If you handle furniture — or any large or oversized items that come with increased shipping costs — the normally ho-hum affair of receiving, storing and shipping warehouse inventory can take on a shade or two of added complexity.
That’s because furniture and other bulky, heavy types of products usually require additional care, safety protocols, and sometimes even extra personnel to move around your warehouse in a safe manner. Let’s examine some straightforward yet critical best practices for handling furniture shipments in your warehouse.
Good space allocation
Every decision behind a warehouse design is a dance between maximizing efficiency and keeping operations as safe as possible. Spacing is a critical factor to this balance, and it plays a central role in handling large, heavy inventory.
There are four principal areas of your warehouse where proper space allocation will directly impact your operational abilities to handle heavy and large goods:
In the receiving and shipping sections of your warehouse, is there adequate space for an item such as a fully-assembled piece such as a couch or armoire to be unloaded in large quantities? If most of the furniture components come separated in flat-pack boxes, you won’t need quite as much space. But regardless of the finished or unfinished state of the furniture you handle, don’t forget about equipment such as forklifts and conveyor belts that will need to maneuver around the receiving area.
The aisles of your warehouse should be spaced so that the widest and biggest pieces can easily and safely pass through without bumping into shelving. If space is at a premium in your warehouse, consider designating certain areas to be passable for high-width pieces, so that you can conserve spacing for storing and handling smaller pieces.
Shelving units need to be assembled and placed with the maximum dimensions of what they may store in mind. For larger, heavier pieces, it often makes the most sense to store them at the base of a shelving unit, with lighter and smaller pieces on the shelving above to comply with weight capacity ratings. Wherever you store furniture, there needs to be ample clearance on all sides — especially above — to ensure that it can be accessed with ease.
Have adequate equipment and training
The confines of a warehouse are no place for undercutting best safety and training protocols. When handling furniture, your personnel must face the unique challenge of lifting heavy, cumbersome and potentially fragile objects while surrounded by many other moving vehicles and people. That’s why the combination of proper training and equipment is essential to handling furniture shipments.
For especially large inventory, we find that non-motorized roller belts work best; they don’t have engines that could be overwhelmed in the process of moving inventory, and they can usually expand, contract, or be moved around in modular fashion to adapt to whatever inventory happens to be in the inbound or outbound section of our warehouse.
Generally speaking, the heavier the object, the less automation and motorization you’ll want to deploy. Right now, robotic arms and similar technology don’t seem to have the value, nor the physical capacity, to handle heavier and bulkier items.
Learning how to safely and securely handle large, heavy items requires additional training for your warehouse picking and packing staff. It’s a lot simpler to handle t shirts or smartphone cases than it is a solid oak end table or flat pack office furniture.
For larger, heavier inventory, using a buddy system to keep everyone — including the inventory itself — safe is usually a good idea. Learning how to use equipment, whether it’s a forklift or safety straps, is also essential before letting a new employee loose on the warehouse floor. There are numerous other warehouse best practices worth training to all new hires, and it’s not a bad idea to have your veteran employees go through reorientation every so often to make sure their skills and know-how are fresh.
Be smart about packaging and fulfillment
Having an intelligently-designed warehouse, adequate safety equipment, and knowledgeable staff on hand are essential to handling inventory. But there’s one other segment of warehouse management that’s worth considering: fulfillment. This is a rather broad category of operations, and extends to everything from packaging systems to warehouse locations.
Product Storage and Packaging
Product packaging is critical both as a branding technique but also from a product safety perspective. Using the right materials, like double-corrugated cardboard, bubble wrap, and foam inserts are essential for minimizing damage both inside your warehouse and once that product exits your warehouse en route to a customer’s home.
When it comes to handling furniture, the packaging must prevent breakage as well as damage of the more aesthetic variety. Sensitive materials such as fabric upholstery or powder-coated aluminum frames should be sheathed in waterproof and scratch-resistant packaging to prevent nicks, bending, tearing, and water damage during transit.
In the warehouse, an extension of the product’s packaging is oftentimes the pallet. You’ll want to ensure that the pallet you use is properly rated for the weight and stress of carrying furniture, particularly if it’s unassembled and still tightly packed in boxes.
Fulfillment, or the process of preparing orders for shipment, is something that every retailer must deal with. The unique challenge of fulfilling furniture is that shipping tends to be a significant cost because of the size and weight of the product.
You’ll want to be mindful of the package dimensions you ship furniture out of — a critical reason for why flat-packing is so popular is because it is one of the most efficient methods for shipping anything. Shipping carriers factor in what is known as dimensional weight when they calculate the cost of shipping.
Lastly, the distance of shipping is a tremendous cost multiplier. That’s why many companies have multiple warehouse locations — say, a fulfillment center in California and one on the East Coast — to be as close to as many of their customers as possible.
The process of creating a better environment for more effective furniture handling extends across all facets of your warehouse. When you implement these best practices, you not only set the stage for a safer workplace but a more efficient one as well.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.