It’s the beginning of August, those lovely dog days of summer, it’s hot, it’s slow at work and folks are away on vacations. However this is not the time to kick back and relax since before you know it, the seasonal rush for goods and services will be upon you and your warehouse will be fully engaged as the home entertaining season begins with Halloween and then right on through Thanksgiving to Christmas and the New Year. Will you be ready to handle those peak season orders? Chances are if you don’t already have a plan or working on one right now you may not be prepared to keep those service levels your customers are expecting.
When business peaks you will be challenged by staffing issues, storage space limitations, increased number of orders to process, increased demands on equipment usage all while maintaining worker safety and sanitation standards. It sounds like a lot to deal with but this all can be handled expertly and professionally. First let’s break this down into steps and examine each one more closely.
STEP I – STAFFING
This is when having established a great rapport with your sales and marketing departments comes in handy. You can always get a good idea on the projections of units to be sold or manufactured during the peak season from them. Also find out what seasonal products will be available during this period and the duration, what other pricing specials and the anticipated movement as well as any other promos or combination promos or brand new items. Some customers like and are offered to buy mixed pallets of goods for promotions. A great example for around the holidays would be a promotion with a mixed pallet of light brown, dark brown and powered sugars, or in the summer a mix of catsup, mustard and pickle relish. This is important since you’ll need to plan on labor to build the projected number of pallets needed. If you’re not on a sales/marketing distribution list just ask to be added.
Now you can begin to determine your staffing needs and whether you may be able to handle the seasonal rush by going with your current staffing level and working extra hours or shifts. This is not a bad solution but be careful not to push people to far as increased work hours can lead to fatigue and an increased number of accidents. Another issue to consider if you do go this route is the tendency to sacrifice housekeeping and sanitation when it gets busy. Don’t allow it to happen since it’ll become another thorn as again the incident of accidents can increase due to trips and falls. Also consider the increased hours of usage on the equipment and the associated maintenance and charging times. Nothing worse than people standing around because the equipment is down or charging.
However, if you decide you do need additional staffing, first determine what jobs are they going to do? Picking orders, packaging, replenishments, sweep? Speak to your regular staff and get their input on where help would be most beneficial. How much training do you want to do and how. What skill level do you want in the workers? Using a temporary employment agency to place seasonal employees will greatly help with staffing but don’t put all your eggs in one basket and work with at least 2 different agencies. Get to know your representatives at the temp agency and invite them to a tour of your facility so they can see first hand the various kinds of jobs and working conditions. Make sure to give a very thorough job description along with percentages of bending, stooping, standing, and so on in a typical 8 hour day along with the estimated weights of items that will be handled. Also supply the temp agency a copy of your safety standards that all your employees get during orientation, and other policies on attendance, tardiness and any tools or equipment including PPE like steel toe shoes that are required. Also ask to see what kind of safety training they offer their temps. Some just show a video and some a video followed by a multiple choice question test. It’s not the greatest engaging safety training but you can build on what they offer. Think what kind of previous experience would make them attractable for you and will there be opportunity to offer them regular employee status at any point? Be sure to track any issues that may arise with temporary employees, their response on issues, turnover rate, quality of employee, attendance and did they deliver on the number of people you requested and were promised? You can use these items as a report card to measure that agencies performance and justify whether you want to continue doing business or not.
You can also make training easy by putting everything together now, while it’s slow season and practice on your staff and make sure to listen to their feedback. We’ll go deeper into training in a later step.
I’ve used both methods in dealing with seasonal peaks, separately and at times little of both. Just be prepared for everything and anything when using temporary employees. Even though most agencies do a fantastic job of screening applicant’s sometimes a real pill will get by. I came in one morning and a temp worker was immediately pointed out to me since he was taking an incredible amount of time picking one order. I pulled him aside and after speaking with him realized he was very inebriated and to my surprise he admitted it. I thanked him for being honest and politely declined his offer to have a snort. Since he had no car I sent him home in a cab with his bicycle in the trunk and billed the Agency for it.
Next installment STEP II – STORAGE