Cory Lynch, CEO of Minnesota-based Team Personnel Services, says that when employers come to him for warehouse managers, one request always stands out: "Versatility -- they want someone who has done and can do a little bit of everything."
"First off, they must be able to manage a wide variety of people with different backgrounds, educational levels, and professional experience and goals," says Lynch. "That means dealing with an 18-year-old who doesn't really want to be there and is just making money from a summer job, to the person who has 10 to 20 years of experience and knows the company inside and out. They need to know how to do everyone's job: running a forklift; packaging products; dealing with deliveries, storage or space issues; and of course, customer service and employee issues."
In addition to knowing all of the details, Lynch says warehouse managers also need to keep track of the big picture.
A typical warehouse manager's duties include:
- Overseeing and recording deliveries and pickups.
- Loading and unloading materials and supplies.
- Maintaining inventory records and the tracking system.
- Determining appropriate places for storage.
- Rotating stock as needed.
- Adjusting inventory levels to reflect receipts and disbursements.
"A warehouse is a company's lifeline, its supply center and where goods are moved," says Lynch. "It's a big job, a job that probably isn't appreciated by most -- except those who do it."
Warehouse management also requires a working knowledge of:
- Inventory control and warehousing systems.
- Loading and unloading procedures.
- Hazardous materials storage.
- Simple math.
"A warehouse manager is constantly putting out small fires," says Marc Thompson, who has worked as a manager at a leading Midwest golf equipment retailer for six years. He knows what it's like when shipments don't come in and orders aren't filled.
"A shipment didn't come in the day a big promotion was to start, or goods are damaged," he explains. "You also have to deal with safety issues and procedures. Because we are moving heavy items with forklifts and placing these materials high above ground, one mistake can lead to serious injury. Each person has a duty and responsibility that greatly affects the other employees' ability to do their job."
But despite the dangers and downsides, Thompson enjoys the work. "The thing I get a kick out of is that an item is on display in the store, and the average customer doesn't even know the steps it took to get that display from the distributor, to the warehouse and looking professional to be on display," he says. "But that's a good thing, because if they don't know it, it means we are doing our job. In order for the front of the store to succeed, the people in the warehouse have to do their jobs. It's kind of like working in a restaurant. A cook can make a great steak, but the waitress is the one who brings in the big tips."
Thompson offers these tips for those interested in becoming warehouse managers:
- Work in a warehouse to get a feel for its day-to-day operations. "Whether you are in inventory, a laborer or operating equipment, this is invaluable," he says.
- No day is the same, so be ready for anything, anytime.
- Be prepared to work with a variety of people. "One day you could be walking through the warehouse with the CEO, talking about ways to improve the flow of goods, and then the next day you are working with a teenager whose first job is unloading trailers and shipments," says Thompson. "You run the gamut in this industry."
- Understand technology. According to Thompson, knowledge of inventory-management software is key.