Setting up a Distribution Warehouse for a Small Business

Posted on July 25, 2012

One of the problems for successful start-ups is where to store everything! If you're using drop-shippers you run the risk of poor service, failure to fulfil orders and having to respond to angry and disappointed customers. So if you want better control of your stock and already have an over-flowing garage or storeroom, then it's probably time to consider upping your game and setting up a your own warehouse. Here are a few things to consider when looking at a premises, although this is no substitute for seeking specialist advice.

Layout and planning
For a distribution warehouse to be able to efficiently fulfil orders in a timely manner, a proper layout and product flow diagram is required. You should measure and then make a scaled drawing so that you can get an accurate feel for where things need to go. Ensure you show the location of all doors, pedestrian exits, windows, sprinklers and electrical sockets. The receiving and shipping areas of the warehouse should be as far apart as possible, ideally at opposite ends of the building as between them will be where the bulk of your stock will be stored. The inbound freight and shipping areas should be the most open areas.

Calculate what needs to be stored in the warehouse and the approximate size and height of the racking system – racks can extend upwards of 12 metres if the space is available There are many types of pallet storage racks available depending on function or the need to create specific space advantages. Some basic considerations when deciding on the type of pallet rack to use depend on the room available, the density of storage and placement of doors and columns for accessibility. Some items may need to be rotated frequently (and others not) and there may be a big different in the weight of products which will effect the racking strength requirement. And of course one other factor is the cost both of the materials and the installation.

You should think about whether to have a standard forklift (which will require wider aisles) or if you will be able to manage with other machines such as pallet, sack or platform trucks and stackers and scissors lifts. Picking stock at height can't just be done with a standard ladder – you'll need to buy mobile safety steps which are fitted with a hand lever locking bar to mobilise and immobilise the unit. Single and double ended access platforms are another consideration for a larger warehouse. And when your trucks start regularly banging into walls you may also need to consider getting some traffic or parking barriers.

Packaging and inventory area
Allow some space in the warehouse for a packaging area, ideally near to the dispatch section. You will need packaging materials and equipment as well as some room for a computer terminal (for inventory control) and desk space. You will also near to consider matting in this area as you and your employees might spend a long time standing and walking in this area. It is important to get the stock control system correct so that your employees can easily enter information about any received and shipped out items and avoid unnecessary and costly mistakes.

Tim Price writes for a number of business and financial websites including MoneyMoz and The Workplace Depot

Posted in Warehouse, Storage, Expert Commentary