Posted On November 15, 2021
Are your warehouses and distribution process up to snuff?
Warehousing and distribution can play a vital role in any supply chain—but numerous factors go into whether the distribution solutions a company is using are successful.
Keep reading to see the questions we suggest every business ask of its current warehousing partner, or prospective warehouse and distribution services partners, to evaluate whether there’s room for improvement and a change needs to be made.
What technology capabilities does the partner have?
Most warehouses, especially those that offer distribution solutions, will have the basics: digital scales, scan guns, etc. But that should be the bare minimum. The most effective warehouse logistics partners will offer WMS integration, so that companies can easily check inventory. Your distribution services partner should also offer a transportation management system, or TMS (or be able to integrate with your existing system), so you can track shipments and pull information and documents like packing orders, packing slips and receiving slips.
A TMS also helps companies maintain end-to-end visibility, and can improve customer satisfaction, as buyers can be automatically updated when an order has shipped and is on its way to its final destination.
Will the company’s warehousing and distribution services cover your future needs?
It’s not enough to look for a warehouse that has the capabilities and solutions to do what your company needs now. For companies looking to grow (and what business isn’t?), you need to look into the future and think about what sort of services you might need down the line. Switching warehousing and distribution partners is a big to-do, so partnering with one that has a full range of services and can scale as your company scales is vital.
Where, exactly, are the warehouses?
This question seems like a no-brainer, but too often, supply chain managers make assumptions they end up regretting.
Sure, a warehousing and distribution partner may tout multiple locations in its lineup. But are they all on the East Coast, and your West Coast audience will spend days waiting for shipments? Or are they listed as being in major cities, but it takes a Google Maps search to realize the facility is actually in a suburb 45 minutes away from the nearest major airport or port?
That last distinction is vital, and for two main reasons.
While a warehouse in the suburbs is certainly going to cost less than one just a few miles from the airport, customers using the warehousing and distribution services will pay in another way. The farther away from an airport or port, the longer transit will take. So while you might save on storage, a shipment that could have made it to its final destination in two days might now take three.
Additionally, warehouses that are located closer to transit hubs have more freight line availability. Shipments in a warehouse 10 miles from the Denver airport, for example, might have a dozen potential carriers your company can choose from. But there might only be three carriers that are able and willing to pick up shipments at a warehouse located in Colorado Springs, 75 miles from the Denver airport. And fewer choices usually translates to higher costs.
What standards does the warehousing and distribution services team follow to complete order fulfillments?
One of the biggest downfalls of outsourced distribution is the lack of control a company has over how its order fulfillment is done. Ensuring operations meet your business standards is important—but how?
First is expertise. An experienced supply chain staff and management team will be able to uphold quality control. They’ll also be able to maintain efficiency as they deliver whatever services your goods require, from storage to sub-assembly to shipping.
The second factor is laying out expectations and tracking measurable results. When Flat World onboards a new customer, we ask for written documentation, or even training, outlining the expected processes for packing and shipping. By setting the standard of how things should be done, we can then measure performance to meet and exceed those standards.
Another way to ensure standards are being met is by asking the question:
When can we come for a visit?
If you’re paying for your inventory to be stored somewhere, you should be able to go take a look around whenever you need. So beware of a company that’s hesitant to let you visit the warehouse, or has super-tight restrictions around when visits are allowed. (Of course, for safety and security reasons, there may be a few exceptions to this.)
Flat World invites our customers to see our facilities and logistics processes in action whenever they can. We’re proud to have an open-door policy because we’re proud of our buildings and the logistics management and efficiency that go on inside of them.
Do the warehouses have the right certifications and safety programs in place?
Your products have traveled through the supply chain (most likely around the world) and are being stored in a warehouse as their final stop before the end destination. If those products get damaged or go missing, that’s a lot of wasted time, money and energy so close to the finish line.
That’s why ensuring the distribution services warehousing partner you work with has adequate certifications and safety programs in place is an important (and often-overlooked) concern. Employees should have background checks and forklift certifications, and the building itself should be up-to-date with sprinklers and security systems to prevent damage and theft. Looking at the age of the facilities, and how much upkeep is done, can tell you a lot about how the partner treats its property—and might treat yours.
If your goods are imported, additional certifications, like CES (Centralized Examination Station) and CFS (Container Freight Station) can also help streamline your supply chain and save on costs.
How does the warehousing distribution team communicate with its clients?
When something in your supply chain goes wrong, or you just have a simple question, how easy is it to get a solution or answer? Ideally, the logistics team you’re working with has a system for communicating updates in place. Sometimes this can be automated or done through WMS integration. Flat World’s public warehousing customers all have a dedicated point of contact (and usually have their personal cell phone number) so they always have someone they can reach who knows about their business’ unique needs, processes and inventory.
What is the policy about late orders and other nonstandard warehousing needs?
When something doesn’t go as planned—an order comes in after hours, for example, but needs to go out the same day—how does the company react? Is there a fee involved, or is it off the table? Ask this question in advance to know whether your business will be stuck with no options, or your distribution partner will flex to meet your needs.
What value-added services does the partner offer?
Look for a partner with industry expertise and services beyond just storage and distribution. For example, our freight audits team monitors invoices to catch issues, spot erroneous charges and help customers optimize their shipping. It might sound inconsequential, especially if it’s not a solution you’re actively looking for, but these types of value-added services can go a long way.
Warehousing and distribution are just one part of Flat World’s full suite of logistics services, helping us provide end-to-end solutions. If you have questions about optimizing your warehousing or distribution, or have other logistics needs, contact us!