ONE of the must-do items on the list of any manager whose work involves customer deliveries is the proper and frequent supervision of depot and warehouse operations.

If you are such a manager, you might think: “Hang on a second…how am I supposed to grasp what is actually happening in warehouse operations if I have to rely on the depot manager’s reports or on a short presentation in the conference room?”

Well, there is an easy way to find out. Make sure that any visit to a branch of the company or its depot must always be concluded with a visit to the warehouse as well.

Take a walk within the warehouse and make sure you pay attention to certain items, activities and behaviours within the warehouse environment.

A 20-minute walk around may reveal more about the excellence of your operations, and whether all the rules and regulations are being applied, than a meeting with your depot manager and his staff.

Follow this checklist

Here is a checklist of five important areas to pay attention to during your next visit to the warehouse:

People

•   Employees have a decent personal appearance;

•   They are pleasant and polite;

•   Your host addresses all personnel by name or greets them as you start your visit;

•   Employees are actively involved in their activities and there are no signs of loitering or wasting time;

•   There is an allocated waiting area for distributors who are collecting their orders; and

•   Distributors are not permitted to walk freely about in the warehouse area.

Material handling equipment

Material handling equipment (MHE) includes storage and handling equipment such as pallet racking and shelving, engineered systems such as conveyors, and industrial trucks such as forklift trucks.

Check that:

•   MHE items are not stored haphazardly around the warehouse area;

•   There is a well-organised, designated MHE bay;

•   There is a properly displayed board with a detailed list of the warehouse’s MHE;

•   There is a red-tag area for all damaged or non-operational MHE; and

•   The dock plates and levellers for smooth loading and unloading activities are well-maintained.

Stocks — stock keeping units

•   Fast-moving goods are placed near the front area;

•   There are clearly defined areas for fast and slow moving stock keeping units (SKUs);

•   The identity cards on each pallet/stack are well-displayed;

•   There are proper SKU stacking arrangements in place on pallets, racks and so on;

•   Stocks are stacked in a way that makes picking up items easy;

•   There is a clearly defined red tag area for damaged SKUs;

•   There is a separate location for close-to-expiry date SKUs; and

•   High-value stock or hazardous SKUs are kept in well-secured locations.

Walk through

•   There are well-placed directional signs and labels in the warehouse;

•   Areas are not obstructed by equipment, pallets, stock and so on;

•   There are well-defined areas for staff that are separate from MHE aisles/corridors and stacking locations;

•   The areas for packing or re-packing activities are well-marked; and

•   Stock-receiving areas are separate from supply areas.

Housekeeping

•   Toilets and common areas are clean and well-maintained;

•   There is adequate illumination in all working areas.

•   The floors are clean and free from debris, rubbish and left-over materials;

•   Pallets/stacks are free from dust (especially on slow-moving SKUs);

•   Employees stop to pick up or clear debris from the floor instead of merely stepping over what they see;

•   Electrical points are in order;

•   There are no loose electrical cables on the floor or hanging from above; and

•   The office area is well-organised and efficient.

Warehouses play a very important role — they are the link between the production site of the company and its customers.

As such, they must be well-organised, safe, clean and  free of superfluous items that do not add extra value to the company. This will contribute to higher customer satisfaction, retention and, ultimately, loyalty.

Article by Petros N. Zenieris, who runs The Business Criterion, his own consulting and training office. For more information, e-mail petros@thebusinesscriterion.com or visit www.thebusinesscriterion.com