The warehouse is the most common type of storage, though other forms do exist (e.g., storage tanks, computer server farms). Some warehouses are massive structures that simultaneously support the unloading of numerous in-bound trucks and railroad cars containing suppliers’ products while at the same time loading multiple trucks for shipment to customers.
Below we discuss five types of warehouses:
This type of warehouse is owned and operated by channel suppliers and resellers, and used in their own distribution activity. For instance, a major retail chain may have several regional warehouses or “fulfillment centers” supplying their stores, or a wholesaler will operate a warehouse at which it receives and distributes products.
The public warehouse is essentially space that can be leased to solve short-term distribution needs. Retailers that operate their own private warehouses may occasionally seek additional storage space if their facilities have reached capacity or if they are making a special, large purchase of products. For example, retailers may order extra merchandise to prepare for in-store sales or order a large volume of a product that is offered at a low promotional price by a supplier.
With advances in computer and robotics technology many warehouses now have automated capabilities. The level of automation ranges from a small conveyor belt transporting products in a small area all the way up to a fully automated facility where only a few people are needed to handle storage activity for thousands of pounds/kilograms of product. In fact, many warehouses use machines to handle nearly all physical distribution activities, such as moving product-filled pallets (i.e., platforms that hold large amounts of product) around buildings that may be several stories tall and the length of two or more football fields. And the newest trend in warehouse automation is the use of warehouse robot technology, where small robots assist with product movement.
Warehouses handle storage of many types of products including those that need special handling, such as freezers for storing frozen products, humidity-controlled environments for delicate products, including produce or flowers, and dirt-free facilities for handling highly sensitive computer products.
There are some warehouses where product storage is considered a very temporary activity. These warehouses serve as points in the distribution system at which products are received from many suppliers and quickly shipped out to many customers. In some cases, such as with distribution centers handling perishable food (e.g., produce), most of the product enters in the early morning and is distributed by the end of the day.