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Label MakerLabel makers have been around for some time now. They allow people and businesses to create and print their own professional looking labels that can be affixed to shelves, boxes, and other storage spaces.

Labelling everything allows you to quickly and efficiently organize any space, knowing immediately what is supposed to go in every spot and simplifying the task of putting away products and other materials.

But label making also can go too far. Imagine labeling your home refrigerator, for example, or the items in your medicine cabinet. In fact, label makers are often joked about as a very “dad” thing to own.

Zoning Your Workspace

All kidding aside, label makers are actually an affordable and effective way to improve the flow of practically any workspace.

Labeling shelves with what items go where and specific quantities that belong there not only aids in the putting away of items, but also in establishing inventory pars for reordering.

The labels created by most label makers can be printed in a variety of fonts, sizes, and colors, allowing you to zone your workspace according to any distinctions you want. For example, tools can be printed in one color, office supplies in another, and parts or equipment in a third, and so on.

Convertible Cartridges

Label Maker IIMost label makers use interchangeable tape cartridges, which allow you to use tapes of different sizes and color backgrounds. This can make zoning spaces and labeling shelves even more efficient and productive.

Plus, many of the label makers on the market today are made of durable, high-impact materials that allow you to take them into the field without having to worry as much about breaking by dropping or other accidental damage.

Plus, once you run out of tape, all you need to do is pop out the old cartridge, put in a new one and you are all ready to go. Keeping a supply of blank cartridges on hand means you never need to stop labeling!

Label Makers Are Addictive

A word of warning, however: Once you start labeling areas of your workspace, it can be hard to stop. Most people love the way their offices, warehouses, docks, and other work areas look with neat, professionally printed labels marking every square inch.

You may soon find yourself labeling areas that don’t necessarily need printed labels yet you may find it impossible to stop labeling everything in sight. No wonder label makers take such a great amount of kidding as the ultimate “dad” device.

Photo by Keith Allison (via Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Keith Allison (via Wikimedia Commons)

People are competitive by nature.

Businesses that can harness this natural instinct can use it to achieve specific objectives including meeting production quotas, beating a rival’s sales goals, or enhancing the reputation and/or market share of your organization.

Pitting people against each other is a time-honored tradition. Sports entertainment, for example, has always profited from feeding people’s need for competition.

You probably wouldn’t care if 11 anonymous men you never met faced off on a field of grass against a different group of 11 strangers. Yet every Sunday, millions of people tune in to watch their favorite NFL team because they nominally represent their city. And advertisers rank in millions from sales of beer, cars, and other products to football fans.

Competition and Human Nature

Science supports the theory that people are naturally competitive. And it goes far beyond athletics. It is even apparent in economics.

One study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that nearly half the participants said they would prefer to live in a world with the average salary was $25,000 and they earned $50,000 per year than one in which they earned $100,000 per year but the average salary was $200,000.

Another study found that people making just above the minimum wage were among the least likely to support a hike in the minimum wage.

Using Competition to Your Advantage

Healthy competition is one of the best motivational tools business owners can use. Goal setting is a part of any business plan. But setting goals in which teams compete against each other is a highly effective way of inspiring people on both teams to work harder.

One of the most obvious examples of this is in fundraising. Every year, thousands of companies team with charitable organizations like the Red Cross or United Way, setting a fundraising target then challenging their employees to meet or exceed it.

Identify a Rival Business

Another way to harness healthy competition is to pit your workforce against your competitors. If your rival has a bigger market share than your business, challenge your employees to beat them within a specific time frame, be it a quarter, a year, or longer. When you create a common rival, people will almost always rise to the challenge.

Business owners have a lot to learn from the NFL. Creating rivalries, pitting teams against each other, and creating a culture in which people have the opportunity to work towards a common objective can reap enormous rewards for everybody.



weldingAt some point or another in their careers, just about everybody has worked at a place where most of their co-workers just didn’t seem to care much about what happens.

Inaccurate or damaged orders may have been shipped without being double checked. Safety standards may have been ignored or glossed over. And “looking the other way” may have been more common than actually caring about what was going on.

Odds are you didn’t stick around very long at that company.

Most people genuinely want to care about what they do. So when conscientious employees they find themselves in an organization where people don’t care — especially about something as important as safety — the first thing they usually look for is the door.

Creating a Company Culture

So what differentiates a business that is committed to safety and one that could care less? Typically, it has to do with the company’s culture.

Some companies define their culture by means of a written “Mission Statement”. For others, it’s more about the attitude people bring to their jobs every day. Both are defined by the business’s leadership.

When ownership doesn’t care, it’s nearly impossible for its employees to care. But when the company’s leaders are passionate about safety and continually reinforce their values to employees, it’s much easier for rank-and-file workers to get on board.

As it turns out, attitude is infectious.

Leading by Example

Employees naturally look to their leaders for attitude cues. If supervisors, managers, and executives don’t care about safety, then those working beneath them won’t either.

Creating a happy and safe work environment starts from the top down. Ownership needs to prioritize safety in every aspect of the organization. Only then will others follow suit.

But it goes beyond simply saying that you care about safety. Everybody on the management team — from the C-suite to line-level supervisors — needs to take a hands-on approach to workplace safety, walking the floors, spotting problems and correcting them immediately, and actively reinforcing to employees that they genuinely care about creating a safe workplace.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Actions, not just words or mission statements, are what create a corporate culture. Front line workers won’t be fooled by lip service when it comes to workplace safety. They need to see that the people in charge prioritize safe practices and genuinely care about their well-being.

Otherwise, they are going to take the path of least resistance and you will have a “toxic workplace” where workers simply don’t care.

Photo by Stan Zemanek (via Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Stan Zemanek (via Wikimedia Commons)

“That was easy!”

Now office supply retailing giant Staples is applying its signature catch phrase to its distribution centers throughout the US with an innovative new automated pick-and-pack system.

Traditionally, DCs and warehouses have used a “person to goods” system that uses human workers to pick and pack orders so they can be delivered to retail stores. But Staples’ new robotic system uses two “goods to person” automated guided vehicle (AGV) robotic systems to pick items with both high cubic velocity and low cubic velocity.

Reducing Robotic Tasks and Travel

The system — which was developed by Great Star Industrial USA — already is being used in one of Staples’ key fulfillment centers and will be rolled out to its entire nationwide network during the next 24 months, according to a company news release.

Unlike other systems used in warehouses and DCs, Staples automated robotic storage and retrieval system integrates two types of AGVs into an integrated system that requires less upfront capital investment than traditional materials handling systems while simultaneously boosting productivity and accuracy.

How It Works

The first robotic vehicle is engineered to pick from existing industry wide storage mediums and can retrieve up to five unique items per trip. That’s a lot more than traditional picking systems, resulting in fewer robot tasks and less travel across the warehouse floor.

A second type of AGV essentially replaces manual pick carts. These high cubic velocity AGVs pick cells to be fed by multiple AGVs simultaneously, eliminating the kind of downtime human order pickers typically experience. These vehicles can place products directly into the pick cell and then leave immediately to perform other tasks so they are constantly in motion.

Future Applications

The new robotic system should be in use throughout the Staples distribution network by 2019, but there already are plans to expand it even more, according to Mike Bhaskaran, the company’s chief supply chain officer.

“With Staples and Great Star each leveraging their strengths in design, engineering, and supply chain operations, we’ve rapidly gone from concept to production with a robotic solution that is truly ground breaking,” Bhaskaran said. “It incorporates concepts that have never been used before. In addition to rolling it out across Staples’ network of fulfillment centers, we’re excited for its potential applications beyond these facilities.”

The results will shatter industry norms, according to Great Star Executive VP Lily Chi.

“It offers a high degree of flexibility and capability that will provide a cost-effective solution for almost any order fulfillment and warehousing operation,” Chi said.




MirrorIn this high tech age, there are many different types of electronics that can provide surveillance and improve the safety of your business. But in many cases, low-tech mirrors can serve the same purpose for a fraction of the cost.

There are many different types of mirrors that can be used in manufacturing facilities, warehouses, docks, and other businesses. But they all work the same way, using natural light to provide a reflection that can make people more aware of prospective dangers.

Wide-Angle Mirrors

Wide-angle mirrors can be hung at the ends of aisles or in the shoulder between ceilings and walls to provide a “fish eye” view of an extended area. This lets people on the ground level see a wider angle of what’s around them, including objects and vehicles at their sides or approaching them from behind.

Panoramic quarter-dome mirrors provide a similar viewpoint. These can be installed in corners to give a 90-degree view in every direction to avoid collisions between people and machinery and other hazards.

Drop-In Dome Mirrors

Sometimes you don’t actually have to see a hazard in order to avoid it. You can actually sense it. Drop-in dome mirrors don’t give a very precise actual reflection because of their shape. But they can give workers a “heads up” if there is something moving in their direction from a blind corner or other areas.

Drop-in dome mirrors also are specifically designed with the exact dimensions of drop ceilings so they can easily be placed in the middle, at the end, or any other place where you already use a drop ceiling.

Panoramic full-dome mirrors are similar in function but are typically bolted or glued into position rather than already part of a drop-ceiling panel.

Convex Mirrors

A convex mirror is curved outwards to provide a wide-angle view of an area such as an aisle, a corner, or a straightaway. They feature sturdy brackets and bolts that allow them to be hung practically anywhere. And they are widely used in warehouses, docks, factories, and even retail businesses such as grocery stores to provide heightened visibility and to reduce blind spots.

One-way mirrors are specially designed panes of glass that have a mirrored surface on one side but a see-through surface on the other. They are typically used for surveillance of work areas, retail businesses, and other places where you want to be able to see other people without them knowing it.

Mirrors may be low-tech. But they are a cost-effective, highly efficient way to improve visibility in your workplace.

Flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey (Photo by SC National Guard via Wikimedia Commons)

Flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey (Photo by SC National Guard via Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to killing dozens of people, last month’s Hurricane Harvey caused billions of dollars of damages to homes and businesses in East Texas.

While high winds of more than 120 mph damaged roofs and caused other structure damage, most of the problems actually were caused by the massive flooding caused by the storm surge, overflowing rivers, and nearly four days of non-stop heavy rains.

Getting Ready for a Hurricane

Hurricanes, tropical storms, and other heavy weather can often be predicted well in advance, while they are still forming out at sea. While there is some guesswork involved in where they will directly hit, business owners can often get several hours or even many days notice before the full effects of the storms are felt.

This gives limited time in which to prepare. But to minimize damage, it’s critical to take full advantage of this time.

The most important thing is keeping people safe. If severe weather can be predicted ahead of time, businesses should consider sending workers home to safety. If natural disasters like tornadoes or earthquakes happen unexpectedly, instructions should be given about where to find immediate safety.

Preparing Your Business for Flooding

Most business owners weren’t prepared for the severity of the flooding that followed Hurricane Harvey. But some were able to get their products, parts, and other materials up on shelving or to higher ground to prevent it from being damaged or destroyed by the standing water.

In the hours or days before the storm hits, try to get as many items off the floor as possible, starting with the most expensive items. Things like electronics, machinery, and other materials that are highly likely to be a total loss if flooding should occur should be a priority.

Look at Your Property

Be smart about preparing for flooding. Look at the hydrodynamics of your property: Where will the water come from and where will it flow.

Water seeks its own level. So water from nearby rivers, streams, and other sources are likely to flow downhill and settle in low-lying areas.

If possible, prepare for flooding by filling sandbags and placing them around areas that are most likely to be prone to flooding, such as doorways and dock entrances. While they may not completely keep your business dry, they may help divert the water to other areas where it can cause less damage.

It’s also important to learn from previous flood events. Take steps to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Photo by Luis Argerich via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Luis Argerich via Wikimedia Commons

In some businesses, the conference room table is one of the most important pieces of furniture in the entire office.

That’s because the conference room is where many businesses meet with prospective new clients. It’s where new vendors are interviewed. It’s where contracts are negotiated.

You could say it’s where many of the most important decisions are made. So when you are designing and furnishing your business’s conference room, the conference room table shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be the centerpiece.

Size of Your Conference Room Table

There are several considerations when choosing a new conference room table. The first is size.

First of all, the conference room table needs to be the proper size for the conference room. If it is too small, it could make your business look weak to outsiders.

If it takes up too much room, it won’t be practical. Oversized conference room tables also can inhibit the free flow of conversation, stifle creativity, and suppress great ideas.

Conference Room Table Shapes

Most conference rooms are rectangular by design. This limits what kind of shapes you can consider for your new conference room. For example, a circular table in a rectangular room will leave a lot of empty, wasteful space.

So even though you probably will be limited to longer conference room tables, there still are choices to be made. Rectangular tables with sharp 90 degree corners create a more formal setting for your meetings. The create clear demarcations between bosses and employees.

Conference room tables that are oval-shaped can instill a more democratic tone to your meetings.  They imply that while there are distinctions between executives and subordinates, there also is room for compromise.

Surface Types

A third consideration is the type of surface your conference room table should have. Sturdy wood table tops s create a more traditional tone for your conference room, while clear or tinted glass tables offer a more futuristic, forward-looking look.

Dark colors imply a more conservative tone while lighter colors can promote an openness to new ideas.

If you have an interior designer planning your conference room, don’t be surprised if they ask you a lot of questions about the tone of your company, your management style, and the kind of message you want to wordlessly imply to your employees, vendors, and clients.

A business can say a lot with the type of conference room table they install in their meeting space.


Image by David Stankiewicz (via Wikimedia Commons)

Image by David Stankiewicz (via Wikimedia Commons)

Ten big food companies have teamed with computing giant IBM to develop blockchain technology that can help track and improve the US food supply chain.

Blockchain originally began as a way to legitimize cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. But in recent years it has taken on a life of its own as a shared record of data maintained by a network of computers owned and operated by many different independent businesses, rather than a trusted third party.

Now Kroger, Dole Foods, Nestle SA, Unilever, Tyson Foods and others are joining IBM in a grand experiment designed to track the movement of food products through the supply chain.

How Blockchain Works

Essentially, blockchain is simply a shared ledger for recording a history of transactions. Because many different parties are sharing the same financial ledger, it cannot be altered, reducing the risk of fraud, error, and inefficiency.

Traditional transactions are complex, with each party keeping its own set of books. It also depends on intermediaries such as credit card companies and banks to validate transactions. This antiquated, paper-laden process can result in delays and potential losses for everybody involved.

But blockchain uses a shared ledger that is tamper-evident. Once a transaction is recorded, it can’t be altered. Plus, all parties have to give consensus before a new transaction is added to the network. And paper is reduced or eliminated altogether, speeding up transaction times and improving efficiencies exponentially.

Benefits of Blockchain

It’s already paying off for some companies. Wal-Mart, which implemented blockchain trials in June, reported that the process has helped narrow down the time it took to trace food origins of mangoes from about 7 days to 2.2 seconds. That kind of timing can be critical in the handling and distribution of food products, especially if there is a product recall.

Blockchain works as a system of record that is shared among participants in a business network, such as the one being launched by IBM. That eliminates the need to reconcile disparate ledgers

Each member of the network can access the data so that confidential information is shared — but only on a need-to-know basis. Consensus is required from all network members and all validated transactions are permanently recorded. Once they are in the digital books no one, not even the system administrator, can delete or alter them.

Proponents of blockchain say it can free up capital flows, reduce transaction costs, speed up processes, and provide security and trust between businesses.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As summer winds down, many people are starting to plan last minute summer vacations. Whether it’s just an extended weekend getaway or two weeks on a sunny, sandy beach, vacations offer a time to renew, recharge, and refresh.

So it doesn’t make much sense for companies to discourage their employees from using their vacation time. In fact, bosses should be making sure that all of their employees take every hour of Paid Time Off (PTO) or vacation days that they are entitled to.

It’s actually good for your business.

All Work and No Play

No matter what kind of work you do, if you spend too much time on the job sooner or later you are going to get burned out. This is true whether you are a forklift operator, a school teacher, a policeman, or a chief executive officer.

Most people can’t handle thinking about work all the time. There’s a reason we have eight-hour work days (in theory, anyway) and weekends off. People need time off to get away from the pressures and frustrations of work.

Spending time with family and friends instead of co-workers and bosses is good for the mind, body, and soul. So using vacation time to actually relax a little can ensure that when you finally do return to work you will be fresh and renewed.

It’s Your Vacation Time

Many, if not most, businesses today will give their employees some sort of PTO or vacation time benefit. Workers build up vacation days or PTO hours over time, depending on how often and how long they work.

For some businesses, it may be two weeks per year. For others, it could be one PTO hour for every 20 or 40 hours workers spend on the jobs. In either case, this is a benefit that belongs to the employee, not the employer. So workers should be allowed to use this benefit whenever they want (within reason).

Balancing Needs

That’s not to say that some companies don’t have busy seasons or times when it’s all hands on deck. For example, during the weeks and months leading up to April 15, tax accountants can’t really take any time off.

Factories, warehouses or loading docks may be going at full speed right before the holidays. So they may want to enact “blackout dates” in which no vacations can be taken.

If you allow workers to take PTO or vacation days anytime they want outside of these critical times, they will usually be understanding. Running a successful business requires balancing the needs of the enterprise with those of its work force.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

If you have ever been shopping for corrugated boxes for your warehouse, dock, or shipping operation, you may have noticed that they come rated at various weight tests.

For example, you might find corrugated boxes that are 250 lb. test or 350 lb test. But what does this actually mean? Can you really put 250 or 350 lbs. of products, parts, or other items in there and they won’t fail?

Corrugated Box Mullen Tests

There are basically two different tests used to measure the strength and durability of corrugated boxes. The first is the Mullen Test, also known as the bursting test.

The Mullen Test measures the rough handling durability of the corrugated material. It’s actually a measure of the force required to rupture or puncture the face of the corrugated cardboard material. A special tool known as a Mullen Tester applies force to the carton until it actually splits or bursts. This weight is its test weight, such as 275 lbs., for example.

Edge Crush Test

Now there is a second test that is used to measure the durability of corrugated boxes. The Edge Crust Test — or ECT, for short — is related to the stacking strength of a carton.

The ECT measures the edgewise compressive strength of corrugated board by compressing a small segment of the board on edge between two rigid platens or plates that are perpendicular to the direction of the flutes. The purpose of this is to establish a peak load, which is measured in pounds per lineal inch of load bearing edge.

But the ECT is usually expressed as an ECT value: For example 44 ECT.

Minimum  Values

The ECT values are a minimum value. This is because manufacturers of corrugated boxes may use different “recipes” when creating their corrugated cardboard materials, each of which may vary slightly in overall strength.

For example, a 200 lb test box may have an ECT that could be anywhere from 32 ECT to 44 ECT. The difference has to do with the amount of material that is used. Corrugated materials with lower ECTs may use fewer raw materials, have lower energy requirements, create less pollution to make, and so on.

Using lighter materials to make a container that is the proper size for the item being shipped with increasing amounts of recycled content is better for the environment. But that doesn’t help if the box isn’t strong enough to hold what’s inside.

If the corrugated boxes you are using are likely to undergo rough handling, a bursting strength rating is a better measure than ECT, in general.