RECEIVING: Getting the goods in faster

Advanced notice and planning can streamline the receiving process

Catalogers constantly trying to deliver packages faster to customers often give short shrift to the importance of receiving inbound shipments. But if you can’t get goods into the warehouse in a timely, organized fashion, you won’t be able to ship orders out quickly. Fortunately, streamlining the process by which you unload and log in product shipments can be relatively simple – and it can cut labor costs and increase productivity.

For example, in October outdoor gear cataloger U.S. Cavalry launched an advance shipping notification (ASN) program with its vendors: Using the telephone, the fax, e-mail, or the Web, the vendors alert the cataloger of the exact counts and quantities of the shipments they are dispatching. Radcliffe, KY-based U.S. Cavalry can then set aside the space, time, and labor to unload and put away goods. “You can clear a staging area in the warehouse in advance, and you’ll know how much labor to devote to putaway,” says Ron Miller, the cataloger’s vice president of operations.

Thanks to the advance warning regarding shipments, this holiday season U.S. Cavalry didn’t need to add seasonal workers in receiving (typically it adds four people). But while U.S. Cavalry’s labor costs shrank, Miller estimates that productivity increased 35%-40%. “Before it took 10 man-hours to move $30,000 worth of product,” Miller says. “Now it takes only six.”

The ASN system also enables the cataloger to assign enough staff in the receiving department to check that the shipments of vests, boots, and tactical gear that it sells to the federal government meet military specifications. “If a shipment comes in that’s not to military specifications, the government won’t pay for the merchandise, and we might be stuck with an $800,000 order,” Miller says.

Of course, it’s not enough to schedule receiving staff efficiently. You must also have a place to check in the goods efficiently. This may sound like a no-brainer, but Kenneth B. Ackerman, a warehouse consultant based in Columbus, OH, says that many catalogers lack a staging area to use for logging in merchandise. Often shipments are received wherever a forklift operator can find space inside the warehouse.

Professional Cutlery Direct, a $4.9 million North Branford, CT-based cooking products cataloger, has a staging area set up to receive goods. There, a warehouse manager checks incoming products against the purchase order, which is then barcoded into the cataloger’s proprietary inventory system, says founder/CEO Terri S. Alpert. “If you don’t do receiving right,” she says, “everything else down the line fails.”

And it’s important to keep the line going, whether you’re sending out a backorder to a customer or simply restocking shelves, Alpert says. “If you can optimize your inbound receiving procedures to get merchandise out faster, that’s a big benefit to customers.”

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