The Difference Between Cross-docking and Warehousing

In any distribution and fulfilment chain, warehousing is a large component and a costly proposition. In a distribution process, typically there is an incoming transport, and from there the goods are received and stored in a warehouse, and then again picked up for loading on to the outgoing transport bound for the desired destination. You incur charges for warehousing, and the process chain is lengthy.

 

What if you could eliminate the warehousing bit entirely, and just manage things cleverly so that the incoming goods already have their clients or destinations marked, and the logistics provider could pick up the goods and load them directly to the appropriate outgoing transport? It would completely eliminate the warehousing step, wouldn’t it?

 

The answer is yes, it is possible, and it is called cross-docking.

 

How is cross-docking different from traditional warehousing?

 

Cross-docking involves direct offloading and re-loading. The warehouse part is eliminated. But how’s it different from a process perspective, with respect to traditional warehousing?

In cross-docking the client is required to be pre-mapped to the incoming goods. And you need the services of a Third Party Logistics (3PL) Provider to manage the process of identifying the correct outgoing transport, and moving the goods directly from incoming to outgoing transport. The distributor has to manage multiple relationships with different agencies for picking, warehousing, and transporting. In the case of cross-docking, there are third party logistics (3PL) providers who will handle everything for you. This marks the major difference between cross-docking and warehousing.

 

The advantages of Cross-Docking over Warehousing

 

Advantage 1:  Cost Reduction

 

As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, storing goods in a warehouse is costly. Warehouse rental costs can deliver an unpleasant shock, and should be minimized. In cross-docking you are eliminating or minimising the storing period, and therefore saving on the steep costs of warehousing.

 

Advantage 2: Improved Efficiency

 

In traditional warehousing, there are multiple parties involved in the process chain, like trucking partners, logistics partners, and parcel delivery. In cross-docking, you can do away with multiple partners and do with a single 3PL who can handle things end-to-end.

 

Advantage 3: Increased Reliability of Delivery

 

Since Cross-docking involves fewer human hands needed to handle the products, the risk of damage and human errors is minimized and this improves the prospects of receiving the products in good conditions and on time. Elimination of the warehousing step also improves the speed of delivery.

 

Advantage 4: Reduced Inventory

 

Since the stock is picked and directly shipped out to the clients, the inventory pileup in the warehouse is reduced, and this naturally translates to moving towards just in time inventory models which benefit everyone in the chain.

 

What’s right for me – cross-docking or warehousing?

 

Now we come to the all-important question: Should you adopt cross-docking? Is it suitable for your business? There are a few criteria which can be used, to answer this question very easily.

 

– Are you willing to invest the higher management attention and planning that cross-docking takes, as compared to warehousing?

 

– Do you have sufficiently large volumes that make cross-docking effective? Cross-docking is not efficient at low volume levels.

 

– Are you able to undergo the long lead time and capex needed to construct the cross-docking terminal structures?

 

– Are the products you are receiving, customer-ready? Or do they require further processing before they can be shipped to customers?

 

If your answer to the above questions is ‘yes’, then cross-docking is the way forward for you. Go right ahead!

 

 

Inventory Management

The Basics of Inventory Management: Warehousing, Picking, Packing and Shipping

Small businesses need to understand a simple strategy that concerns establishing coherence between customer demands and the existing supplies. More often than not, startups and even medium-sized enterprises fall short of resources— which in turn sabotages their credibility. While manufacturing is never really an issue with technological innovations at the helm, it is the product distribution that takes a beating.

 

Major issues include inadequacies related to product picking, packing and shipping. In addition to that, certain businesses also find it hard to store their products in an efficient manner. However, if businesses continue worrying about these aspects of inventory management, it becomes hard for them to grow and even outrun the competition. Moreover, delayed shipments can easily kill off the customer satisfaction levels with companies failing to deliver products on time.

 

There are several firms which readily outsource the pick and pack services— in order to save time and even overhead costs. Pick and Pack warehousing is a comparatively newer aspect that combines the essentials of product storage with excellent shipping services. Companies that worry about storing their products in a secured environment are better off hiring 3PL service providers which emphasize on Pick and Pack warehousing. While it easily mitigates the storage constraints, a host of other benefits are also available for businesses to leverage.

 

Meeting Customer Demands

 

Having specialized warehousing services at the helm can help enterprises meet varied customer requirements. Once a business starts blossoming and growing rapidly, it becomes important to stay on track with the persistent user preferences. This is where outsourcing comes in handy, especially by offering excellent Pick and Pack storage and distribution services to the concerned organizations.

 

Fulfilling the Storage Requirements

 

Before we delve any deeper into the basics of Pick and Pack services, it is important to understand the influence of outsourcing in regards to handling the storage needs. Manufacturing industries usually need to ship extensively and having a restricted storage space can actually slow them down. While it is always possible to hire specialized warehousing services, most companies look for cohesive options that can cover multiple bases. Having one logistics company handle the basics of storage, picking, packing and shipping can be the best possible option when the manufacturer is looking to minimize the costs.

 

Efficient, off-site warehousing is one aspect of this cohesive program that allows an enterprise to manage inventory without opting for contract or distribution warehouses. Online warehouse management is also possible. Unlike other warehouses that solely offer storage options, facilities synonymous to the Pick and Pack management believe in dispatching the products, almost instantly. To be exact, enterprises can enjoy the benefits of a dynamic storage system where products aren’t dumped for an eternity but are expedited immediately.

 

Understanding Picking and Packing Better

 

Unlike conventional warehouses that offer storage facilities, managerial flexibilities and a host of other features, enterprises relying on Pick and Pack services are best served when it comes to the holistic catalogue of services. These include a variety of Inbound and Outbound services, dedicated towards amplifying the revenues and serving the customers better.

The best part about using Pick and Pack Distribution is that a shared warehouse can serve the purpose for multiple organizations. The products are then immediately packed and distributed to the concerned customer base. As we could already infer from the discussion, this form of inventory management is affordable and exceedingly cost-effective. With small businesses using Pick and Pack services rather extensively, the popularity seems to be validated.

 

In addition to that, outsourced pick and pack services also assist manufacturers with their inventory solutions. Firstly, the designed warehouses managed by these specialized 3PL service providers are organized and extremely efficient. Apart from that, they offer advanced inventory management solutions like stock replenishment and necessary intimations. As the part of a holistic cycle, these solutions also involve picking up manufactured products from the companies, storing them in bespoke warehouses, packing them accordingly and finally, shipping them across multiple channels.

 

Bottom-Line

 

An inventory-specific business model requires higher levels of cohesion between warehousing, packaging and distribution. While hiring a 3rd party fulfillment service for the specifics is a good option, pick and pack service providers are actually best suited for a retail-specific business. This form of inventory management works wonders for small to medium business owners, thereby helping them save additional costs and efforts.

 

 

Warehouse Distribution , Logistics 3PL

How Distribution Warehousing via 3PL Services Improve the Market Conditions?

Enterprises focusing solely on the retail sector usually have a lot of things to worry about. While direct sales can be initiated via contract and owned warehouses, certain companies prefer third party logistics companies for distributing their products, in an efficient manner. The concept of Distribution Warehouse takes us back to the time when product distribution used to happen via retail outlets. Manufacturers would first assemble or create a product and then send over the same to shops for retail purposes. However, with a massive increase in product volume and amplified online exposure, it became imperative for the manufacturers to opt for a second line of defense.

Distribution Warehouse signifies a facility that is dedicated towards storing manufacturer’s product before the same is packed and distributed to the retail customers. The concept of Distribution warehouse actually brings the distributor into the picture, in addition to the manufacturer and customer. Not just product distribution, these warehouses also assist companies with pick & pack and efficient order fulfillment.

How Holistic is a Distribution Warehouse?

Unlike a logistics company that offers warehouses for sale and even on lease, a distribution warehouse is the brainchild of product distributors who act as the connecting link between manufacturers and retail customers. However, when it comes to reaping the benefits, every section of the sales funnel is taken into account.

For the manufacturers, distribution warehouse is a blessing in disguise. While the profit share gets compromised to a certain extent with distributors taking their cut, the flexibility on offer certainly outweighs this minor pitfall. These warehouses have also improved the market condition for third party distributors as they are the ones who invest money, workforce and time in order to amplify the storage options for manufacturers.

The last cog in this retail-centric wheel happens to be the retail outlets. With distribution warehouses supplying products to the offline and online retail stores, the credibility quotient is always maintained. The retail stores directly place product requirements and requests to these warehouses and stocks are released upon the availability.

Therefore, a distribution warehouse impacts every part of the sales funnel and comes forth as an integral part of the overall, entrepreneurial logistics arrangement.

Advantages on Offer

Distribution warehouses actually cut the clutter and simply things for the manufacturers and customers alike. Put simply, a product goes straight into a warehouse after it’s manufactured. The workers, synonymous to the distribution warehouse, pack and expedite the products via reliable courier services. Not just the mentioned perk but a distribution warehouse usually has a host of functional advantages.

  1. Timeliness

It is the duty of distributors to pack and dispatch products to customers and even select offline retailers. Most of these facilities are equipped with warehouse storage systems which keep a track of products and their desired dispatch points. Overall, the distribution warehouse offers a cohesive outlook to how the products are stored and how they need to be dispatched. This organized approach saves a lot of effort and even time— especially when the workers are concerned.

  1. Budget Friendliness
Cost friendly Logistics
Forklift with cardboxes on calculator. Calculation of shipping delivery costs concept. 3d illustration

The best part of having a distribution warehouse is that products are stored in a secured environment. Be it inclement weather conditions or the influx of rodents, a properly managed distribution warehouse is probably the best possible solution for storing the manufactured goods. This eventually cuts additional costs and the retail chains get the products in the best possible condition. Specialized packing and management services within the warehouse help amplify the revenue generation process. Be it temperature-specific storage units or something on the lines of a cold storage system— a distribution warehouse is loaded with technological innovations, precisely for preserving the condition and quality of products. This approach minimizes product damages and therefore reduces additional overhead costs.

  1. Reliability

More than the sales figures, it is the peace of mind that excites a manufacturer. While sending out products for retail purposes is quite a taxing job, distribution warehouses simplify things for the manufacturers. Since the products are sheltered in an organized and secured place, manufacturers are well assured that their business will move forward.

Bottom-Line

A distribution warehouse is probably the most important link between demand and supply chain management. Moreover, with an increase in the number of manufactures and retail products, it literally becomes inevitable to have a storage facility solely dedicated towards distribution. However, warehouse safety and management standards must also be looked at before moving ahead with any 3PL service provider.

 

 

 

Warehouse, Dragging

Ownership vs. Contract Warehouse: Why to Choose the Latter?

Owning a warehouse surely has its share of advantages. However, startups and small business owners often find it hard to keep up with the soaring market costs and therefore owning an entire facility can eventually sabotage their growth. In addition to that, purchasing or even availing a facility comes with its own set of obligations— which often overshadows the benefits.

 

The best answer to ownership is a Contract Warehouse. Companies must eventually realize that ownership restricts them to a predefined area. Be it the cold facilities or an operational area involving dry products, everything about a commercially owned warehouse is trickier than usual. Owned facilities often push companies to their limits, especially when it comes to maintaining stocks at the peak. This is where contract warehouses come to the fore as they allow companies to breathe easily, even when there is a gap between demand and supply or vice versa.

 

Apart from that, businesses usually have a lot of warehousing options at their disposal, depending upon the size and scale of operations. While some organizations prefer maintain their own spaces, there are certain firm which prefer leased facilities. However, nothing beats the effectiveness of a contract warehouse as it is definitely synonymous to lower costs, guaranteed reliability and lower investments.

 

Defining a Contract Warehouse

 

Unlike regular facilities, contract warehouses are easier to work with. They can seamlessly handle the storage and shipping whereabouts of an organization, precisely on a contract basis. However, companies taking the services of a contract warehouse must commit to a periodical timeframe. The tenure, however, depends on the company and concerned service provider. Transactional fee can also be a determinant as contract warehouses usually function under cost-plus or fixed cost revenue models.

 

Associated Benefits

 

  1. Lower Capital Investments and Overhead Costs

 

When it comes to purchasing a space and converting the same into a storage facility, massive costs are involved. Structuring a warehouse according to the requirements of an organization also attracts additional costs. Be it renovating the entire building or purchasing equipment for beefing up the storage space— owning a warehouse can come with a lot of headaches. However, contract facilities usually have predefined zones for product storage. This eliminates the infrastructural costs and therefore excessive capital investments. Apart from that, sections for cold storage, controlled storage and even general storage are already carved out when it comes to a contract warehouse. There are instances when staffing requirements for the entire facility is also handled by the logistics company— as a part of the contract. This in turn, further reduces the incidental expenses related to staff handling and overall maintenance.

 

  1. Minimal Hassles

 

Contract warehouses function in a remarkable and hassle-free manner. Companies hiring similar services are contract bound which in turn protects the same from additional and unexpected expenses. There is a definite lock-in period to look after and this actually safeguards the concerned organization from hassles. Logistics companies associated with these warehouses specify even the minutest of details, including monthly costs, possible changes to the existing prices and even provisions for extending the period of contract. Owned warehouses, on the other hand, are completely controlled by the concerned enterprises. Therefore, it is possible to miss out on several factors— which isn’t the case with a third-party service provider at the helm.

 

  1. Improved Reliability

 

Logistics Companies offering contract warehouses also take care of distribution and packaging. With these useful services covered, organizations need not worry about increasing customer demands. The existing service provider eventually takes care of the goods and other aspects of a storage facility. This approach allows an enterprise to establish long-term ties with the partners and clients, regardless of the timeframe. When it comes to the reliability quotient, nothing beats a contract warehouse. The best part about hiring contractual services is that the company offering the same also helps envision and ascertain the design improvements.

 

Bottom-Line

 

While it’s great to depend on a logistics company for your warehousing requirements, it is the selection that eventually matters in the long run. It is understandable that every service provider wouldn’t offer the same catalogue and set of features and it is equally important to assess the professional requirements of your firm, beforehand. Regardless of the size and stature of a company, it is the right warehouse that makes all the difference when it comes to aspects of storage and distribution. A contract warehouse, therefore, simplifies proceedings for the entrepreneurs— depending upon the service period.

Ecommerce Warehouse

Quick Fixes for Your Biggest Shipping and Fulfilment Problems

Shipping and fulfilment seem easy. All you need to do is stick a label on the ordered product and hand it over to the shipper. It should it delivered to your customer, and world is a happy place. But anyone who has spent any time in the industry knows that it’s anything but that simple. It is one of the key components in the value chain and often can be a nightmare to manage. Imagine thousand of product going out in thousands of different orders in as many combinations, to thousands of locations with multiple shippers. Items will be out of stock, damaged, delayed, returned, sent to wrong addresses and sometimes, despite the best efforts not sent at all. The last one will do most damage to retailer’s reputation especially if he is new to business or has a small business. But all these problems can be handled. Let’s have a look at some of the top issues online businesses have with fulfilment.

 

 

  1. International Fulfilment: With internet the reach of businesses has crossed all oceans. It’s easier than ever before to get an order from across the border. But delivering your product across the border is not as simple as just packing and shipping. International deliveries involve tons of paperwork and rules that must be complied with. There are taxes and customs to be taken care of, which may be different for each country that you ship to. You need to account for extra time taken at the ports, customs and by other government agencies, both, foreign and domestic. But all is not lost. Build a repository of shippers for your most shipped to countries. These shippers should have experience in handling all the paperwork, taxes, customs and should be able to tell you the total cost and times involved, based on the product category. They also should be networked in those agencies and countries that can be leveraged, should a shipment be stuck somewhere. Use their services instead of handling everything on your own. They may charge you a little more for this, but it will save yourself tons of hassle.

 

  1. If you are shipping international, there is a very high likely hood that your product will be shipped in container, on a ship along with many other products, stacked somewhere in between them. This requires extra care while packing. Especially if you need to use ‘freight shipping’. You need to protect your product from damages and delayed shipping. Use durable packing material. This is needed so that products can handle extra stress put on it during international transport through sea. Remember, your box may not end up on the top of the stack and there’s nothing you can do about it. So make your packing extra strong. Use bubble wrap to fill up empty spaces and provide some cushion. Use proper pallets. You shipment should not exceed the weight restrictions of your pallet. The boxes should not be stacked beyond the edge of pallet. Use load protectors to prevent damage from chains, straps and other pallets. Remember, any money you spend on packing, adds to your reputation when product reaches the customer in mint condition, and it has come from abroad!
  2. Customer Trust: This one is a key success factor. If they trust you, they will come back to you and bring their friends and family along. To gain trust, you must reduce errors. Most errors can be attributed to administrative errors. These errors are spread along the supply chain. Wrong product, wrong order, wrong address, wrong delivery (missed delivery time) etc are most common. The error could be small, but may have a large impact. You made a promise to the customer about what he wanted, where he wanted and when he wanted. If you don’t deliver on it, you lose his trust, and potentially the customer too. Train your staff. Make them understand the true cost of errors. Let them understand how a small error can lead to losing customers and harm image of the company. Invest in automation and integrated systems. Correct use of technology can reduce a lot of errors. When the customer calls, be polite. Listen to him. He is calling because he has a problem. The problem is related to your product. Remember, you need the customer while he always has other options (your competitors) to go to.
  3. Customer communication: Once you have received the order, the customer expects the delivery on the right time. But that may be a few days away. Meanwhile, you are working on getting the product from manufacturing, assembling the order, packing the product, shipping and what not to ensure that customer has the delivery when promised. But customer has no communication about it. You should update the customer about status of his order at regular intervals. It could be periodic, or when the order crosses a stage. This is true especially during shipment. Customers like to track their orders. Provide them with tracking number. Make sure that correct shipment tracking code, provided by the shipper, is provided to correct customer. Wrong tracking codes create a lot of confusion when there shouldn’t be one. Test the code before you send it to the customer. It’s a simple thing, just check if the code shows the right address and right customer name.
  4. Stock management: You put up a product on your web store and promised delivery by certain date. You got the order, only to find out that product is out of stock. That is a very tricky situation to be in. Always ensure that you have adequate inventory for each product that you carry. Invest in a good inventory tracking system and automatic ordering system. Integrate your order acceptance system with inventory management system. If an item is not there in the inventory, the order should not be accepted, or at least inform the customer that order will be delayed.
  5. Communication with suppliers: Establish automatic communication lines with your suppliers. The product should be re ordered automatically when the stock quantity falls below a certain level. This is basic. However, it should be done automatically. Your supplier should be able to sense the speed at which your orders are moving and when you will need a refill, and be ready with a refill. Ideally you should never be out of stock for any item.

 

Establishing a fulfilment process with zero errors is impossible. However with careful planning and investment in technology and training, these errors can be reduced to a great extent. In a business world where 99.99% efficiency is not good enough, it is imperative that your processes are well designed to absorb errors before they reach the customer.

 

 

KPI for Warehouse

Why Are KPIs Important in Warehousing & Fulfillment?

Warehouse business is a back-end operations business. You don’t control sales, only deliveries. The efficiency of the operations is the key to extracting maximum profits from a warehouse. So you need to know that you are getting maximum return on your investment in this business, just like any other business. But since most of it is a fixed model, B2B business with caveats of B2C (retail deliveries), you need to understand and measure the nitty gritty of the warehouse operations and fine tune them. That’s where the KPI or Key Performance Indicators come in.

A right det of KPIs tells you the detailed performance of your warehouse. Couple it with past indicators, your forecast of business growth and you can figure out where you are heading in future. For example if you are already at maximum space utilization, you cannot expand. A client whose business is growing very fast will need more space. If you can not offer him more space, he will go to someone who has more space. That will reduce you space utilization and also your revenue. Not to mention, you now need to get your sales to run and find a client who can utilize the now freed up space. So while on the face of it a full utilization of warehouse space sounds good, it is not good for a growing business. That is why, it is not only important to have the right KPI, but you also needs to set the right standards for those KPIs. Standards should be the ones that work for you. (Is 80% space utilization good for you, or you prefer 95%?)

Similarly, KPI also help you in benchmarking. benchmarking tells you how good you are doing as compared to others in the same industry. If your KPI is below the industry standard, that means you are not utilizing your warehouse to the best possible extent. You might be making money, but lower KPI means that you are leaving money on the table. You could get more profits by improving those KPIs. On the other hand if you are beating industry KPI but still not making money, something else is wrong somewhere. A well designed set of KPI itself would direct you to where to look. If you are beating the KPI and making money, it looks like a good sign. But it can also mean you are stretching yourself. If you are extracting higher productivity from your machines and spending less on maintenance, you might have to bear a high depreciation and replace the machines faster. If your order cycle time is very less, you might not have any contingency built into the process. That is risky.

Whether you want to stay with the industry benchmarks or set your own benchmark standards, is entirely up to you. While industry benchmarks are there for a good reason, (most of the industry works at those levels) you don’t have to be bound by them. Your KPIs will vary depending on your niche value proposition and your operating model. For example if you specialize in handling delicate products that need more space for storage, your floor utilization will be lower. Also, the KPIs for 2PL warehouse will be very different from the KPIs for 3PL warehouse.

The Supply Chain Operational Reference Model (the SCOR Model), created by Supply Chain Council, provides for over 200 KPIs for monitoring the overall performance of a supply chain. These are broken into various levels to get more granular picture of the business. Some of these could be used for measuring performance of a warehouse as well. Research them to identify which one are suitable for you. Now that we understand what KPIs means and why we should measure them, let’s look at some of the key KPIs for warehousing business.

The main KPIs for a warehouse should focus on Receiving, put away, storage, pick and pack and shipping.

Inventory Accuracy: What is the accuracy of the workers when preparing the product (or order). It is measured by taking the headcount of the items in the stock and comparing it with what’s recorded in the books. This one has direct impact on your working capital and order fulfilment capacity.

Perfect Order Rate: This measures the number of orders shipped to the customer without any incident. The incident could be damaged goods, inaccurate orders, late shipment etc. Needless to say, this one tells you how well is your warehouse operating where it matters the most, the final fulfilment of order, shipped out of the warehouse.

Productivity: This measure tells how many orders are ready to be picked up by the shipper, per hour. Depending on your warehouse business model, it could the number of orders per hour, or total line items per house or it could be the total dollar value of the orders per hour.

Equipment utilization: This one tells about how well your equipment is being utilized. Underutilization of the equipment means you should stretch it more and achieve more. Overutilization mean higher maintenance and replacement costs. Idle equipment depreciates without giving any return. Over utilized equipment can lead to breakdowns and stop the whole chain, leading to higher losses. Your equipment must be running at the optimum rated utilization to extract maximum value from it.

Cycle time: This KPI measures the total time taken since the material came in as inventory and was picked up by the shipper for delivery, as a part of the order. The shorter the cycle time, the lesser the money tied up in working capital. An end to end cycle time would include the transit and transportation time taken by the shippers for the final delivery to the customer’s premises.

Average cost per order: This KPI measures how much are you spending in running the warehouse. It is calculated as total orders fulfilled divided by the total cost incurred for the warehousing operations. The costs include the manpower costs, cost of rejects and returns absorbed by warehouse, cost of damaged products that are absorbed by warehouse, variable costs for running the warehouse (utilities, taxes, rents, insurance,), equipment cost (consumables and depreciation for large equipment) and all other costs. This should be always be as low as possible, as it eats straight into your profits.

There are many other KPI that you can measure to understand the efficiency of your warehouse operations. The finer the KPI, the deeper the control it can provide. However, at a bare minimum, you must keep an eye out for the top line (revenue), the bottom line (profits) and ROI (return on Investment).