10 Ways to Optimize Your Warehouse Operations for the Holiday Season


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We know it’s hard to believe, but Black Friday is just 7 weeks away! And that means warehouses are about to get busy. According to the National Retail Federation, winter holiday season spending has grown steadily since 2008, exceeding $700 billion for the first time last year. Adding to the challenge for warehouses is the fact that consumers are procrastinating more and more every year. In 2018, more than half (52%) of shoppers weren’t planning to purchase their last gift until the 5 days leading up to Christmas.

Here are 10 things you can do to optimize your operations in advance of the hectic activity that’s about to descend on your warehouse.

1. Conduct a layout review

This tip comes from Jeff Howard, writing in Material Handling & Logistics. He recommends reviewing the layout of each area — receiving, inventory, and shipping — to make sure they’re ready for the increase in product and personnel traffic. “Focus on improving organization, flow, storage capacity, and space utilization at this stage so you’re not left scrambling once the trucks start rolling in,” he says. For example, you might want to consider creating an additional packing station or moving your best-selling products to a more convenient place.

2. Conduct a material flow review

The physical layout of your facility isn’t the only thing that should be audited. You also need to understand how products move through that facility. By analyzing material flow, you can identify any extra steps that might have snuck in. For example, are there unnecessary touches by workers? Eliminating those now can save a lot of time (and money!) when you start moving extra-high volumes of product.

3. Perform a complete inventory count

Inventory is not anyone’s favorite job, but it must be done. As you know, incoming shipments don’t always arrive, and products get shipped out incorrectly all of the time. By taking inventory before the rush, you can at least start with a clean slate, i.e., an accurate snapshot of all of the product you currently have on the shelves.

4. Use your historical data to make projections that are as accurate as possible

Projecting the inventory that will be moving through your warehouse is both an art and a science. Analyze your historical data to come up with an estimate of the volume you will need to handle this year. And then, add a little, just to make sure you’re prepared for those last-minute shoppers.

5. Perform a warehouse stress test

Here’s another excellent tip from Material Handling & Logistics, this time from Eric Lamphier.

A stress test, or compression test, is an artificial simulation that helps you assess your readiness for the holiday season. “This is a process where a retailer will place an artificial hold on a large number of orders and then flood the system with volume, thereby placing the operation under peak season volume conditions,” Lamphier writes. “As substantial volumes are processed through the systems, interfaces, devices, and equipment, the test provides a representative picture of how things will flow during peak. More importantly, it provides an excellent opportunity to learn and improve before peak” [emphasis added].

6. Complete all of your preventive maintenance, especially anything you’ve been putting off

Equipment and system maintenance is easy to ignore, until those systems fail at exactly the time you need them most. Rather than risking the chance that downtime will prevent you from meeting your orders, perform all of your equipment and system maintenance now. This includes everything from material handling equipment (like conveyors, sorters, and forklifts), to software systems, to cleaning equipment.

And speaking of cleaning equipment…

7. Develop a plan for keeping your warehouse clean

Extra product and personnel means extra dirt and debris entering the warehouse. This can lower productivity, create unsafe conditions for workers, and even damage product. As with anything, it’s easier to stay ahead of these problems by cleaning regularly than it is to deal with an incident after the fact.

Your cleaning program should include regular cleaning, such as daily sweeping and scrubbing, as well as procedures for ad hoc cleaning, like vacuuming up spills. Explore our infographic to see Nilfisk’s full complement of cleaning solutions for warehouses and distribution facilities.

8. Hire seasonal workers as early as possible

It’s no secret that the labor market is tight. If you’re planning to bring on workers for the season, keep in mind that many other companies are as well. Start your hiring process as early as possible to get a jump on the competition and ensure you have the staff you need when the time comes.

9. Train and retrain your staff

If you’re bringing on new people for the holidays, make sure they have the proper training for all of the jobs they may be required to do. Also take this opportunity to provide a training refresh to your permanent employees. And if you’ve purchased any new equipment, like a new floor scrubber, make sure your staff knows how to use it effectively.

10. Communicate with your vendors, suppliers, and partners

Finally, communicate with vendors, suppliers, and partners to get everyone on the same page about expectations. For example, have you coordinated with the transportation company about shipping schedules? Are all of your software packages updated with the latest versions and will support be available? If your ideas about these issues aren’t aligned, it’s best to know now.

Nilfisk helps companies protect their employees and their products by keeping their facilities clean. Get in touch to learn more.

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