One of the drawbacks of having so much room to spread everything out at Atlas HQ is that you can bet items in every order will come from far-flung corners of the warehouse. If there are only two items to pack, one will be stored on a shelf in Eastern Time and the other will be on a shelf in Central Time. Approximately three thousand and eleven steps later, your order of a Field Guide and a coffee cup will be on its way to you. (It could be worse; I know an Amazon warehouse walker-arounder who says he walks about 25 miles a day on his warehouse floor and yes, he has zero percent body fat.)
It’s not ideal. We’ve struggled to come up with the best way to streamline the order picking process, but since we can’t exactly predict what combination of items will turn up (though we are pretty good at guessing correctly!), it’s been a hard puzzle to solve—and as MDK adds more things, those things get, well … spreadier.
Because it’s just not practical to rearrange the warehouse every time a new item gets added. No matter how popular we suspect it might become. It’s just always going to end up on the nearest empty shelf … even if that’s a mile away.
But there’s always a light bulb moment with these things … eventually.
During the early phases of the pandemic, I was doing all the grocery shopping for my parents. Once a week, Mom would text me her list and I would then re-write it in the order that my local grocery store is laid out—starting with produce and ending with drugs and ice cream (and yes, that’s pretty much a metaphor for LIFE if you ask me).
The goal was to go down each aisle once, no backtracking, so getting the order right really mattered. With the exception of the occasional curve ball (hello, pickled beets, which could have been with pickles or with beets and in fact turned out to be stocked in both areas, but also: Mom, why are you eating so many pickled beets?), this system minimized my time in the store and got me in and out in about ten minutes flat, no matter the length of the list. It worked perfectly (until they decided to rearrange the grocery store layout during a pandemic and yes, I wrote a sternly worded letter that began “Now you look here…”).
So that’s what we’re doing in the warehouse, starting next week. We finally got our automated magical pick-list machine to sort things in the order of the warehouse and in theory, we’ll be whizzing up each aisle exactly ONCE a day rather than running up and down the aisles trying to remember where the dang Dickie Pin is. The new way will tell us, “Start on aisle 1, dummy.” And that’s what we’ll do. And don’t @ us: we KNOW this is how bigtime warehouses do this already.
I’m not completely certain it’ll get anything out of here more quickly, but one thing it will do is allow other people to jump in and help—even if they’ve never picked before. We can just hand them the pick list and say, “Here you go, start at the beginning of the maze, little mouse, and we’ll see you in ninety minutes.”
Meanwhile, the rest of us will be enjoying a jar of pickled beets in the kitchen, giggling at the sucker pushing the cart around in the warehouse. Ssssshhhhhhhh.
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