Do You Have the Totes to Promote Smart Growth?

Companies today grow at an amazingly fast rate. Ecommerce enables surges that can increase sales exponentially overnight. Funding rounds at companies can instigate rapid expansions into new warehouses and markets.

Finding fast solutions frequently overshadows good decisions. With warehouse space, procurement and inventory management getting all the attention, totes can get overlooked. But this is a mistake considering totes are integral to each of these functions as well as a company’s ability to grow. After all, the more product you sell, the more totes you need to store inventory.

Attached lid containers

Totes Are the One Essential Moving Part in Warehouse Operations

Ever-present and essential to operations, totes have a role in every phase of a growing company’s evolution.

Relying on quick fixes for storage and shelving or having the wrong totes in place has hidden costs. Having the right tote solutions in place delivers continuous benefits that impact operational efficiency and order fulfillment. 

Set Yourself up for Growth with These Tote-Related Tips

1. Think Ahead, Think Flexible

If you intend to grow, it makes sense to think hard about the totes that hold your future. When order volumes surge, you need totes to hold product. Make sure you have reserves that store efficiently by stacking into a stable pile that minimizes space. 

Consider stackable and nestable totes that slide together like cups to increase the number of totes you can stack. 

Also consider foldable, collapsible totes that can be flattened when not in use. Super space saving, these totes can be stacked on a pallet and stored efficiently out of the way. 

Warehouse Specialist (WSI) is an apparel and costume distributor that uses Flexcon hopper bins for picking. They ship flat and can be folded together when inventory swells in anticipation of holiday season or Halloween sales. Afterwards they can be unfolded, collapsed and put to the side until the next inventory spike.   

Smart companies look ahead to potential changes in operations that come with growth. Choose sizes and designs that will accommodate evolving picking processes and changing product lines. And if you’re planning high-speed automation in the future, use totes that will work with these systems.

2. Consider Cube Maximization

When real estate costs are high, you need to make the most of every cubic inch. Totes are everywhere in warehouses, they need to be an efficient size whether they are holding products, being picked into or being stored empty. With the wrong totes, businesses could waste 20% of a distribution center’s space. 

Cube maximization involves choosing totes that hold products and fit on shelves or conveyors without wasting space. 

There’s more to cube maximization than packing the most product into the space. Cube maximization is moot if it doesn’t organize product so it’s easy to find while keeping products safe and secure. A tote has to balance efficient picking and inventory management with how much space it takes up—including how much space it takes up when not in use.

3. Neat Is More Than a Nice to Have

Totes that are uniform and well organized in a storage area or warehouse can seem like a vanity—but they serve an important purpose. Order accuracy affects profitability and research shows that workers commit more errors in messy environments. 

Totes form the basis for efficient systems where it’s easy to locate products and know what’s in stock. 

It’s more efficient for a company to perform inventory cycle counts when products are in uniform, ergonomic containers. Workers can just pull the container out, quickly scan everything in it and put everything back in.

When you have a first-in-first-out (FIFO) process, it’s essential to reduce workers’ effort to make sure stock gets rotated. 

Non-uniform, disorganized totes carry hidden costs. They waste workers’ time trying to find products. Products that were supposed to be distributed FIFO but weren’t can expire. As volume grows, the problem gets worse. Products become harder to find and keep track of.

4. Avoid Using Cardboard Boxes for Storage

The default at many start-ups is to use the cardboard cartons product was delivered in to store products in the warehouse. Typically a hole gets cut into the face and boxes of varying sizes are stacked on top of each other. 

This cheap solution can enable companies to put off buying shelving and totes, but it carries a hidden cost. When cardboard is exposed to humidity, it degenerates and falls apart. It also creates dust that can get products dirty if the warehouse isn’t cleaned regularly. 

Many companies, especially startups are reluctant to invest in shelving or plastic totes. Compared to free cardboard, it can seem like an extravagance they may quickly outgrow. 

Flexcon devised an agile solution for a customer facing this quandary. Flexcon created custom warehouse bins out of corrugated plastic that could be stacked and zip-tied together on a standard 48 x 40 pallet to serve as mobile racking for The Pulse Boutique, an apparel distributor. 

The bins shipped flat and were easy to fold together. Once assembled the whole pallet could be moved around the warehouse near pick lines and eliminated the need for Pulse Boutique to purchase racking.

5. Don’t Trade Storage for Safety 

Cardboard boxes aren’t designed to be permanent storage. If inventory is in cardboard boxes and thrown up on shelves, it can fall forward, dump out, slide forward or move around on its own. 

They’re not designed to be used as shelves either. If you have three or four cardboard boxes of parts stacked on top of each other and one slides off, it can hurt a worker. It could startle them, trip them or distract them—all potential scenarios for injury. 

According to the National Safety Council, 250,000 warehouse injuries occur in America every year. Why add to your risk?

Plastic totes can be designed with safety features that help hold them in place and prevent them from collapsing under pressure. For example, Flexcon’s hopper totes are designed to catch so they don’t slide off the shelf onto a worker below. They also have ergonomic features that prevent injuries like cuts while they help increase picking speed.

6. Protect Your Products and Preserve Your Growth

Growing companies face increasing threats from product damage and theft. As inventory and warehouse operations grow, so too do the risks. 

Totes play a role in inhibiting theft. When inventory is organized and tidy in totes, it’s easier to spot missing products. Chaotic, disheveled storage makes would-be thieves ask, “Who would notice?” 

Cardboard is no match for plastic in providing integral storage. Totes built in the right size and material protect products from dirt, damage—and lost revenue. No matter what size your company, controlling shrinkage is key for maintaining profitability.

Choose Totes That Support Your Growth

Growing companies have a lot to worry about, but it pays to pay attention to the totes much of their growth is riding on. When it comes to totes, details matter and the hidden costs of the wrong decisions add up.  

If you don’t have time to consider them all, talk to the team at Flexcon about solutions that meet your growing needs perfectly.