It may not be the sexiest part of your store, and it doesn’t get a lot of customer eyeballs, but your stockroom is still a critical part of your physical location.
In many ways, your stockroom acts as the headquarters of the store’s operations. It’s where your management office will be located, where you’ll receive shipments, where your staff will first discover the exciting new inventory, and where your extra stock will live. Many of my fondest memories from my time as a sales associate took place in the stockroom.
Manage it right, and the stockroom will help you run a tight ship. But if you mismanage it? Your stockroom can leak its chaos out onto the floor of your store.
Every once in a while (usually around the holidays), our stockroom would become overstuffed and start spilling out onto the floor, forcing customers to navigate hanging racks and boxes on their way to the bathroom. The tension from all the gingerly piled items spilled into our workstyles as the staff had no place to relax and the management had to do their back office work in a veritable junkyard.
Good news, though! There are quite a number of things you can do to set your stockroom up for success and keep it running at its peak.
1. Maximize your vertical space.
Don’t limit yourself to your floor space. Stockrooms typically have fairly high ceilings, so build up. The more items you can get onto higher shelving or racks, the more floor space you can free up for working staff to move in, which is always a plus. Invest in a few safe stools and ladders to make navigating the higher shelving easy.
2. Place the most popular items near the front.
Help your floor staff function at peak efficiency by placing your most popular items near the front of your stockroom so they can quickly grab them and get back to the floor. While your employees will likely come to learn the stockroom by heart, delving into the back still eats up time and potential sales.
Nate Masterson from Maple Holistics suggests that you implement a policy of “forward space”. That is, keep a full box of your most popular products in easy reach, rather than just one or two. In practice, he says, “This can also mean taking two shelving slots instead of one if it’s selling twice as much as another item. Besides for making it easier to run shop, forward space can also help you simply track your sales trends.”
Pro tip: Need to identify your most popular products? Arm your business with a retail management system that has strong inventory reporting features so you can quickly see your top movers.
3. Keep heavy merchandise on or near the floor, but keep light merchandise completely off the floor.
This is a safety tip: store your heaviest merchandise as close to the floor as you can. This will prevent potential collapses, but it will also lower the potential for injuries as your staff move the items around.
Conversely, lighter merchandise should be stored off the floor, so as to prevent cluttering and tripping. Cathy Donovan Wagner of Retail Mavens stressed that you should particularly keep clothing off the floor. Once she “found a dead mouse in a ‘return to vendor’ pile!”
4. Utilize inventory management software.
Inventory management software is the perfect tool to help you keep your stockroom running at peak efficiency. For instance, a good stock control solution will help you accurately predict how much merchandise you’ll need shipped in and when, which will help guarantee your stockroom never becomes overstuffed and your floor never becomes understocked.
Inventory management software will also make it easy to run regular inventory counts. Kyle Baptist, the owner of Marconi’s Beach Outfitters, says that regular stock counts with a great inventory system (they use Vend) “save time at the end of the season because you do not have to do an entire count.”
5. Invest in the right storage units.
There are many different types of storage units available to someone outfitting a stockroom. Shelving, racks, drawers, bins, cabinets, etc. The exact type(s) that will work for you will depend on your stock, of course, but I recommend investing in mobile storage units right from the beginning.
Mobile storage units allow you to maximize the space in your stockroom between the walls with storage that can move around. At one mall store I worked at in college for a summer, we had a rather large stockroom and we used mobile storage to maximize the floor space. We could slide the units around on their tracks to find the section of stock we were looking for, and as a result, we were able to fit roughly one more unit per track than we would have if we’d been using static units. It’s worth doing even if you don’t seem to need mobile storage units now because stockrooms are difficult to redo later.
6. Set up a system (and label it).
One key to a functioning stockroom is creating an organized system for where you place items. Whether you choose to separate your products by department, color, size, style, etc. is up to you, but pick a way and stick to it. At the women’s clothing store I worked at, for instance, we divided our stockroom by petite and misses sizing. We then further divided those sections by knits and denim (which got folded) and dresses, blouses, and trousers (which got hung).
Once you’ve picked your system, stick to it and label it, especially if you have a large stock room. The store I worked at for most of college had a very small stockroom, so we used minimal labeling. However, when I transferred to the store in the mall for the summer, the stockroom was so much bigger that it required not only labeling but a map. The inventory manager actually had pinned a small hand-drawn map to the board in the break area of the stockroom for us.
7. Climate control the stockroom.
Climate controlling your stockroom is pretty important because it helps keep all of your products in pristine condition. But it’s also really important because you’re going to have employees working long hours back there.
Our stockroom A/C broke one day while I was doing a task that involved standing at the top of a ladder in the back of the stockroom sorting through sweaters one summer day in the American southeast, and let me tell you what, I was miserable. My manager made sure that I drank a ton of water and had a fan running to help me out. While I was definitely ok to work that day, I certainly wasn’t nearly as productive as I could have been. That was a one-time occurrence at my store, fortunately, and you should make sure that your store is in the same boat.
8. Provide excellent lighting.
It’s easy to forget the lighting aspect of your stockroom. After all, customers aren’t going back there. But a well-lit stockroom is important for a number of reasons.
- Your staff needs good light to work by. Good lighting creates a safer environment for them, and it will also help keep them awake. Take it from me: inventory work is boring and you don’t need a melatonin boost from low-lighting to help you fall asleep in the stockroom.
- Good lighting makes it harder to lose items in the back. With poor lighting, it’s easy for items to slip into cracks and crevices never to be heard from again. True story: I once unearthed $500 worth of two-season-old merchandise from the depths of our stockroom after an intense dig during a stock transfer. If our lighting had been better, we likely would have noticed the items had fallen much sooner.
9. Keep customers out of the stockroom.
You’d think that customers don’t want to go in the stockroom, right? Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. During my retail days, we had more than the occasional customer walk into our stockroom for various reasons. Some were simply confused. Others thought they’d be more helpful to floor employees if they just found the size they needed on their own.
One particular customer we had would come into the stockroom every time she visited the store to peruse the new merchandise, find the manager she liked to talk to, or just grab sizes for herself. She never got the hint when we escorted her back on to the floor, so finally after the 5th or 6th time it happened, my manager had to really lay down the law.
Stockrooms can be somewhat dangerous and can open you up to all sorts of negligence lawsuits if a customer gets hurt back there. It also opens you up to the possibility of loss of your stock or your employees’ items. Best to keep them out. Plus, no one really wants to see how the sausage gets made.
10. Keep all necessary tools in the back (and label them!)
A lot of stuff is going to happen in the back. Unboxing, boxing up, folding, printing, retagging, etc. You need to make sure all the necessary tools are in the back from box cutters and tagging guns to staplers and hole punchers. Wagner also suggests “clearly [tagging] all office supplies that are used in the back room so that it is obvious that they are to be returned there if found elsewhere in the store.”
11. Create an open shipping and receiving area.
Your store needs somewhere to receive and unbox all your shipments and there’s no better place than the stockroom. Set up a desk by the door at a comfortable folding height, and reserve a fairly large, clear area where boxes can be placed and stock easily removed. The tighter your shipping and receiving space is, the harder it will be for your stock employees to do their jobs, so give them as much space as you possibly can. One method for maximizing this space is to utilize mobile collapsible bakers racks that can be set up when you really need the extra storage space and taken down at all other times.
12. Utilize unexpected spaces for storage.
At my store, the back office, which was located in the stockroom, had this odd 4.5ish foot tall space between its ceiling and the actual ceiling. It was not the most convenient place in the store, but we were hardly about to let that extra space go to waste, so we stored our perennial holiday decorations there, like our fake snow. (We also stored what seemed to be all the dust in the world up there.)
Chances are, your store probably has a few weird nooks and crannies that you can utilize, too. While you probably don’t want to put actual merchandise in such inconvenient (and dusty) places, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t utilize these for storing decorations, boxes or other reusable items.
By starting with an organized foundation and implementing a few key policies, you can make sure that your stockroom functions with smooth efficiency, rather than becoming a chaotic black hole you try not to think about.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.