Better ways to pack it in

If you haven’t examined your packing processes in the past few years, chances are your methodologies could use some improvement. Below, a few packing tips that may help you cut errors and boost productivity in your operation.

* Eliminate the checkers. To cut down on the number of workers who handle the merchandise, some companies, such as New York-based cosmetics and toiletries marketer Avon Products, have their pickers verify the orders. Warehouse pickers had traditionally picked into a plastic or corrugated container called a tote, and sent the order to a checker for verification; the checker in turn passed the order on to a packer.

But having the pickers verify the items in an order speeds up the process, says Robert Silverman, president of Cleveland-based warehouse and design consultancy Gross & Associates, “and it reduces the likelihood of damage.”

* Keep the packing area well stocked. Running out of cardboard boxes and dunnage materials could obviously bring operations to a halt, so be sure to maintain ample supplies within reach of the packers.

Northampton, MA-based cataloger Motherwear, which sells products for nursing mothers, goes a step further when it comes to keeping items within reach of the packing area. Warehouse manager Lori Zapka says that the company also stores some of the larger products that don’t easily fit into totes, such as pillows and breast pumps, nearby for the packers, rather than the pickers, to retrieve.

* Preassemble when possible. At Phoenix-based foods cataloger Fairytale Brownies, the same person used to pick, gift-wrap, pack, and ship the package, says cofounder David Kravetz. “But now we’ve outgrown that method. During the holidays, we hire a person to preassemble our standard gift items,” which are later picked by a picker and sent to a packer. This method has allowed the cataloger to pack 30% more orders in the same amount of time, he says.

* Standardize packing practices. When an order comes through, your packer should know the correct size shipping container to use, how much packing material to use, and the most efficient packing method. Workers should be trained in every aspect of the packing process, from the placement of the items in the shipping carton to the way packing material is used.

Otherwise, “if you tell four workers to pack a box, chances are you’ll have four different packing methods,” says Bob Betke, vice president of Richmond, VA-based catalog fulfillment consultancy F. Curtis Barry & Co. And it’s unlikely that all four would be equally efficient or equally effective.-MDF

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