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Departmentofgoods.com Newsletter Articles
Gear-opolis: Our new warehouse.
Moving across town with 190,000 things gets pretty interesting.by Rocky Thompson
Everyone goes through a phase where they move a lot. Some people find themselves in a different mountain town each year, following mediocre work to whatever resort gets the most snow. During college, you may have moved from one squalid house to the next, leaving each a partied-out shell of its former self. In the past nine years, Backcountry.com has moved six times. Each move is logistically more difficult than the last since our inventory and product array have grown steadily, and we continually do a larger volume of business. Backcountry.com began in a condo shared by the company’s founders, and the first inventory was stored in their Park City garage. They only had about 15 items in stock, but as the company grew they expanded into a house in Heber City, Utah, where the company’s current president built several plywood shelves in the basement to hold gear. The first real warehouse was a light industrial space in Heber City with 17-foot ceilings and about 5,200sq ft of combined office and warehouse space. There was no need for a formal organization system. Everyone who worked there just kind of knew where each piece of gear was. In October of 2002, Backcountry.com moved to an 18,000sq ft spot in an industrial park in Salt Lake City. This space seemed ridiculously huge after the handful of shelves were assembled. With all the extra room, we set up a volleyball net for the company’s first adventure party—a kind of early season holiday party where gear is raffled off to employees. Only a year and a half later, Backcountry.com moved about $3 million in inventory to a new 47,000sq ft warehouse. This presented enormous difficulties since the website, call center, shipping, and receiving never closed. Imagine trying to take apart a building and put it back together without disturbing anyone working inside. Customers from all over the world were buying gear that was simultaneously being driven from one side of Salt Lake City to the other. Once again, we thought that warehouse would be our home for years, but by the time the holidays arrived the new warehouse was so packed that only a few lanes were open enough to walk through to pick people’s orders. A month ago we moved to our newest Backcountry.com home a few miles from our old place. It was a little like moving into a new apartment in college again; no one remembered to bring a coffee maker, and a few of us couldn’t figure out how to make the phone work for a couple days. This time we moved about $11 million in inventory, and then promptly received millions more. Our new warehouse is 110,000sq ft, which will expand to 209,000sq ft in about 6 months so that we — hopefully — won’t have to move again. With the latest move came state-of-the-art warehouse and inventory-tracking upgrades. We designed motion detector barcode scanners on the conveyor belts to automatically identify and track orders as they move through the warehouse. Handheld computers allow us to remotely pick all orders to insure the right gear gets to the right people. It’s a long way from the old Heber City garage where the few employees knew where everything was, and orders were tracked on paper. The next step in our growth will likely involve spinning off some inventory and warehousing it elsewhere. This will also enable us to ship some of our most popular gear from multiple locations to expedite shipping and reduce freight costs. Basically, we’ll establish our next warehouse on the East Coast, then one in Europe, then Shanghai, and then…we conquer the world.