Managing e-commerce operations at a warehouse dedicated to one of the largest U.S. retailers
September 4, 2018
Supply chain management is inherently complex. Cultivating skilled warehouse facility teams and implementing proven processes is critical. But maintaining safety standards, developing skills and continually streamlining operations is just part of the equation. Creating a great place to work and nurturing talent is just as important to compete for a valuable workforce.
Working with an experienced third-party logistics (3PL) provider is an effective way to ensure you have the right teams in place and that your operations run smoothly. 3PLs work as extensions of your business and your brand, ensuring customers receive their online orders quickly and in a way that leaves a positive brand impression. It’s a critical piece of your business which has a major impact on your customer satisfaction.
We interviewed Jan Kauffman, general manager of one of our largest warehouses which we operate for a major North American retailer, to learn more about what it takes to manage this e-commerce operation.
What is the purpose of this facility and what makes it unique?
JK: This facility is solely dedicated to one major retailer’s e-commerce business. Our work here is critical to their business because the quality of our work has a direct impact on their brand. Our fast, reliable order processing and delivery has become a brand differentiator for our customer and is a reason their customers continue to shop on their website. Their customers know they can rely on this brand to deliver their items quickly, accurately and in good condition. We are the engine making all of that possible.
In this building, we stock a wide range of products including apparel, household goods, toys and baby products and some non-perishable food as well. Due to the demands of e-commerce and the need to fulfill orders around the clock, our operation is active seven days a week, 22 hours a day, 364 days a year. We only pause operations for a few hours in the early hours of the morning for regular equipment maintenance, and the only day we close operations for an entire day is Christmas Day. We also have an additional shift to best support the retailer’s needs, since their order volume remains at a consistently high level throughout the day and evening.
Can you explain how this warehouse is organized? What volume of products are handled here?
JK: To give you a sense of size, about eight warehouse club stores1 or the volume of 17 Olympic-sized pools2 could fit inside this single facility. We are running a combination of automated and manual processes with support from two integrated software systems. Our conveyor system is over four miles long and a total of 22 trucks can be parked in our inbound and outbound docks at once. We have hundreds of product types strategically distributed across over 600 locations within our multi-level picking modules. Our engineers are continually modifying the arrangement for optimal speed. We work simultaneously on both the shipping and receiving ends to move thousands of packages per hour.
Walk us through a typical day at this facility.
JK: I lead a supervisor start-up meeting beginning at 7am each day. During this meeting we’ll review the previous day’s operations, our current strengths and talk about the opportunities we have for the coming day. We discuss teammate engagement and focus heavily on safety, our core value. Then each supervisor has a separate start-up meeting with their department before operations start up around 7:30am. The building doesn’t shut down again until 4:30 in the morning. The crossover shifts are important for keeping operations running smoothly and consistently during high-volume times of the day and night. The inbound and outbound operations are distinct and run simultaneously throughout operating hours.
In addition to our standard operations, we also prioritize teammate communication and celebrations. We have several meetings throughout the week, both in English and Spanish, to avoid gaps in communication among teams. We also have monthly birthday celebrations to show appreciation for our teammates and regularly hold roundtable meetings. The roundtables provide an opportunity to listen to and address any challenges and suggestions for improving the environment and experience here.
Tell me about the teams and skills involved in running the operations here.
JK: The size of our team fluctuates according to seasonal demands. During peak times, we have over 3,000 teammates. We strive to cross-train everyone to offer both variety in daily responsibilities while also offering opportunity to advance to permanent and management roles. We look for individuals who enjoy being part of a team, are customer service driven and take pride in their work. In addition to the large operations teams on the floor, we also have a number of operations planners, equipment and system engineers, human resources, finance, safety and security teammates on-site to support the overall operations. Above all, positive team work is the quality I see demonstrated here every day and is the key factor in our ongoing success.
What is the most challenging and most rewarding part of keeping this operation running smoothly?
JK: The sheer size and volume of operations here is our daily challenge and also my greatest source of pride. Our supervisors here are responsible for up to 40 teammates daily. It’s not an easy responsibility to manage every day. They stay organized, keep communication high on the floor, and ask for support when necessary.
It’s rewarding to walk out of here each day knowing that such a large operation like this is still able to hit our internal goals while also satisfying and contributing to the success of our external customer.
Our team here at FedEx Supply Chain is committed to supporting the success of our customers. We have been recognized in the industry for our extensive experience in warehouse design, process management, order fulfillment and reverse logistics. Connect with us today to learn more about our solutions or visit our careers page for open opportunities to join our team.