At times, the demand and supply for products can be unusually high. At other times, it can be unusually low. That’s why companies generally maintain a certain amount of safety stock, oftentimes in warehouses. As a business owner, it would be great if you didn’t have excess inventory you had to store in a warehouse. In an ideal world, materials or products would arrive at your facility just in time for you to assemble or sell them. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Toys are a good example. Most toymakers work year round to be sure they have enough toys available for sale during the holidays. However, retailers don’t want to buy a huge number of toys in July. They want to wait until November and December to buy large amounts of them.
Consequently, toymakers warehouse them until that time. Likewise, during the holiday season, retailers don’t want to run out of toys, so they maintain a certain amount of safety stock in their warehouses.
Some firms store products until their prices increase. Oil is an example. Speculators, including investment banks and hedge funds, have been known to buy, and hold, oil if they think its price is going to rapidly rise. Sometimes they go so far as to buy oil tankers and even entire oil fields. 1
A distribution center is a warehouse or storage facility where the emphasis is on processing and moving goods on to wholesalers, retailers, or consumers. 2 A few years ago, companies were moving toward large, centralized warehouses to keep costs down. In 2005, Walmart opened a four-million-square-foot distribution center in Texas. (Four million square feet is about the size of eighteen football fields.)
Today, however, the trend has shifted back to smaller warehouses. Using smaller warehouses is a change that’s being driven by customer considerations rather than costs. The long lead times that result when companies transport products from Asia, the Middle East, and South America are forcing international manufacturers and retailers to shorten delivery times to consumers. 3Warehousing products regionally, closer to consumers, can also help a company tailor its product selection to better match the needs of customers in different regions.