You may keep all your stock in a small closet, or you might have a large stockroom or even a whole warehouse. But even the biggest, most state-of-the art warehouse won't do any good for your business if it's set up improperly, hard to use, or disorganised.
In fact, not only do poor warehouse practices not help—they often hurt. 'During the busy season, there’s no margin for error,' says Ryan Michel at Defense Pest Control, a pest control company based out of Mesa, AZ, serving the greater East Valley. 'If you run out of a product you need, you can’t just swing by the office for more...your fleet is out on the road, and it can disrupt a number of customers’ schedules and shake their trust when you make a mistake like that.'
Here, we have expert advice on how to create a stockroom that works, how to organise it for the greatest efficiency, and how to keep it organised when parts are coming and going, so you can reap all the benefits of the right stock system for your business. (Need more? We created a set of free stock management spreadsheets just for you; this simple tool is a big improvement over paper-based systems—or no system at all.)
Many of the tips we uncovered in our research come from the retail industry; these businesses tend to be the most forward-thinking in their stockroom solutions since all retail stores have a stockroom. Their insights translate perfectly for HVAC, plumbing, electrical, pest control, property management, and other field service businesses.
How should I organise my stockroom?
These are the experts' top tips for keeping your stockroom organised and efficient.
- Talk to suppliers and other local businesses to figure out what storage solutions will work best for your situation.
- Buy racking that uses all your vertical space, even if you don't need it right now.
- Label your shelves and bins clearly.
- Make your most popular stock the most easily accessible.
- Adapt your shelving to the stock to make the best use of your space.
- Put heavy items down low and lighter items high up.
- Do regular clean-ups of your stockroom (and even make it pretty!).
- Train your engineers in how to use your stock organisation system.
Now, let's do a deep dive on each of these to ensure you create the perfect stockroom for your business.
Think outside the shelves.
Of course you'll want shelving in your storeroom, but there's a lot more to stock storage than you might think. You'll find many, many affordable storage solutions from businesses like Shopfitting Warehouse, The Shelving Shop, and BiGDUG—but choosing one can be a nightmare if you haven't done it before. Do you want wall-mounted or freestanding racking? What kinds of bins should you store your stock in? Do you need accessories like corner protectors?
Talking with racking suppliers, other field service businesses, and fellow business owners in industry forums and on social media can help you get a handle on what you need. You may even score a deal: 'Right now we have metal shelving units that we picked up from another pest control company that was buying new ones," says Michel.
Go up, not just out.
Even if you feel you'll have enough space on short shelving systems for all the parts and supplies you need, get the tallest system you can fit into the space, suggests an article on the Action Storage blog. Small businesses especially neglect to use all the space they have, and are left scrambling for solutions when they go through a sudden growth spurt and don't have enough storage for all the new stock they need.
Replacing short storage shelves with taller ones later on can be a huge waste of money, so be sure to take advantage of all that valuable space as you're creating or reorganising your stockroom.
Label stock clearly.
Your engineers need to know where the parts they need are stored, and what stock each shelf and bin holds. That's why clear labeling is key. (If you use a digital stock management system you may rely on barcodes, but your engineers, not being machines, cannot read them.)
Michel uses a label maker to identify which shelves hold which materials, and also leaves the original labeling on products so his technicians know what they're grabbing. Clearly Inventory has a nice article on how to create labels that work, how to adhere them so they stay in place, and how to label racks that move.
Get the best up front.
Retail businesses know it's key to have the most popular stock in the easiest-to-reach places so that employees can grab what they need and get back out on the floor, reports the Vend blog. It's the same for field service businesses: Figure out what parts are needed for your most common repairs and installations, and make sure they're easily accessible for your busy engineers.
Adapt the space to the stock.
In an article on maximising storage space in your stockroom, SmallBusiness.co.uk offers this example of how much more efficient your stockroom can be if you adapt the shelving to the stock you have:
'Imagine your stockroom contains a shelving unit with five shelves, each with a height of 40cm for a total height of 200cm. In other areas you are storing 20cm high boxes, which works perfectly, but in this case you are hoping to store 30cm high boxes. If you decide to keep the same shelving configuration, you will be losing 10cm for every shelf, resulting in only 80 per cent space utilisation. A simple reconfiguration to 30cm shelf heights would increase your utilisation to 90 per cent.'
The lesson here: Don't just pile bins haphazardly onto your stockroom shelves. Instead, adjust the shelving as needed to make the best use of your space, and you'll be able to fit more stock and make it more easily accessible.
Light high, heavy low.
Keep heavy stock on or close to the ground, and lighter stock higher up on shelves. This will keep the racking from toppling over, and will also make it easier for your engineers to get the stock they need without hurting themselves.
Keep it nice.
QA Education Magazine recommends doing a regular clean-out of your stockroom—and, if your stockroom is big enough, adding plants and painting the walls an attractive color to make it a more pleasant place to be. You never know what old or 'missing' stock you'll find during a clean-up, and you can also clear out outdated parts you're no longer using to make way for newer stock.For more help, check out QA Education Magazine's list of stockroom cleaning tasks.
Clean-up time is also a good time to do inventory. If you're doing a physical inventory count, the Vend blog offers some tips on how to do it; again, the tips are for retail stores but they translate easily to a field service stockroom.
Train your engineers.
No matter what solution you use for organising your stock, be sure to train your engineers in how to use it—and in using it consistently—otherwise your perfectly laid-out stockroom will soon become a disorganised mess. The easier your stockroom system is to use, the more your engineers will comply with it, so the advice here for keeping your stockroom organised and easy to use can help with that.
To help create an effective stockroom training program for engineers, Life Cycle Engineering suggests 'getting a new set of eyes to look at a current situation and ask why you do things this way'. For example, bring in a new engineer or someone who hasn't used your stockroom before and ask them what their impressions are and what questions they have on your stockroom organisation. Then you can build your training around the most common stockroom-related problems and questions.
Follow this advice and you should soon have a stockroom that works perfectly for your field service business. And if you don't, here's a final insight from Michel: 'Don’t worry if you don’t get it right on the first try. Adapt to what works best for your company.'
If you're ready to improve your stock management—but not quite ready to invest in a software solution—we have something that can help: A set of free stock management spreadsheets that's simple to use, but loads better than a paper-based system (or no system at all). Just click the banner below to get your free spreadsheets now.