Warehouse Manager
April 16, 2024

The Invisible Bottlenecks- How Hidden Warehouse Challenges Are Costing You

Published By

Denise Castillo

Warehouse managers in food distribution face a daily grind of keeping operations smooth while juggling efficiency, inventory accuracy, and compliance. Each day is a test of their ability to manage the unexpected, from last-minute order changes to equipment hiccups, all under the strict regulations that are fast approaching - i.e. FSMA 204.

In the warehouse world, challenges often hide in plain sight. It could be something as simple as the layout of the warehouse affecting the speed of order fulfillment or an unexpected delivery throwing off the schedule. These "invisible bottlenecks" might seem small, but they can slow down operations and affect the bottom line.

This article will dive into the most common “invisible bottlenecks” that we’ve witnessed after working with the industry’s leading food distributors, identify the bottlenecks, and offer insights into how to spot and fix them.

Invisible Bottleneck #1: Inventory Mismanagement

Mismanaging inventory is the first invisible bottleneck that we’ve seen. Many warehouse managers grapple with 3 common issues related to inventory mismanagement and, if not addressed, can cascade into bigger problems.

Underestimating the Amount of Cycle Counts to Complete

Not completing frequent cycle counts can lead to discrepancies between actual stock and inventory records. The more frequent the cycle counts, the more reliable the inventory data, ensuring that orders are fulfilled accurately, and stock levels are maintained.

Our Recommendation
Warehouse managers should establish regular cycle counting schedules that are adhered to without fail, ensuring that inventory accuracy is maintained, and discrepancies are addressed promptly. We recommend completing cycle counts daily. Anything less can lead to discrepancies.

Poor Warehouse Layouts or Storage Practices

Damages also pose a significant challenge when managing inventory, especially when warehouse layouts or storage practices aren't optimized. Overstocking slots or improper item placement can lead to increased damages, affecting order fulfillment and leading to potential losses and customer dissatisfaction.

Our Recommendation
Reviewing and optimizing the warehouse layout for efficient movement and storage will ensure that products are stored correctly. Utilizing food-specific WMS tools that are rooted in decades of best-practice workflows can help warehouse managers optimize their warehouse layouts to help reduce the risk of damage and improve operational efficiency.

Warehouse Staff Skips Scanning Steps

Exception reporting is another critical area. When warehouse staff repeatedly skip scanning steps or improperly log inventory movements, it creates inaccuracies in the inventory system. These errors can result in mispicks, further complicating inventory management and affecting overall warehouse efficiency.

Our Recommendation
Implement stringent scanning protocols and train staff on the importance of accurate inventory logging. This can help minimize these errors. Additionally, using a food-specific WMS that provides real-time data and alerts for skipped scans or inventory discrepancies can significantly improve accuracy and accountability.

In food distribution, managing perishable goods requires diligent attention to details, like expiry dates and storage conditions. Frequent cycle counts and proper layout and storage practices are crucial for maintaining product integrity and ensuring food safety, critical components of a warehouse manager’s responsibilities.

Invisible Bottleneck #2: Resource Management and Optimization

We’ve also found that warehouse managers can often encounter hidden challenges that disrupt the balance of labor, space, and time. All of which affect the operational efficiency of the business. Those are:

Limited Real-Time Data

Managers might find themselves making decisions based on outdated or incomplete information, leading to misallocated resources and operational delays. For example, without current data, a sudden influx of orders could overwhelm the picking team, while other areas remain underutilized.

Solution: Improve Visibility to Enhance Resource Allocation

Implement a food-specific WMS that provides real-time visibility into warehouse operations. The platform’s dashboards and analytics offer insights into every corner of the warehouse, helping managers identify where labor and space are needed most.

Especially in food distribution, where products have a limited shelf life, real-time data helps in making critical decisions on stock rotation, like FEFO (First Expired, First Out), to minimize waste and improve profitability.

Invisible Bottleneck #3: Not Preparing for FSMA 204 Compliance

FSMA 204 is on the horizon for food distribution warehouses, and with it comes the need for meticulous preparation to ensure compliance. Warehouse managers are facing the challenge of adapting their operations to meet these new regulations. That means understanding what FSMA 204 is and where to start.

Understanding FSMA 204's Impact

FSMA 204 aims to enhance the tracking and tracing of food products, ensuring that food distributors can quickly respond to contamination issues and recalls. The regulation will significantly affect how warehouses manage inventory, requiring more detailed tracking at every step of the supply chain. Managers need to understand the specifics of these regulations to prepare their operations for compliance. BFC is working closely with the FDA to ensure that our software is consistently up to date as the regulations get finalized.

Getting Started with FSMA 204

A bottleneck in preparing for FSMA 204 is the uncertainty surrounding its requirements. Many warehouse managers find themselves grappling with how to implement changes when the exact expectations of the regulation are still becoming clear. This uncertainty can lead to hesitation in making necessary adjustments to inventory tracking and management systems. So, if you’re feeling this way, you’re in luck because we pulled together a quick checklist to help:

Strategies for FSMA 204 Compliance Readiness

To navigate these challenges, warehouse managers should start by reviewing the available FSMA 204 guidelines and assessing how their current systems align with the anticipated requirements. Identifying gaps early on will allow for a more managed transition to compliance.

Here are some quick tips on how to prepare:

  • Review FSMA 204 Guidelines: Start with a comprehensive review of the existing FSMA 204 guidelines to understand the regulatory expectations. Assess current inventory and tracking systems against these guidelines to identify gaps.
  • Enhance Tracking Systems: Invest in advanced technology capable of detailed tracking and tracing, from lot-level to potentially item-level tracking, to meet the stringent requirements of FSMA 204. Ensure that the system can integrate seamlessly with existing warehouse operations to maintain efficiency.
  • Conduct Regular Audits: Implement regular audits of inventory management and traceability processes to ensure they align with FSMA 204 standards. Use audit results to make continuous improvements and address any compliance gaps well before the regulations fully take effect.
  • Train Staff on Compliance Requirements: Provide comprehensive training for warehouse staff on FSMA 204 requirements and the importance of precise inventory tracking and documentation. Foster a culture of compliance and accountability across all levels of warehouse operations.
  • Develop a Recall Readiness Plan: Prepare for potential recalls under FSMA 204 by developing a clear, actionable recall plan. Test the plan regularly to ensure rapid and effective response capabilities in case of a food safety issue.

Understanding FSMA 204 is crucial for food distributors to enhance traceability and ensure food safety. Detailed tracking and proactive planning are essential for managing the complexities of food distribution and preparing for potential recalls or contamination issues.

Invisible Bottleneck #4: Hiring and Retention

Hiring the right people and keeping them around is tough in the warehouse game. We've seen many managers struggle with staff retention. It’s not just about filling positions; it's about finding people who can handle the fast pace demands of food distribution. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. Pay Well and Offer Benefits: This one’s a no-brainer. Good pay and benefits attract better candidates and keep them around longer.
  2. Make It a Great Place to Work: People stay where they feel valued and part of a team. A positive workplace culture reduces turnover.
  3. Train and Develop: Offering career growth opportunities keeps employees motivated and invested in their jobs.
  4. Tech Tools that Make Work Easier: Using modern tech can make warehouse jobs less physically demanding and more efficient, which is a big plus for staff.
  5. Recognize Hard Work: Everyone likes a pat on the back. Recognizing employees’ efforts goes a long way in keeping morale high.

Future-Proofing Warehouse Operations

The only constant in warehouse management is change, and staying ahead means being ready to adapt to new technologies, regulations, and market conditions. Future-proofing isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a necessary strategy, and staying sharp means being ready for what’s next. Here’s how you can assess your standing while also getting ahead with a food-focused WMS.

  • Step 1: Pick a Warehouse Management System (WMS) that grows with you and is specifically designed for food. Make sure it’s one that gets regular updates to stay on top of industry changes. This way, you won’t be left behind as new tech rolls out. When interviewing different vendors, here are questions to ask:
  • Step 2: Evaluate your compliance and food safety. How does your WMS ensure compliance with food safety regulations, such as FSMA 204? Can your system track and manage expiry dates, batch numbers, and recall processes efficiently?
  • Step 3: Assess your inventory management practices. How does your WMS handle perishable inventory and manage first-expired-first-out (FEFO) or first-in-first-out (FIFO) stock rotation? Can your system provide real-time inventory visibility and alerts for stock nearing its expiration date?
  • Step 4: Review if your warehouse is ready for FSMA 204: Can your WMS track products at the lot, batch, or even item level from receipt through to shipping? How does the system facilitate rapid traceability audits and recall procedures? Is it ready to provide you with end-to-end traceability? 
  • Step 5: Is your WMS scaleable and customizable? Can your WMS accommodate your unique food industry needs, such as handling various packaging types or unit of measure conversions? Can the system scale up to handle increased volume without compromising performance?
  • Step 6: Do you have visibility into the performance of your business? What type of analytics and reporting capabilities does your WMS provide to aid in decision-making for food distribution operations?
  • Step 7: Could your WMS have a better user experience? How user-friendly is your WMS, especially for staff on the warehouse floor, and does it support mobile devices for on-the-go management?
  • Step 8: Does your WMS provide extensive support and training? What type of ongoing support and training do you offer to ensure successful implementation and utilization of the WMS in a food distribution environment?

As the industry continues to evolve, staying informed, adaptable, and proactive is key to success. By addressing these invisible bottlenecks head-on and leveraging technology specifically designed for the food distribution sector, warehouse managers can not only streamline their operations but also set the stage for future success.

For more insights and practical advice on transforming warehouse management, don't miss our next article: "Transforming Warehouse Management: Best Practice Workflows for Food Distributors." Dive in to discover how to implement best practices that drive efficiency, accuracy, and compliance in the ever-demanding world of food distribution.