Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all warehouse storage solution. These days, there are myriad options for how to store your inventory—stacking palletized products directly on the floor, using rolling shelves and movable aisles, and so many strategies in between. The trick is figuring out which storage system will optimize your available space while also enhancing your team’s operational productivity.
Finding the right warehouse storage system is somewhat of a science, as it’ll require you to consider a range of variables like product size, packaging, and your turnover ratio. On top of that, choosing a storage system is often influenced by the sheer volume of SKUs you’re working with, as some methods are better suited for lower inventory levels.
Read on to dig into all the details of warehouse storage systems and to figure out which approach is the best fit for your warehouse.
What is a warehouse storage system?
A warehouse storage system is a set of physical structures that are specially designed to help you optimize the way you use your warehouse space. More specifically, a warehouse storage system ensures your square footage is used as efficiently as possible—thanks to heightened organization and ease of access to all your products.
Deciding on or developing a warehouse storage system is foundational to running a successful third-party logistics (3PL) warehouse. When properly implemented, these systems will offer a major boost to your warehouse’s efficiency and provide the support you need to scale well.
The importance of a good warehouse storage system
A good warehouse storage system has a direct impact on the functionality of your business. Incorporating these systems into your fulfillment operations can do wonders to improve safety, enhance organization, and maximize whatever space you’re in.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of warehouse safety. Without the right safety measures in place, the health and wellbeing of your team is in jeopardy. Fortunately, warehouse storage systems improve the safety of everyone/everything at your warehouse—from your employees, to your inventory, to whatever machinery you’re using.
Modern warehouse storage is designed and engineered to be extremely safe. In fact, these structures have the strength and durability to store hundreds of thousands of pounds of inventory at once. Not only that, but you can take things a step further by reinforcing your structures with heavy duty guarding equipment. This might include partitions, guardrails, rack guards, Column Sentry®, or safety netting (among other options).
By using this supplemental guarding equipment, you can prevent even more injuries, debris, and various legal issues caused by collision damage or similar events.
With the right storage system, your warehouse team can find the inventory they need in a much faster and more efficient manner. This is largely because your warehouse layout is taken into consideration as you’re designing/selecting your storage solutions. In other words, you can customize your structures so that they cater to your unique storage needs.
This customization allows you to make the most of your available space and to enhance organization in a big way—seeing as you can choose the exact structures and systems that are best suited for your warehouse. In doing so, you can trust that your inventory is stored somewhere it can be located (and retrieved) as quickly as possible. This is a huge win for your pickers and packers, but also for your warehouse fulfillment team as a whole.
Depending on the size of your operation, you might have a pretty limited space to work from. Warehouse storage systems make sure you maximize whatever square footage you have available—even if that’s a modest amount.
When your inventory is well-organized, you’ll naturally utilize every inch of your storage capacity. By contrast, inventory that’s stored haphazardly (or without any method to the madness) is going to leave you with a lot of wasted, negative space. That’s why it’s so important to have a system that takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical storage. This way, you know you’re maxing out your resources and really getting the most out of your square footage.
Speaking of these expenses, it’s typically much easier (and more cost-effective) to modify your current storage space rather than find new warehouse real estate. With that in mind, maximizing less space and storing inventory efficiently will be a non-negotiable for your company.
5 types of warehouse storage systems and when to use them
The most common warehouse storage systems include pallet racks, multi-tier racks, static shelving, mobile shelving, and mezzanine flooring. Below you’ll find a definition for each system, as well as specific use cases that work best for these techniques.
At busy warehousing centers, pallet racks often become the center of the operation. Most pallet racking systems are made from wood, metal, or plastic and are used to hold inventory that’s shipped in large boxes. Depending on the height of these shipments, boxes are placed on your pallet racks using either forklift automation or another comparable mechanism.
You should know that pallet racking is an umbrella term with a number of subcategories underneath: coil racking, cantilever racking, double deep racking, carton flow racking, narrow aisle racking, and push back racking (just to name a few). More often than not, warehouses will choose a style of pallet racking according to its weight limits, adaptability, and whether or not it requires a change to their existing infrastructure.
For those reasons, pallet racks are popular at warehouses with a variety of SKUs and where they experience a high volume of product movement or turnover. This system is generally recommended for small- or medium-sized storage facilities, and for those storing bulky products.
Multi-tier storage racks excel at using vertical space. This type of storage system optimizes the height of your warehouse by creating different levels of manual loading aisles (which your team can access by stairs). For example, picking shelves can be coordinated at all different levels and heights. In turn, you can dramatically increase your warehouse storage capacity while still giving your employees easy, direct access to all the SKUs they’re looking for.
The use cases for multi-tier warehouse racks are actually quite varied. This system is a great choice for large inventory quantities that have small unit sizes. In addition, it pairs well with relatively lightweight products that are picked (and organized) manually. Lastly, multi-tier racks are a perfect companion for warehouses with limited floor space but tons of available height.
And because every warehouse has its own unique layout and aesthetic, multi-tier racks offer amazing flexibility and the option to add/remove tiers based on your needs at that time.
Static shelving is exactly what its name suggests—structures that are designed to stay put and occupy a consistent place within your warehouse. Whereas some shelving can hold thousands of pounds, static shelves are meant for inventory that’s fairly lightweight (i.e. they hold maybe a few hundred pounds per shelf). With these weight limits in mind, static shelving is most often used for storing inventory with continuous replenishment cycles.
Static shelving is not compatible with forklifts or similar warehouse machinery. Instead, inventory on static shelves must be picked, packed, and organized by hand (thus creating a bit more work for your warehouse team). While that’s not necessarily cause for avoiding static shelving, it’s good to keep in mind as you’re weighing all your storage options and deciding which system is most in tune with your needs.
A mobile shelving system can optimize your entire warehouse by eliminating individual access aisles. As opposed to a static setup, this strategy uses mobile bases that enable access to multiple shelves from a single working aisle. These bases slide laterally (and autonomously) over rails that are directly installed in your floors. Many times, they’ll also incorporate motors or control devices to ensure shelf movement is safe, smooth, and convenient for your workers.
The main benefit of mobile racking systems is that they reduce the total number of aisles while allowing you to store a larger number of pallets. And they do all of this within a very limited space, and without sacrificing direct access to your manually-picked products. Simply put, mobile shelving can hold more inventory in a smaller amount of space.
Although mobile shelves can be used in facilities operating at any temperature, they’re especially helpful for refrigerated and deep freeze storage—which is why so many food businesses prefer this method.
Mezzanine flooring at a warehouse is an elevated, free-standing platform that provides an additional floor between your ground level and the ceiling. Typically made out of metal, mezzanine floors are great for increasing both storage and working space within your warehouse facility. In some cases, mezzanine flooring adds a second, third, or even fourth level that’s constructed above your main warehouse area.
With that said, the intrusive build for this flooring can get quite expensive—so you’ll definitely need a budget (and a warehouse layout) that allows for it. But despite its notable costs, mezzanine flooring also has tons of potential for customized features (like lighting, conveyors, lift systems, etc). Another perk is that by adding a mezzanine, you can increase your material handling without having to invest in other buildings or warehouse storage spaces.
How to optimize warehouse storage
Along with using warehouse storage systems, your brand can also leverage tools and technology to improve its storage processes. Some of the most practical, powerful ways to optimize your warehouse storage include: regularly evaluating your warehouse operations, staying on top of inventory management, and implementing a warehouse management software.
Evaluate warehouse operations on a regular basis
If you’re not paying attention to what’s happening on the floor of your warehouse, how can you ever expect to grow your business? Continually measuring and evaluating your warehouse operations helps you keep an eye on productivity, order fulfillment bottlenecks, and all the areas with room for improvement. And when you prioritize this type of evaluation, you can be on the lookout for specific ways to elevate your warehouse storage—like using a combination of multiple shelving methods, or working up and out at the very same time.
A few of the best key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure warehouse performance include inventory shrinkage, order lead time, order cycle time, picking accuracy, and accidents per year.
Prioritize inventory management
Inventory management is intrinsically linked to your warehousing workflows. Using a warehouse management system (WMS), you maintain more control over your inventory levels and make sure you order the right products at the right time (meaning you’ll meet customer demand with ease).
And when you have all the necessary SKUs in stock and ready to ship, it’ll make light work for your warehouse team, too. They’ll no longer be searching for items that are out of stock, and instead locate what they need with improved accuracy and efficiency—which are the building blocks for a well-performing warehouse.
What’s more, using a WMS will ultimately improve customer satisfaction, since your warehouse is operating with faster shipping times, reduced shipping costs, and a greater order accuracy rate. In short, customers receive exactly what they ordered, on the delivery date you promised, and at a lower cost than your competitors.
Use warehouse management software
WMS, also called a warehouse management software, is really the foundation for any other tools and technology your warehouse might need.
Modern warehouse management software, like Extensiv 3PL Warehouse Manager, boasts incredible functionality and is equipped to help with everything from receipts and location management to picking, packing, and shipping all your customer orders. In addition, most systems now provide customer management for public warehouses—i.e. 3PL warehouses—so that customers have a chance to monitor their own inventory.
Another highlight of using a WMS is their extensive data analytics and reporting options. These features offer unmatched inventory tracking for your internal team as well as any active customer accounts. In other words, the system gives you visibility into what your products are doing at any given time—so you can make better, more informed decisions related to replenishment, storage, and shipment of your products.
All in all, warehouse management software is the key to running a smooth and efficient facility where inventory is well-organized and generates the most profit for your brand.
To try out Extensiv 3PL Warehouse Manager for yourself, get in touch with our team and request a free demo today.