There is a small part of me that is ashamed to admit how much this post excites me. I mean, it really excites me, y’all! In this week’s blog post we’re going to be talking about (drum roll please…) ORGANIZATION!
I, being my typical hyper-organized, planner-to-the max self, find this week’s blog topic on how to configure your district’s nutrition warehouse completely nerd-a-rific (in the best way!). We’re all a part of the education sector, so I’m sure many of you are the same way, but I was one of those kids growing up who was way too excited to make the annual trek to Walmart, Target, or the local office supply store to buy school supplies for a fresh start into the next school year. I always set up the dividers in my binders and dates in my planner before that first bell back from summer rang. I wanted to be prepared; ready to hit the ground not only running, but sprinting!
This blog post is, in a way, very similar to that. Before your district can ever begin using a central warehouse to help manage your inventory, it first must be methodically planned out and organized in a way that promotes the highest levels of efficiency. Organization, although seemingly an afterthought to some, is the vital first step in warehouse inventory management.

Map It First, and Never Get Lost Again

The crucial first step in the organization of your warehouse begins with creating a map. How revolutionary, right?! A map to help you find things! Where do they come up with these things? But all sarcasm aside, carefully laying out a map of your warehouse before you ever bring your first item through that receiving dock will be vital to your warehouse’s success in the future.
By creating a map first, you are helping your district save time and labor costs during physical inventory counts, distribution picking, and putting away inventory items. Additionally, a well-laid out map helps limit the amount of inventory kept in a bin or on a shelf, thereby keeping less money tied up in items unavailable for other uses.

Play The Zone

Implementing a zone defense can prove to be your best offense against inefficient item storage practices. When thinking about how to set up your warehouse initially, group similar item types near each other and create item zones. If your warehouse is on the larger end of the spectrum, you should consider creating numerous zones as it will speed up the picking and put away processes by narrowing the location down even farther.
You can see an example of a warehouse using a zone system to organize its operation. This warehouse has two coolers, one specifically for produce (CP) and one for other general items (CG). Each of these coolers are their own unique zone. Additionally, the dry goods are divided into D1, D2, D3, etc., allowing each item a more detailed location number.

Labels are Your Lifeline

Creating a logical labeling system is about as important to warehouse configuration as peanuts are to creating peanut butter. Without structure in your labeling system, you may as well just throw items into a dark closet after they get delivered, so they can be blindly picked for production. It’s the kind of disorganization that scares a neat-freak like me!
When creating a labeling system for your warehouse, it’s good practice to remember a couple of things:

  • Bin numbering could be physical as a well as logical. In addition to shelves and rows, bins can be located centrally on the warehouse floor or even in the middle of aisles. Imagine how a Sam’s Club or Costco location that you’ve been to recently is laid out, and employ that principle in your warehouse design.
  • Create bin codes by using the aisle, shelf, column, etc. An example bin code for tomato paste could be D3.11.2.4. You should immediately be able to tell in what area of the warehouse the item is located in from the first segment of the bin code. In this case, the tomato paste is located in dry goods zone 3, row 11, shelf 2, column 4. The order in which those numbers are displayed is up to your district’s discretion. In my case, it made the most sense to narrow the location from largest to smallest area.

Similar Stays Together

When playing the zone, I mentioned that it’s important to group similar items near one another. Imagine that a school submits an order to the central warehouse for 3 cases of whole wheat spaghetti noodles, but you only have 1 on hand and won’t be able to receive another in time for their production schedule. However, you do have whole wheat farfalle (bowtie) noodles – and a lot of them at that! You can easily pick the remaining cases of pasta from the nearby bin, as it is a substitute item for the spaghetti.
It’s not ideal, sure, as it’s always preferable to fulfill every order exactly as it was placed, but sometimes due to tight timetables, vendor errors, or even Mother Nature (like this crazy winter we’ve been enduring), that just isn’t possible. Quickly locating substitute items can save your operation time and money.

Make Room For Empty Bins

This last tip may seem a bit strange to you – make room for empty bins? “Empty bins mess up the organizational flow of the warehouse,” you might say. Honesty, that’s what I said before I saw the logic behind it. Let me explain.
For example, when your warehouse receives a shipment from your meat vendor, typically it’s quite a large one. Every school uses meat, and most kids (I see you, vegetarians!) eat it on a daily basis. Imagine you receive 4-5 pallets of meat per delivery, and that each pallet you receive is equivalent to 1 bin. Your par reorder point is set at 2 bins of meat remaining. Therefore, if your par order kicks in you could have as many as 7 bins full of meat in your stock at one time. That is why it is crucial when initially planning out the warehouse blueprint to estimate how much room you may need to store an item if it is at its max capacity.

Next week, we’ll finish up this warehouse configuration mini-series I started today. I’ll be chatting with you about the best practices to use when setting up delivery schedules and distribution routes—more organization and planning!
In the meantime, let’s get you talking! If you have a central warehouse, what’s a tip or trick that you used when organizing your operation? I’d love to hear about them – the more we can crowdsource our ideas, the better off everyone’s operation is!