Spotlight on The New Warehouse
The Podcast for Warehouse Operations
Kevin Lawton is the founder of The New Warehouse, a podcast and community for logistics leaders to learn, share, and connect. Kevin started The New Warehouse to help warehouse operators like him, after he realized nothing existed for those working in the warehousing space to learn about solutions to their unique problems and to network with others in the industry. We interviewed Kevin to learn more about his path to starting The New Warehouse. Keep reading to learn why he created the podcast, how his background in warehousing helps him connect with guests, and what warehouse trends he finds most exciting.
Kevin started working in the distribution and logistics industry in 2012, as a temp employee in the Inventory department at Simon & Schuster. From there he grew in the inventory department and moved into various distribution and operations management roles. He was instrumental in setting up four new distribution centers and has led enterprise software installations, transitions, and more. Most importantly, Kevin is one of the nicest and most knowledgeable logistics professionals you’ll meet. We interviewed Kevin to understand why he started The New Warehouse, what he hopes warehouse operators will get from the podcast, and what he’s excited for in the New Year.
How and why did you start The New Warehouse?
I don’t have an educational background in supply chain or anything like that. I just found myself working in the logistics warehousing space, and then at some point, I decided that I wanted to embrace that and learn more about the industry and things that are going on. When I went to find resources to do that, I didn’t find things that were grabbing my attention or that were exciting to me. Nothing existed that was specifically focused on the warehousing industry as opposed to supply chain more broadly.
Initially I was just going to do a blog. I had done some blogging in the past, and then I quickly realized working in a warehouse setting, we were in the process of doing a big project and opening a new facility, I didn’t have time to sit down and write and edit. I have this idea of “How do I learn more and help other people to learn more at the same time too?” I had been telling my boss about my idea and he was the one who told me “why don’t you do a podcast?” At the time I hadn’t even ever listened to a podcast myself, to be honest, so I said well, it could be easier than writing and I tried it and that’s how it started.
And why I started it was sort of a selfish thing. Trying to learn more myself and also trying to network more within the industry. Then it kind of grew and took on a life of its own like very much more than I ever thought it would do.
I think when I started I said to myself, oh it would be cool if at some point we get to a thousand listens. At this point, we’re somewhere around 125,000.
It’s much much more than I ever thought it would be. I realized people were interested in it and it started to make me think, hey this is something. I could be that resource I wanted. If we think about warehouse managers, operations managers, you know, a lot of times people work for the same company for several years and when you work for the same company from an operations perspective you don’t necessarily get a ton of exposure to other things that are happening in the industry, especially if that company is not as embracing or open to innovation and technology. A lot of times on the operations side that’s a hard thing to find.
So my thought was that okay well let’s figure out a way to expose these people to some of these things that are out there that maybe could help their operation and could help them be more efficient and more productive and safer and better quality and you know all those great things that we want in the operation and give them those little bites and info on all the solutions that are out there. So that’s been the ongoing mission, to not only give exposure to these solutions, but also be a platform for people to share their insights from their experiences too, so we can all grow our knowledge and share our knowledge.
Is there a moment this year that stands out to you?
At ProMat this year, we were doing the podcast at our booth and this guy was walking by and I was just standing there, we were in between recordings, and he was like, “oh I listen to you all the time.” A lot of times, I recognize people I’ve talked to on LinkedIn, but I had never seen or met him before, and he was like “oh man, I’ve been listening to every episode of your show for the past three years, and I love what you’re doing, I’ve learned so much from you” and on and on…he was arguably my biggest fan! That was really a great moment to hear that feedback, that it’s resonating that much, and bringing value. And actually it turned out that it was his birthday and he told me that meeting me in person made his day, which was a little strange for me because I’m not a celebrity or anything.
When you do a podcast you can see people are listening and I do get direct messages from people who liked an episode, but there’s a whole other portion of the time where you don’t know what your listeners are thinking. So having that moment where he was so invested in it and told me was really powerful for me and meant a lot that he had found value in it for so long.
How important is your warehousing background in helping identify solutions and know what your listeners might want to hear?
They appreciate that I have that background and even still ongoing, because I have my own fulfillment business now, I’m in a warehouse every week at least. Having that background, the way I approach an interview is to think, how can I use them in my operation? I am going to ask those questions that someone from an operations background is going to want to know. They want to understand, how is it going to work? Sometimes podcasts are lacking in the on-the-floor experiences to be able to understand the nuances and ask some of those questions, so for me, it’s been really helpful because from the audience perspective, they enjoy that because it’s questions they would want to know about or ask about it, but I also think that from the guest perspective I’ve found that being able to go that extra layer…sometimes I can see or feel that it clicks. It’s that reaction of “oh this guy is interviewing me, he really knows the industry, I can talk a little bit more and can go a little bit deeper and he’ll understand what I’m talking about.” It’s been super helpful and made the conversations that much more insightful, because I am looking at it from the perspective of evaluating these solutions as if it’s my own operation.
It’s prediction time, so what are some of the things you’re excited to learn about or watch for next year?
Going into 2024, things that I’m interested to see are, number one, I think that 2023 was the year of AI. It’s the hottest topic in every industry basically. But towards the end of 2023 is where we’re seeing where AI has these real practical solutions for the industry, so I am interested in seeing in 2024 how that continues to grow from a solutions perspective but also an adoption perspective. I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people like “how are you using AI in your warehouse.” It doesn’t always move that fast, but I’ve talked to a couple of companies that are making these implementations of systems and AI very easy lifts so I think that’s going to be helpful and I’m interested to see how that’s going to grow.
I’m also interested in the growing focus on employee interaction with systems and equipment.
We’re seeing more and more that what we expect in our consumer life from ease of use and apps and phones and the technology that we interact with, we’re seeing more and more that that’s translating into work and into the enterprise side. When an employee goes to work, like in a warehouse for example, you’re seeing handheld devices that are used for picking, packing, receiving, whatever the case may be, and that interaction with that device is very reminiscent of an interaction you’d have with a smartphone. This makes a lot of sense for easier training and better retention because there’s a lot of competition for employees in warehousing environments and especially in those heavily populated warehouse pockets of the country. Employees are becoming more and more aware of the technology that’s out there and savvy employees and warehouse workers will favor one company over another because of their investment in technology, because they know the technology will make them more productive, it’s going to make their job easier to do, so it’s becoming very important and I love to see that user interface and easy interaction improve to be able to do that.
On the equipment side, it’s like what you guys are doing at Resonant Link, making it super easy to charge a forklift, less messy, not having to deal with cables, taking away that forgetful factor where somebody's not going to forget at the end of the shift to plug in that forklift and then the next shift is pissed off because somebody didn’t plug in the forklift and now it’s not charged. You know, I’ve dealt with that before, and there’s not much you can do at that point besides charge it, but you lose time and productivity there. So I think that thinking about those nuances and little pieces of the operation that are not necessarily the big, whole part when you think of a warehouse and what happens in it, is becoming more and more important.
It's the little parts of the processes that are crucial to make the operation happen as a whole that are going to get more attention.
You are seeing more solutions coming out focusing on these little in-between processes where maybe in the last five years or so, so much was focused on picking. The idea was that picking’s the big thing and we’ve gotta move this product and get it out to customers, but now you’re seeing all of the processes around that get better tech solutions, better automation, better robotics, and things of that nature, and that’s going to continue. So that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing, seeing more solutions coming out and those solutions getting more robust and developed and widespread adoption happen.
If somebody is looking at optimizing their equipment or making a power and energy change, why should they consider wireless charging?
Wireless charging takes away the whole forgetfulness. It makes it easier for that charging step to happen, and also from a safety perspective there’s a lot of benefit because you’re not dealing with the wires and in some cases, depending on how the chargers are laid out, you’re not having to go in between trucks to get to the charger and plug in where something could happen. I think that it’s just easier overall to just pull into the parking spot, charging starts to happen wirelessly, and then the employee can go about their day.
It’s interesting because one operation I worked in, we were dealing with a lot of challenges around labor. We were trying to get labor in, and this was around the start of the pandemic, and trying to keep labor, and so we had to really cross train employees and get people trained on the forklift who hadn’t operated forklifts in the past to be able to make the most out of our workforce that we could keep and retain. We were struggling to get people in, and one of the things that we had an issue with was plugging in.
In a regular plug-in lead acid battery, you have to unplug the plug the charger goes into so that leaves the plug you unplugged it from being essentially a dummy plug. When people would go to charge, instead of them plugging in the charger to the right plug, they were plugging it into the dummy plug and nothing was happening. It was something we went over and over, but it still happened.
Wireless charging takes away the guessing and the in-between steps and makes it a more seamless process for the employee to just park and charge without having to worry about plugging in or remembering to plug in.
Maybe they are in a rush and have to go pick up their kids and just forget. That happens all the time and that’s a big setback when nobody plugs the forklift in overnight and then you come in the next day. You’re going to have a problem because you’re not going to be able to use that forklift for a full shift or as long as you need to charge. Wireless charging takes away a lot of the problems that arise. It’s also a lot cleaner as well. It doesn’t open you up to things like damages within the cables and all those different things.
For me, it’s really exciting. I love wireless charging because I love anything that can take away a potential issue or a problem. It’s a solution for something that may seem minor, plugging something in, but you know, how often do we forget to plug our phones in at night to charge and the next day it’s at 20% and I’m scrambling rushing into work wondering if I can charge it in the car? It’s the same thing for forklifts. Forgetting to charge throws off the workflow. Knowing a forklift will be charged when you need it and being able to take out that wasted time makes it a quicker end of shift, quicker start of shift, and pushes that productivity time even further because now there’s not that extra time to plug in and make sure things are charging. So really, it’s pretty exciting. I definitely love the flexibility of it and the ability to just quickly pull up and have the charge start. It just makes it a lot easier for the whole process to seamlessly happen.
For people who might want to automate, but may not have AGVs today, how can charging help?
When you look at investing in something from an operations perspective, you want to invest in something that’s going to last a long time. The fact that you can utilize your charging now for a manual truck but then in the future when you move to automation you can also leverage the same charging setup, that helps you in the long term reduce your overall cost because now you’re not going to have to invest in a separate charging solution when you bring in automation. If you replace a reach truck, for example and you decide you’re going to move to automated reach trucks, now it’s a one for one swap, there’s a charger already in place that can handle that. It’s not like now all of a sudden we have to come up with a separate charging station or add additional chargers to be able to do that.
The fact that your charging works with manual and automated trucks is a real long term benefit and something that can help with overall total cost of ownership and ROI of future investments.