Why write an article on managing a mattress warehouse? Aren’t all warehouses pretty much alike? Certainly, warehouses, whether they house mattresses, furniture or fruit baskets, do have a lot of similarities; but after fifteen years as a mattress store owner, I can tell you that storing mattresses has enough of its own peculiarities to warrant a special discussion. If you’ve ever managed a mattress warehouse, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you are about to find out (assuming you keep reading).
In this, the first part of a two-part series we will stick to the basics, starting out with site selection, which is probably the hardest part of storing your mattress merchandise.
If you have ever opened, owned, or managed a small mattress store, and by small I mean a store that just sells mattresses and the usual add-ons that all mattress stores carry, you probably have had trouble finding a location to store your inventory. Because our business, the mattress business, operates on urgency (buy it today, sleep on it tonight), the ideal location for your mattress warehouse is a nice 3,000 to 5,000 square foot facility (depending on your sales volume) right behind your store, or even adjoining the back of your store. How many of you have this? Not many, right? If you do, consider yourself among the very blessed.
Why do we mattress guys want the warehouse so close by? I’d need an entire book to name all the reasons, but one big reason is because you don’t want your customer to experience any delay, or wait time, while getting his mattress loaded out (assuming customer pickup). If it takes 30 minutes to drive across town to fetch the customer’s mattress, he may decide to leave the store while waiting and find his way into a competitor’s arms, while your delivery men retrieve the merchandise that you sold.
The point is, it’s important to have your warehouse as close as possible to your store. The problem is that if your store is in the up-scale part of town, you usually won’t find a surplus of quality, affordable warehouse space nearby. So, for most of us, this means settling for a warehouse several miles away.
So, what do you look for in a warehouse? The first thing I look for is air-tight, water-proof space. By air-tight, I mean a location which has no visible holes or cracks, and with doors that have intact and quality weather-stripping. Preferably, no windows. You do not want varmints such as rodents, birds, insects, etc. to be able to come and go as they please. Unfortunately, many spaces for lease have holes around the base big enough for opossums and rats to get through. It can be embarrassing, not to mention the probable loss of a sale, to find a little mouse nest inside the bag of the queen pillow-top you just sold.
Water-proof space is the next item on the shopping list. Warehouse roofs are usually flat or very lightly sloped and more often than not, they leak when it rains. I have seen walls that leaked when it rained. How do you know if your new warehouse space is water-proof? Unfortunately, you don’t. That is why you need a provision in your lease that guarantees any leaks will be promptly fixed by the landlord. And by promptly, I mean the next day. It is sad to say, but 90-plus percent of all warehouse space that I’ve ever looked at had serious problems with the air-tight and water-proof provisions.
HOW MUCH SPACE?
How much space do you need? You never really have enough space, but space costs money, so sometimes, in order to meet your budget you have to place a limit on your square footage. As a general rule of thumb, I’d say you need about 500 square feet for every $10,000 per month in sales. For example, if you do $50,000 per month, 2500 square feet will probably be enough. If you do $100,000 per month, you probably need at least 5000 square feet. If you are a serious player in the mattress business, you know that urgency is the ruling principle in sales. Customers want their product right away, and the store that has in-stock inventory has a big advantage in winning the sale. Therefore, you need plenty of warehouse space.
There are a several more features to bear in mind when shopping for warehouse space. You will need some space for what I call a “staging area.” This means an area to place mattresses while you are unloading trucks or preparing for load-outs and deliveries. Don’t short yourself on this space. When a 53 foot rig shows up in a blinding rainstorm with 90 pieces on board, you will be very glad you reserved a large staging area inside the building. When I say “inside the building” I know of what I speak. I’ve had several warehouses where we didn’t have enough room for this staging area and merchandise was left outside under an awning until it was counted and integrated into the stacks. Speaking of rain, an awning that is high enough to accommodate a big trailer is very desirable, but it is a rare luxury. An even rarer luxury is an overhead door tall enough to back the rig into the building for unloading.
Some may be asking about whether your warehouse should be “dock-high.” There are pros and cons to this feature. Dock-high is helpful for unloading a big rig with a big load, but dock-high, to me, becomes inconvenient while doing load-outs for customers. Pick-up trucks are not dock-high, so stepping up and down from the bed to the dock is inconvenient and potentially hazardous. Also, a lot of small mattress stores have delivery vehicles that are not dock high. Dock-high space has the additional benefit of being a little more secure from mice, insects and other pests. The selection of dock-high or not dock-high should be made on what is most practical for your situation (and on what is available). My personal favorite, though not everyone will agree with me, is ground level floors and doorways.
A proper mattress warehouse should be clean and the “air-tight” feature mentioned previously should help with this. Customers do not want a dirty mattress, and they don’t want the bag dirty or dusty, even if the mattress inside is clean. Dirty bags carried into the house for delivery can soil carpets, walls, other furniture, etc. So, look for a clean, tidy warehouse with a clean floor. You never know who occupied the place before you. Floors can be permeated with oil and grease residue. There may be industrial waste, hazardous material, and who knows what else ground into the old concrete. Don’t rent a warehouse with a dirty floor.
Parking lot size. It should go without saying that your parking lot at your warehouse must be large enough and arranged well enough for 53 foot rigs to get in and out easily and also have enough room to back up to your loading dock. This can be a problem if you have a unit in a large warehouse complex and share a parking lot. Every store owner in this situation has experienced the following at one time or another in his career. You come in early to unload a truck, only to find a little driverless Yugo blocking your big-rig’s access to your loading dock; or worse, the quarrelsome dude in the pick-up truck that insists it’s his inalienable right to park wherever he wants, and that just happens to be right in the way of what you are trying to do.
SECURITY OF THE LOCATION
Next, we come to security of the location. As we all know, much of the country’s warehouse space is not in the nicest part of town. The irony here is that you are forced to store thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in a part of town that you would never consider living in. Aside from insuring your merchandise to the hilt, it is wise to also try to acquire warehouse space that has a well-lighted parking lot, a security system, and even better if it is fenced and gated with security guards. One good thing about the mattress business that I have found, however, is that most thieves avoid mattresses. They are heavy, bulky, hard to tie down, and unless you have a storefront, they are hard to sell for a good price.
WHAT SHOULD IT COST?
What should all this cost? Warehouse space costs vary quite a bit, and it depends a lot on what town or state you do business in. I cringe at warehouse space that costs more than 50 cents per square foot per month ($6.00 per year,) but I know a lot of people reading this will consider that a bargain. Also, the closer the warehouse is to your store, the higher the cost will probably be. The added convenience of proximity will probably be worth the extra cost. Don’t forget, controlling costs is a key factor in making a profit. If you are paying 50 cents per foot for a 5000 square foot space, that is a $2500 per month cost, not even considering utilities expenses, insurance costs and the travel time and expense incurred running back and forth from the store to the warehouse.
When negotiating your lease, pay attention to the maintenance provisions enumerated in the lease contract. Make sure the landlord is required to keep the site secure, air-tight and waterproof. Be sure to notice what your performance requirements are, and what sort of maintenance requirements the landlord expects from you.
When you have spotted a warehouse space that looks like it might work for you, look at it at least two or three times before signing the lease. Every visit will reveal something new that you missed on the previous look. Don’t wait until you are committed to a long, expensive lease before finding out that something is horribly wrong with the place.
Before occupying the space, do a thorough walk-through and list any problems, blemishes, defects, damage, etc. Keep the list with your copy of the lease. Some day you will move to another location. You don’t want to have to repair damage that you didn’t cause in order to get your deposit back.
In climates that are very hot, or very hot and humid, air conditioning can be an attractive feature. It costs quite a lot to air condition an un-insulated space, especially in the south or southwest. Is it worth it? It might be if you use the “our warehouse is air-conditioned” feature as a selling point. Most customers probably never think of where their mattress has been stored until some smart retailer reminds them of the potential advantages of air conditioning in storing their mattress. Think about it, if you lived in the humid south and you buy a new mattress in August, wouldn’t you rather know your mattress had been stored in a climate controlled facility than in some old metal shack full of holes, with leaky roof at 120 degrees (inside the building) and 98 percent humidity?
One other point – you should keep your warehouse neat, inside and out. Your warehouse is just another extension of your store. A lot of customers will go to your warehouse to have their merchandise loaded out. Don’t ruin the great impression you made at your store with a ratty looking warehouse that stays in a mess. I wouldn’t blame a customer for cancelling a sale, if he showed up to be loaded out at a dirty, messy old leaky-looking warehouse with trash and debris littering the parking lot.
Now that you have signed the lease on your gleaming new alabaster warehouse, you need someone to man it. Finding good warehouse personnel is almost as difficult as finding good retail sales people. Notice I said “finding”, not “hiring.” You can hire anybody, and you usually do, but good employees are rare and getting rarer by the minute. When it came to warehouse help/delivery people, I had several things I looked for when observing and interviewing warehouse help.
DRIVING - Can they drive a stick shift? Can they drive at all? Do they have a valid driver’s license? How old are they? (Insurance companies don’t like to cover very young drivers, especially men under 25 years of age, and in our stores, if you couldn’t drive, you were a liability as an employee.) Do they have a clean driving record?
APPEARANCE – How do they look? Will their appearance on a delivery scare little old ladies? Are they covered with tattoos? Are they dirty and smelly? Are they sober? I realize that with warehouse people, you must have some leeway, but there are certain standards below which the store owner should not stoop, just to find someone to handle the other end of a mattress.
RESUME – Resume? From a warehouse applicant? Are you joking? When I say resume, look at their application to see if they have warehouse or furniture or even better, mattress experience, and if so, where they got their experience. If you know their former employers, call them up to get an idea of the worth of your candidate. Another aspect of the resume idea is to do a background check to see if they have a criminal record. I’m not saying that you should not hire an ex-convict. I’ve hired quite a few myself, and some of them turned out to be pretty good employees. But, never forget that they have a record. Do not tempt them, make sure they know you have a very tight security and surveillance system, and make sure they understand the consequences of making an error in judgment.
FITNESS – They have to be able to lift heavy objects. Make sure they have no chronic back injuries, or anything that might impair their ability to do their job. It is manual labor, after all. I’ve had women call me on occasion about a warehouse job opening. I absolutely do not rule out a woman as a warehouse person. But, the question must remain; can they lift heavy objects for hours on end, without it becoming a problem? I usually ask the question, “Can you lift 150 pounds without hurting yourself.” If they can’t, they don’t get hired, man or woman.
GETTING TO WORK – This, of course, applies to all employees. Do they have a way to get to work? So many of these guys have no transportation, and thus, they have no way to get to work. This little drawback makes for an unreliable employee. Somebody has to unload that 53 foot rig when it hits the dock. Make sure it’s not you.
We talked about the security of the location. Now we need to talk about the company’s internal security measures. I definitely recommend installing a professional security system with cameras and motion detectors. These items will guarantee that you will get occasional calls in the middle of the night for false alarms, such as a spider walking across the motion detector. (I’ve had it happen to me.) There are some plusses, however, to security systems. Probably the biggest benefit is the intimidation factor to potentially wayward employees who might be otherwise tempted to do the wrong thing when no one is looking. With hidden cameras, somebody or something is always looking, and make sure all personnel know that hidden cameras are always in operation. It is possible, although don’t quote me on this, that your insurance provider might give you a premium discount if you have a security system in place. And, finally, if there is a break-in, it would be hoped that your cameras would identify the miscreant. Evidence produced by camera shots probably would also be helpful to the police in apprehending the culprits.
You should assign to someone, preferably yourself, the responsibility that the warehouse, during off hours, is locked and secured and that the alarm system is activated. Don’t overlook the importance of this policy. I failed to do this one time because we had late customers, I was tired; the warehouse was twenty minutes away, so I left it to my employees to lock up. I got a call early the next morning from my next door neighbor at the warehouse, that the front door (a standard 3 foot X 80 inch metal exterior door) was not only left unlocked, it was actually left open, tied open by a rope because we had no door stop! All night!
The closer your warehouse is to the store, the better your chances of preventing theft. Employee theft happens a lot more often than outsider theft. Clever, unscrupulous employees, after observing your security apparatus for a while, often can find ways to get around it. As we said in the previous section, security cameras, motion detectors and propaganda are the store owner’s best allies. It pains me to say this, but I believe it is a mistake to assume that your employees or even your warehouse manager is honest. Honesty, in actual practice, is often a result of fear of getting caught and the consequences thereof. When I say propaganda, the store policy regarding security should be to widely advertise the power and pervasiveness of your security system. Every employee should believe that the security system is all-powerful and omnipresent, and therefore only ill fortune will come from trying to subvert it.
But enough about security. In the December issue of Furniture World Magazine we will talk about the actual operation of the warehouse.
David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.
David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.
He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.
David can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person at 361-648-3775.
Read other articles by David Benbow