This clean and orderly warehouse belongs to Western Water Works Supply, Chino Hills, CA.

In my line of work I visit all sorts of different companies every month. These companies do everything from manufacturing, food, banking, textiles and of course, PVF distribution.

In many of these operations I am often impressed with the front office. The conference rooms are well appointed, the sales guys are equipped with smart looking Palms, Treos, Blackberries and the like. The brochures are slick, the Web sites are informative and user friendly. The customer databases are comprehensive and detailed - these companies know order patterns, volumes and the product preferences for the top customers. They know in an instant if the spending of a loyal customer has dropped off in the last few weeks.

And then I visit the warehouse. Egad! For a moment it seems as though I have fallen into a time machine and popped out in some 19th century Dickensian horror. I fully expect to see Bob Cratchit appear at any moment, asking for more coal.

Too many of these warehouses are poorly lit and dirty. Boxes of materials (and materials not in boxes) are cluttering up the aisles. Returned materials are shoved into corners or on top of other materials. (I ask myself: so how many defective parts actually get restocked by accident?). Overstock material is stuck anywhere there’s space (meaning the stuff is stored - no, actually scattered all over the warehouse!).  Partial filled orders are clogging up the shipping area.

I know, I know - PVF isn’t Austrian crystal. And you aren’t running Tiffany’s.  The material is not delicate or perishable. It doesn’t need to be handled with extreme care and besides, the customer never sees the warehouse. Still, a clean, well-lit, well-organized warehouse is going to eliminate all sorts of problems you may currently think are inevitable, just part of doing PVF business.

  • Well-lit / Clean: Let’s start with the obvious. It is one hell of a lot easier to find a part if you can read the label on the shelf or see it. It is also easy to distinguish between similar parts when the place is brightly lit and the parts are clean. By the same token, it is easier to see that a part is defective in a clean, well-lit place. Now here’s a tough one. Ask yourself: Ever wonder if the customer would prefer to receive a clean part or a dirty part?

  • Cluttered up aisles / clogged shipping area: One word: safety. Oh alright, a few more words. You want your warehouse guys to be able to get around the entire warehouse to access all racks and shelves with both speed and ease. A shipping area filled with partial orders is an incorrect order waiting to happen.
    • One of those partial orders is actually going to make it onto a truck and get delivered in its partial state.
    • The back-ordered item is going to get added to that wrong partial order.
    • That partial order can just sit and sit on the floor, getting kicked around and shoved under who knows what. They get lost. There’s no follow up.
    • Someone spies a part they need for an order sitting on the floor (as part of a partial order) and they snag it, leaving the partial order a little more partial than you thought.

  • Workers: This clean and orderly business goes for your guys, too. I am not the fashion police, and I certainly realize the average distribution house isn’t the Ritz. But it is a good idea to have all warehouse workers wear clean shirts (with company logo), non-ripped pants (preferably worn at the waist, not 12 inches below) and not have a lot of extra paraphernalia hanging off of them (think safety again).

    All of this makes an important statement. We are professionals. Our workers are professionals. We handle our materials with care. We handle your order with care. We are proud of our warehouse guys and our warehouse.

    If inventory is the lifeblood of your PVF business, think of the warehouse as the circulatory system:  the heart, arteries, and veins. Your warehouse is the core of what you do - it should be customer-tour ready at all times.