From the outside, the 21st-century warehouse looks much the same as it did in 1950 or 1890: a big, boxy structure with large doors leading to rows of materials inside.

But, it’s what the warehousemen inside are doing with those materials for their customers that looks nothing similar to yesterday. Today’s warehouse logistics providers are picking and packing. They are manufacturing. And, they are fulfilling orders — via varying transport — to a vast array of recipients, including the end consumer.

Product manufacturers large and small need strategic storage and fulfillment options.

“The reality of many retailers’ and manufacturers’ modern business models [is that it] lends to the growth of third-party warehousing and the efficiencies it can bring to the omni-channel environment,” says Mark DeFabis, CEO of IDS in Plainfield, Ind. and 2016 chairman of the International Warehouse Logistics Association. “Warehousing professionals see this change and are able to nimbly reconfigure how they operate to meet customers’ needs.”

What’s driving this change, in part, is the Amazon Effect. As online fulfillment, or e-commerce, is overtaking the retail landscape, brick-and-mortar stores are being replaced by warehouses fulfilling orders.

As the trend accelerates, product manufacturers large and small need strategic storage and fulfillment options. And, warehouse logistics companies are becoming experts at the peripheral services needed at this level of fulfillment: customer service, inventory management, packaging, and return processing.

To successfully navigate the omni-channel environment, today’s warehouse-based third-party logistics providers are adapting warehouse operations at all levels to become future ready.

  • They are re-engineering spaces to adjust to new methods for storing and accessing materials.
  • They are working with warehouse management system (WMS) providers to create software that reflects the needs of tracking — down to the individual item and recipient — while incorporating a new level of access for their customers (the retailers and manufacturers they serve).
  • They are creating new methods for inventory management and investing in material handling equipment.
  • They are adjusting their labour force — training employees in the new services and systems omni-channel demands.

Amazon and others like it have proven omni-channel fulfillment is here to stay. The good news for latecomers is there is still time to catch up — but the time to act is now.