How to select a WMS for a growing business
Congratulations. If you’re reading this article, you are a growing, thriving business. That’s hard to do, especially as you look at taking things to the next level.
During the growth stage, a warehouse or the system it’s running can hold you back. It might have too many manual processes, not enough space, or just can’t expand to hold the number of SKUs and different product combinations you offer.
To help you discover a smart WMS growth strategy, we’ve put together this quick guide that will touch on:
- The right questions to ask first
- Core elements of a useful WMS
- Functionality must-haves
- And the conversation you need to have with any potential vendor
Start with you, not the WMS
You want to find a scalable WMS because it protects your bottom line today and tomorrow. While the gut reaction is often to dive into lists of features and users and more (and we’ll get there in just a moment), it is best to start with a little internal reflection.
Here are a few of the most important questions to answer to get you thinking about the space and support you could require from your WMS as well as your warehouse in general:
- How much business did you do last week?
- How did that compare to six months and a year ago?
- What do you have the capacity to fit before you need to change locations or add another warehouse?
- What’s the big feature that caused you to look for a scalable WMS?
Focus on your company’s specifics and create a list of needs so that you’re ready to make the most of the RFP process.
Six things to keep in mind
ExploreWMS keeps a thorough list of selection tips to help you find the best WMS for your needs. Your focus on WMS features that support SMB growth helps us narrow down that list a bit. To keep things from getting a little overwhelming, start your journey by keeping these things in mind.
Above all else, make sure a WMS has the training and simplicity you need to make it usable. For the scalable WMS, usability means making tasks easier to complete. This also includes support for the number of people you want to have access to the platform at the same time.
A shiny new WMS might come with big infrastructure demands. Consider cloud options if you don’t have much already installed. If you have existing hardware, ask vendors if it will be supported.
Do you operate in any niches or have unusual requirements for your goods? Look for a company that prioritizes these. Starting with industry knowledge can limit concerns or errors around cold storage, bulk items, kiting, and much more.
You’re going to hear a lot of promises in the RFP process. Think of selecting your software in the same way that you hire someone: ask for proof and references to back up those important things.
5. Hidden costs
Every WMS comes with costs you aren’t thinking about right now. A growing company WMS might have even more down the road. Ask for a full accounting of expenses, including training, support, software, updates, and much more.
Manual processes can be business killers. They make it easier for mistakes to happen, they can slow down your operations, and they require a larger workforce as you scale. At the top of the requirements of WMS features for SMB growth is the ability for the system to automate tasks and reporting so that you can focus on service and production.
Those six elements are a good spread to get the brain juices flowing about all of the things to ask for and expect during the WMS RFP process.
A WMS for growth is a very purpose-driven selection process. Your goal is to map out the problems you want to solve with a WMS and choose features designed specifically to address those concerns. Outside of the specifics, there are core capabilities to ensure that you have for proper WMS growth. Consider these alongside your budget:
This is your core functionality. Picking gives your workers their orders and fulfillment options. You’ll need something that addresses your business model specifically, including scanners and other devices you use. Handheld or mobile device support is preferable because warehouses adopt these as they grow larger. Also, for growth, consider a WMS that can adapt to different warehouse layouts or locations in case you need a change.
Receiving goods from your partners as well as returns from your customers is made easy when the WMS tracks the inventory and flags issues or delays. Returns management is among the most crucial features as is the ability to break down goods into smaller units for inventory management.
In the world of the warehouse, managing your inventory is more than just knowing how many items you have. That said, automated cycle counts through a WMS and continuous updates as people pick items are a wonderful thing. What you also will enjoy are metrics and dashboards helping you better allocate space.
A warehouse is a dynamic place, so the WMS growth choice needs to be dynamic too. Advanced controls help you automate a variety of manual processes and make operations run more smoothly. Some of the bigger options include workforce management tools, tracking goods as they move throughout your warehouse, and cross-docking to support just-in-time manufacturing that is becoming more common.
Your industry and products have certain characteristics and warehouse activities that are common. A growing ecommerce and B2C play will slowly see return volumes increase as orders increase. Complex production systems can use a little help managing exceptions. If you’ve grown to have multiple locations and warehouses, you’ll want a system that can fill orders across every location. Or, if you’re in a special space, you might need a WMS that ensures you’re sticking to best practices for handling toxic materials.
Get vendors to help you assess for scalability
The discussion on WMS growth is all about scaling to meet current and future needs. No checklist will be able to help you with scaling after implementation. That discussion should start beforehand and start with your vendors.
During the RFP process, request demos and information on how the WMS that you’re considering can scale. You want hard data, limitations, installation requirements, and costs. Some may increase your spending based on users, while others may have a whole new set of expenses for each location.
Have multiple discussions with vendors on your shortlist, and if you see something you like from one vendor, ask about that feature from others. The more data you collect at the beginning, the more likely you are to make a smart WMS growth selection.
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