A facility tour is a critical first step in the process of evaluating a possible fulfillment partner. “When you come down to it, there’s no substitute for putting your eyes on the facility and process. You can look at flowcharts and PowerPoint decks, but you need to see it all in action,” says Mark Pulford, Director of Sales at FIDELITONE. “In my opinion, a tour should be at the beginning of the evaluation process,” says Mark.
Not all warehouses are fulfillment centers. Not all fulfillment centers are appropriate for every business. It’s important to find out if a partner’s facility aligns with the needs of your brand. Going on a tour allows you to see if a partner’s capabilities are a reality, in addition to giving a peek at the culture of the organization.
Mark Pulford and Shawn Tucker, General Manager of FIDELITONE’s Chandler, AZ fulfillment center discuss how you can get the most out of a facility tour - whether in-person or virtually.
These answers will shape whether or not a partner’s facility is compatible with your business.
“We want to make sure we show you the right process - i.e. pick, pack, and ship. Make sure the partner you work with understands your type of business,” says Mark. If you have product bundling or kitting requirements, look for examples of similar programs within the fulfillment center.
Ask to be walked through the path of an order.
You should see the process from the moment your inventory arrives at the receiving dock to the time it leaves the warehouse. “Yesterday, we walked through the path of an order for a last mile client. We share where we receive your inbound inventory, where we store it, how the inventory hits our system, and how we track after it leaves the dock.
“For order fulfillment clients, we show orders on the pick line and how our system ensures your order is picked accurately. You get to see the entire process of how your order is handled in our warehouse until it gets on the truck,” says Mark.
Ask about capacity and flexibility.
Does the facility have enough capacity for your inventory and is there room to grow as your business needs change? Understand where and how your inventory will be stored at the fulfillment center. If your product will be located in multiple location in the warehouse, learn how the replenishment process works to ensure accuracy.
Also, if there is any seasonality or order fluctuations to your business, share that with the fulfillment provider and ask how that will manage their space and staff to accommodate those fluctuations. The better the planning and collaboration on business changes, the more successful a fulfillment provider will be to support your business.
One of the most crucial people to connect with during a tour is the team lead or supervisor. Shawn recommends that you have someone actually walk you through an order, so that you can see what the workers on the front line are doing.
Also meet with those who are relevant to your business and who understand the pain points you may have experienced in the past. Shawn recommends before taking the tour to think about and discuss your critical areas of need: “For example, if you’ve had inventory issues, we might introduce you to Sergio who manages cycle counting, and he can walk through how we manage inventory. It’s custom to the client’s needs.”
“We want to welcome you to come in to reception and say hi to some people then go through the process and meet people along the way that are most relevant to your particular pain points,” adds Mark.
Is cleanliness and organization a top priority?
When touring a warehouse, you should always be on the lookout for how clean and organized a facility is. Are there systems in place that all employees are expected to follow? “We point out the 5S scorecard when we do a tour. Everyone owns a part of the warehouse and they’re rated on it each week. The floor should be swept and clean, but organization is important too. Loose palettes should be stacked. Everything should be in its home. We have a color-coded system and tape off areas with different colors so everything is where it belongs,” says Shawn.
How a fulfillment provider manages their warehouse is an indication of how they are going to manage your inventory. Strict inventory control practices ensure orders are fulfilled on-time and customers are happy.
If your inventory requires special certification or standards, you’ll want to make sure the facility adheres to those. For example, “Our Chandler, AZ facility is FDA registered so we spend time on a tour sharing our pest control practices and frequency, reviewing cleaning logs and pointing out striping around the building,” shares Shawn.
The placement of other products in a facility is another important consideration. You don’t want to put a stack of tires next to health and wellness goods that people consume. If you ship food or health products, we will house your products in a facility that caters to that. You may not want to work with a warehouse that ships dog food.
“We have clients with inventory that has to be segregated from anything that could compromise its organic nature. If you have nonperishable food, for example, it’s important to know that up front,” says Mark.
Safety, professionalism, and security
“On every tour, we start off with the basics and specs of the facility. We have a camera on every exit and we contract security personnel in some locations,” says Shawn.
Mark adds, “You want to ask questions about perimeter access and access to the facility. How is that access monitored?”
Ask about pre-employment screening. “Even if we bring in a temp worker, everyone goes through a background check and screening before they step foot in the building,” says Shawn. You may also get a chance to interact with the employees during the tour, and you’ll be able to experience firsthand their professionalism level. Some companies enact a dress code - at FIDELITONE, we all wear uniforms for added professionalism.
But you also want to make sure that everyone in the warehouse is taking safety seriously. Ask about safety protocols and best practices. “We have a safety board with how many days we’ve gone without an accident. We show off practices we do to stay safe. There’s also a correlation between organization and safety,” says Shawn.
We believe that environmental responsibility is a business imperative and we put many sustainable practices in place. “Ask what they’re doing to ensure sustainability. When a forklift dies do they replace it with an electric one? Ask about recycling programs, sustainable packaging options and motion sensor lights,” says Shawn.
If sustainability is a priority for your business, learn how your fulfillment provider can help partner with you on this initiative.
Technology should power the process of physical activity in a warehouse.
“We show how our technology takes the human error out. We’ve invested in technology to make sure order accuracy is really high,” says Shawn. “It’s key to demonstrate how technology and people tie in together. Our people are well trained on the technology. Some companies have technology but don’t know how to use it.”
Besides order accuracy, a warehouse management system (WMS) is critical to efficiency and visibility. Learn how the system helps to create a cost-effective program for you and what data you can provide to increase that efficiency. Also, understand how you have visibility to the activity performed by the fulfillment provider. Online portals should provide access to inbound receipts, order status and inventory levels to keep you informed.
The process has changed with COVID-19 but a FIDELITONE virtual warehouse tour can work to your advantage.
FIDELITONE is considered an essential service provider and our team members are working hard to keep supply chains running smoothly. We have adjusted the workplace to limit personal contact and are regularly disinfecting any high traffic areas. At this time, we are offering virtual facility tours via video conferencing.
“We act as the customer’s eyes with a tablet during the tour. The option of a virtual tour can actually be an advantage because you can see the warehouse and company culture earlier in the process,” says Mark.
Although there’s no substitute for being able to physically see and experience a facility, a virtual tour can save valuable time and travel expenses.
“Part of our Path to Loyalty process includes a warehouse tour so a prospect understands how we will perform our services,” says Shawn. It’s important that your partner has processes in place that will advance your business.
Please contact our team with any questions or to schedule a virtual fulfillment center tour. Our supply chain experts are happy to consult with you on how to provide a solution to meet your specific needs.