How to Take Advantage of Your Midsize Operation’s Flexibility

By direct marketing standards, most of the companies dubbed “midsize” in AberdeenGroup’s recent report on mid-market firms’ fulfillment strategies would be classified as huge. The report, a survey of 144 companies from the U.S., U.K., Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region, focuses on businesses with revenue of $50 million to $999 million. By virtue of their “smaller” size, these enterprises are apparently blessed with more flexible and agile warehousing and transport networks—a major advantage over the large but lumbering competition.

For the catalog company with ten employees, Aberdeen’s recommended process optimization steps may not seem relevant. But some guidelines apply to just about any size of organization. The best of these follow:

Don’t oversimplify your processes. Midsize companies often mistakenly believe that they can get away with simple fulfillment techniques. These can damage flexibility and force costly systems re-engineering later on.

Hone your fulfillment strategy. Is the corporate goal to achieve the minimum possible in fulfillment? You might be better off outsourcing it. Is the objective to offer highly efficient, customer-focused fulfillment? Then you have no option but to invest in labor and transportation management technology.

Establish a foundation for productivity and flexibility. This means putting in place inventory and order accuracy, compliance basics, documentation capabilities, shipping efficiencies, and other essential warehouse improvements. In most cases, you’ll need to replace manual processes with automation.

Look outside the four walls. Fulfillment extends beyond the warehouse doors. Consider online dock scheduling, yard management, and cross docking. Are there ways drivers can move in and out of your facilities faster?

Integrate information and align actions across departments. Move all information online so other parts of your operation can coordinate transport requirements and shipping schedules.

Invest in continuous improvement. Maintain ongoing systems to minimize travel time, make maximum use of space, and enhance productivity.

Enlist the help of your suppliers and customers. Can suppliers perform some logistics tasks for you? What value-added services do your customers require? How can you work with them to lower their costs?

Rev up your transport planning velocity. This involves near-real time or continuous planning—as well as picking process changes—to insert new orders into established plans and meet customer demand for fast shipping.

Rethink process interactions. What warehouse and transport processes can you streamline? For example, using delivery date windows effectively can help you consolidate shipments and generate savings.

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