Santa Claus driving a forklift

Four Essential Tips to Manage Pallets During this Holiday Season

Santa and his helpers always practice safe pallet handling

It is definitely not the season to be jolly if your supply chain grinds to a halt for lack of pallets. If the order picking crews are scrambling to find pallets to build orders, then shipments can quickly get delayed and complicate the delivery schedule. Here are four essential tips for making sure that customers are happy and workers stay safe throughout the holiday season.

Plan ahead for the need

Based on previous experience and projections, make sure to have the pallets on hand needed to fulfill orders. This year (2020) presents a unique challenge in projecting demand, so it makes sense to be nimble in terms of finetuning pallet requirements. Clear communication and an ongoing dialogue with your pallet suppliers are critical.

A best practice tip is to have the supplier hold an inventory of ready-to-ship pallets, so they will available when you need them. Do not be left in a position where you run out of pallets and must start cold calling pallet vendors for an emergency delivery.

Train the seasonal workers

Peak season volumes and seasonal employee support go hand and hand. By taking the time to train new team members in safe manual pallet handling and the efficient forklift handling of pallets, you can reduce the risk of injury and damage to products and pallets alike.

Remember other seasonal team members who make pallet-related decisions, such as new delivery drivers and temps hired to sort pallets. Do they have the necessary knowledge to ensure that damaged pallets are consistently removed from use and that drivers fulfill their responsibility regarding empty pallet return or other duties related to pallet management?

Don’t neglect to bring pallets back

When logistics systems reach peak and delivery driver capacity is stretched to the limit, one shortcut that companies take is to delay bringing back distribution residuals such as cardboard, reusable trays, and, of course, empty pallets. With trucks focused on keeping up with outbound shipments, retail locations are faced with stockpiling pallet accumulations either in the back room or in the parking lot.

Unwanted buildups of pallets can impede store operations and result in those pallets not being returned to the warehouse, where they might be urgently needed. Also, consider that the unprotected outdoor storage of pallets and reusable packaging at retail dramatically increases the risk of pallet theft.

Consider outsourcing to your pallet provider

It can be a scenario of all hands on deck for retail distribution during the holiday season. With labor urgently needed for filling and delivering orders, roles such as pallet sorting are often viewed as secondary. Unsorted stacks of pallets can back up in warehouse corners or fill up trailers desperately needed for outbound shipments.

The other alternative, the introduction of unsorted pallets into your system, can result in other inefficiencies. And as mentioned above, driver and road equipment limitations can impede your reverse logistics process.

Retailers can avoid this seasonal strain by working with their pallet company partners to provide pickup of pallets and other distribution residuals. The result is pallet and residual processing capacity that does not strain your labor availability and provides ‘ready to go’ pallets as needed for the distribution center.

When it comes to the holiday season and pallets, it can be a time of extremes – too few for order picking or too many to return and sort. Attention to planning, training, and pallet supplier coordination can make a big difference.

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