WArEhOUSIng, hAnDlIng & STOrAgE

hoW can ecommerce companies cope With Warehouse demand?

the demand for warehouses in the uK has rocketed along with the surge in ecommerce. so, how can you optimise your businesses to stay on top of this demand while adhering to ongoing covid-19 safety restrictions? dan marchant, director of vape club, saw an unprecedented growth in sales during lockdown, peaking at nearly 300 per cent above their normal run rate. he was able to refine his operations from his warehouse in Watford, leading to his business receiving praise for fast shipment and efficient service. here he provides his insight on how other companies can continue to grow alongside increasingly higher expectations to stay on top of warehouse demand.

Warehouse and employee management Dispatching two to three the usual orders while maintaining social distancing rules proved to be a real challenge, and it was necessary to shift the warehouse layout so that picking and packing zones were in separate areas. This minimised crossover contact between

workers by restricting the picking team to one area and the packing team to another. We were able to utilise unused areas of our warehouse to install additional packing desks which were spaced over two metres apart and had plastic sheeting separating each area. Of course, if anyone was able to work from

home we encouraged them to do so, in order to create even more space in the warehouse itself. By moving a large chunk of our office staff to home working we could bring in additional warehouse staff into the building without making it feel cramped. We also implemented a one-way system in the

warehouse for the pickers, meaning that all traffic flow was in the same direction and that pickers could maintain physical distancing of two metres easily without disrupting productivity too much. We were able to ensure picking lists would print

in the correct order of the aisles, so that the team did not have to do multiple laps of the warehouse

in order to pick one order. Very high volume SKUs were spaced out appropriately, and had secondary positions put in place, so as to eliminate bottlenecks and hold-ups as much as possible.

Keeping one step ahead Space and supply have provided two of the biggest challenges in scaling up the Vape Club warehouse to meet demand. When business more than doubles overnight it is hard to keep up. Fortunately when it came to the pandemic we could see the direction the wind was blowing before lockdown actually occurred. Working as closely as we do with suppliers in

China, we were aware of it before it was considered serious in the UK. We had already started to bolster supply, and moved from a six- week order pattern to 12 weeks because we were worried about supply continuity. This eventually meant we were not overstocked but had to work very hard and fast to keep up with supply.

maintaining a safe environment Ensuring a COVID-secure workplace means looking at every aspect of the space – and every part of the working day. Staggering break times helps to ensure canteens and break rooms are not overcrowded and staff can physically distance (also it’s a good idea to limit the seating

14 JUnE 2021 | FACTOrY&hAnDlIngSOlUTIOnS

and clearly mark where people can sit). Keep the building very well ventilated. We

keep shutters open as much as possible to allow the fresh air to circulate. If possible, designate a separate entrance and exit, so people leaving the building do not have to cross paths with people entering the building. Put hand sanitiser everywhere! Being unable to employ more people within

the warehouse in order to meet demand created a headache for the business and required some creative solutions. We were doing more business than ever, but

had to reduce the number of people in the warehouse at any one time to be able to ensure we kept to the physical distancing guidelines, and the other Covid precautions. And when you have set collection times from couriers, there is always a very concrete deadline. There were two ways to manage – finding more

space and getting creative with shift patterns. We were able to run the warehouse from much earlier in the day, and increase the operating hours. This meant we could keep to the maximum number of staff at any one time, but gave us the additional hours to cope with the increased volume.

using Warehouse technology We rotate our stock 10-12 times per year, so that

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