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business inventoryInventory is a major concern of any e-commerce startup. It doesn’t matter if you have thousands of units of a product or just a few dozen handmade objects that you’re looking to sell as a side business. Managing your inventory and having a secure place to store it is just as important as setting up a web portal for your sales and having a detailed marketing plan to get the word out about your product.

Are you a smaller startup who doesn’t have a need — or the financial resources — to invest in renting and staffing a warehouse? Are you an existing e-commerce site that has outgrown your spare room or garage? Many e-commerce companies have found success in renting a storage unit to house their inventory as both short- and long-term solutions.

Advantages of Storage Units

Existing retailers have found that a big benefit of renting a storage unit is the short-term contract. If your business is seasonal and you require expanded inventory for just a few months, you can rent a unit for just those months and then go back to storing inventory at your home or office. Additionally, you can easily expand the size of your warehouse by renting an additional unit or moving to a larger unit when your sales require it. Try doing that when you’re locked into an annual lease agreement for office or warehouse space.

Most storage facilities offer a range of features that make them ideal for storing your products:

  • Computerized gate access
  • Flexible month to month leases
  • Convenient hours of accessibility
  • Dollies and carts available for transporting boxes to and from your unit
  • Availability of packing supplies for sale in the front office

Setting Up Your Inventory

shirts in binsAnother advantage to a storage unit is that it is a bare box when you open it. You are free to bring in whatever free standing shelving or racks you need to organize your product without having to worry about windows, doors, pipes, etc. Even a small office or warehouse is going to have architectural features you have to work around.

Start by deciding whether you will use your unit simply for storage or if you will actually process and package orders there. In the latter case you will need a unit large enough to set up a fulfillment station. That means having space for packing materials, shipping labels, and a table or desk for packaging and processing. Otherwise, you’ll need to choose a storage facility close to your processing center so that you aren’t wasting too much time and gas going back and forth.

When it’s time to stock your unit, begin by identifying your most popular products and make sure those items are easily accessible. That might mean they are closest to the door or to the processing station. Less popular items can be further away — and remember “further” could mean higher or lower or behind other products.

Every piece of inventory should have a SKU that you can easily read as you approach your shelves. If you use bins or boxes to separate inventory they should also be clearly marked with the SKU. Labeling will make fulfilling orders much more efficient. Labeling each carton and item will also be useful should you need to rearrange your inventory due to changing demand.

Other decisions will affect your inventory organization, such as what software you use to manage and track, the size and shape of products, and whether you sell individual products or “kits.” With a little research and some careful planning, you will be surprised how easy it is to turn a simple storage unit into a flexible, affordable, and efficient home for your inventory.

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