Okay, so pick and pack fulfillment isn’t the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning. I mean, what’s to think about? It’s just pulling items out of inventory, packing them in a box, sticking a label on it and shipping it… right?
Not exactly. There’s more than you might suspect to making sure you get the right materials when and where you need them. I asked Sharon Moore, operations supervisor at Iron Mountain’s Atlanta, GA, fulfillment warehouse and distribution center, to give us some insight into what it takes to deliver outstanding pick and pack fulfillment. Here’s part one of our conversation.
Debbie: Sharon, is it correct to say that most businesses turn to a third-party fulfillment provider because, at minimum, they want fast and accurate turnaround at a fair price?
Sharon: Yes it is, in other words, cost-efficient service equals good value for their money.
Debbie: Right. So, what are some of the things that help Iron Mountain deliver that value?
Sharon: In my experience, there are four key factors that contribute to delivering outstanding performance cost-efficiently. Those are a well-organized warehouse, good work processes, technology and people.
Debbie: Okay, so tell us a little about each of those.
Sharon: Sure. Let’s start with warehouse organization. First, the facility has to be large enough to easily accommodate the volume of materials stored there, as well as provide adequate work space for the various functions of fulfillment, like assembly, packing and shipping.
Second, warehouse layout and inventory storage should facilitate the pick and pack process. At Iron Mountain, for example, we use a three-tiered storage system, with separate areas for boxes, pallets and open stock – the inventory from which the pickers pull materials to fill orders. Every item is clearly labeled with its SKU, and items that typically ship together are placed near each other for more efficient processing.
Vertical storage also provides cost benefits to our clients. Our storage charges are based on the square footage occupied by a client’s inventory, rather than the number of pallets and boxes they have at any given moment. Minimizing the inventory’s “footprint” can significantly reduce their storage charges.
Debbie: I’m sure they appreciate that! The second key you mention is efficient work processes. Tell us about those.
Sharon: It all starts with receiving. When shipments arrive at our loading dock, we use bar codes and RF scanners to log in, time- and date-stamp them. Then an account representative verifies that we received the right items in the correct quantities, and that packages arrived in good condition. If the counts are off, the wrong items were shipped or they arrived in poor condition, notifies the client immediately so that they don’t pay for something they didn’t get or can’t use. Once the quality check is done, the items are entered into our inventory management and ordering system, and the stock goes to its assigned storage area. Our goal is “dock to stock,” with most items available for ordering in eight hours or less, and we meet that goal 99.9 percent of the time.
Debbie: So what happens when you get an order?
Sharon: Orders come to the order hub in the form of a pick ticket. This document includes the SKUs, item descriptions, bin locations and quantities needed to fill the order.
Pickers sort the tickets based on product location, which allows them to go to the different bin locations and collect what’s needed for each order most efficiently. Once they have everything they need to complete the order, they take the items to a quality checker. By having a different person double-check the items pulled – again, using barcodes and scanning technology – we assure that an order is complete and accurate before it’s packed and shipped.
Debbie: Can you talk a little about packing, Sharon? Most people think it’s pretty standard – just put the items in a cardboard box and ship it. But clients have a lot of options, right?
Sharon: Right. Packing can be as simple as putting items in a plain brown box with an ordinary shipping label. But we can also provide special packaging, like recyclable materials; shrink wrap; odd size or custom-shaped boxes, or custom-printed packaging or labels to promote the client’s brand. We can also combine items – literature, samples, CDs, displays and so on – into kits. We can bind literature into booklets or put it into folders, which can also be custom-printed. We can even burn CDs. So packing can be as colorful and complex as the client’s imagination.
Debbie: So there’s more to pick-and-pack than you might think at first, isn’t there?
Sharon: There is. And that’s why technology and people are so important in making sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes. Which is what I want to touch on next.
Debbie: Yes, and we’ll pick up with those in part two of this post. In the meantime, our readers can get a behind-the-scenes look at one of our distribution centers by watching this video tour.
To continue on to part two of my conversation with Sharon Moore about pick and pack fulfillment,