Lessons From Black Friday for Forklift & Warehouse Operations

It’s no secret the retail industry has “Santa’s elves” incredibly busy from November to January in warehouses across North America.  In the online world of holiday shopping, where demand can surge and retreat with the click of a button, warehouse workers and forklift drivers must respond in real time. The newest surge of growth is being driven by fulfillment centers catering to online shoppers. A new report from Forrester projects that U.S. shoppers will spend nearly $460 billion online in 2017. Online sales are making gains and are projected to account for 17.0% of all retail sales within the next five years, according to Forrester Research Inc. Their report, “Forrester Data: Online Retail Forecast, 2017 to 2022,” Forrester writes that e-commerce will account for 17.0% of retail sales by 2022, up from a projected 12.9% in 2017.


This means warehouses will need to be ready - that means getting the equipment into place, in time for the folks who snag online orders from shelves, load boxes onto pallets or drive those goods away on forklifts.

Bill Pedriana, CMO for Big Joe says, “Warehouses really need to start getting their equipment in place by summer.” He goes on to say it is actually best to order forklifts in May & June, that way warehouses can get their equipment in August.


“Too many companies wait until October and there are consequences with that,” says Pedriana. Often, warehouse managers and operators forget the time required for training of new temp workers when the season starts. “We don’t like sitting on equipment. We manufacture when we get the orders. So communication is key,” says Pedriana. Manufacturing a forklift is not as quick as ordering a soda from a machine. It takes two months to manufacture one forklift truck and some models can take up to 6 months. Companies and warehouses need to know it takes 2 to 6 months for a truck, but that doesn’t take into consideration the training time as well.

Retailers have trained customers to wait for Black Friday sales, so what that causes is the number of goods that go out the door to spike. "An increase from 60,000 pallets or boxes to 100,000 is huge," says Pedriana. It then becomes difficult for companies to handle the demand without going to multiple shifts or overtime. “Historical velocity reports can be a very important predictor but you just never know for sure, which means warehouse operators need access to prepare for peak periods not just well in advance but also ensure they have access to additional equipment, or labor as a buffer to ensure timely deliveries.”

It may come as no surprise, but often what happens is that rental equipment in consignment is gone when companies come calling for material handling equipment in the same week. What can warehouses take as lessons from Black Friday?

  • Better and more frequent communications with forklift manufacturers
  • Strategy for peak periods and promotions
  • Rentals need to be reserved months ahead of time
  • Historical velocity reports and analysis
  • Plan ahead well in advance
  • Simple equipment that is easy for temporary or new labor to operate.



When choosing the right  material handling equipment for temporary peak periods, it is good for warehouse operators to focus on things like ease of use ver raw productivity, especially when they are hiring in October and laying off in January. Temporary workers can often be college kids home on break as an example, who just want to earn some extra cash for a few weeks. Getting an easy-to-use forklift decreases the learning curve for temporary workers and speeds up training time to make them ideal choices for peak periods. “Ease of use is a focus for Big Joe when designing equipment as it can be a huge benefit for peak periods, especially in retail environments,” says Pedriana, “We keep things simple which is a huge benefit to most operators.  High equipment speeds and complexity fall down during peak seasons, especially with today’s workforce.  Simple equipment designs that are easy to drive and maintain deliver great value during high volume periods and really on most days.  Some companies just get caught up in equipment performance too much is what it comes down to.  Proper planning, flexibility and a lean mindset are winning strategies when it comes to equipment and can really make a difference when orders hit after days like Black Friday.

By Dawn Willson