendors are available and how to contact them.

If there is an equipment failure that prevents your team from using the usual workflow, make sure that they have a plan to switch to manual processes. Despite the hours of preventative maintenance and preparation, there will be times when things don’t go as planned. If needed, your team should be trained on any processes that require manual intervention in case of an unexpected delay.

Finally, ensure that your team knows who to contact if there is a problem or issue with orders that need to be addressed quickly. An escalation matrix can help ensure that everyone knows who to contact in case of an emergency. By preparing for the unexpected, you can turn potential problems into minor inconveniences

10. Revisit Your Slotting Strategy


Slotting is the process of arranging inventory in a warehouse for maximum efficiency. During peak season, slotting can mean the difference between meeting customer demand and dealing with stockouts and backorders.

Before peak season, take a close look at your current slotting strategy and see if there are any areas for improvement.

  • Are your most popular items easily accessible?
  • Is inventory organized by SKUs and categories for easy retrieval?
  • Are zones for fast-moving items and slower-moving items clearly identified?
  • Does your current system match the expected level of customer demand?
  • Does the layout take into account any potential seasonal demand fluctuations?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it may be time to reconsider your slotting strategy. Even small changes can have a big impact during peak season, so it’s important to get it right. 

The Road to Success Begins with Warehouse Preparation

With peak season just around the corner, now is the time to make sure your warehouse is ready for what lies ahead. Evaluating and optimizing your existing operations and assessing your warehouse technology helps to ensure that your facility is prepared for the busy months ahead. When done right, preparation can be the key to success during peak season. With a little planning, you can create an environment where teams are equipped to handle the inevitable bumps in the road that come with the holiday rush.

Contact one of Optichain’s experts today to learn more about how you can get your warehouse ready for the upcoming peak season. We offer complete solutions that cover every step of the process, from optimizing your current operations to deploying new technology and providing training for your team.

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