The color of supply chain

By Joe Limbaugh, Motion Industries

Like most good supply chain departments, ours can look at an empty warehouse and visualize a dozen or so different combinations of conveyors and storage. From wire rack to static shelving, our department can honeycomb inventory with the speed and accuracy of a honeybee. Yet when the topic of color design enters the discussion, the room falls silent. This is surprising to me, as in every other way, this group has exceptional spatial capacity.

This became especially evident early last year when we unveiled our 5-Star Distribution Center and Experience Center concepts. Recognizing that we host a number of visitors a week and that our Birmingham facility was built in 1976, we saw an untapped opportunity. We identified a need to train some tour guides, provide the right information at the right spots, and of most importance, make sure that our guests were safe on-site. On the way, we would improve the overall look and feel of our distribution center.

With the team assembled, we dove in. In fairly short order, we:

  • Designed the tour path
  • Cut windows into department walls
  • Considered all aspects of safety
  • Selected and applied paint
  • Improved lighting (adding more of it and ensuring it was energy-efficient)
  • Developed storyboards
  • Trained our associates

But in all of this, the discussion of color was the most difficult, and in my view, the most important.

The psychological properties of color and the effect that color can have on the viewer are well-documented. For instance, red is stimulating and can increase one’s pulse (it can also be agitating). It makes things appear closer than they are, too. (Think stop signs and traffic lights.) Blue consistently polls as the world’s favorite color, but it can have the effect of being cold and impersonal. And experts say that black clothing does not make one look thinner – it makes one less noticeable. (Sorry.)

It is no surprise then that marketing and advertising companies are well aware of the motivational value of colors and that they employ them to drive buying patterns. In this way, the colors that you choose in your workspaces can have a similar effect on your visitors and on employee motivation.

We chose to focus on our company color, red. Brighter colors like red can increase focus and are associated with energy, strength, and vitality. This would prove to be just the ticket where order picking is concerned. But red can be like a hot spice used for cooking – a little goes a long way. So we were careful to use it sparingly and balance it with good doses of white (for brightness) and black (for defining the space).

In the end, what our team has accomplished is truly impressive. A “Red Zone” was established as a designated tour route. It covers all of the functional areas of the DC and is punctuated with storyboards at six different stops, highlighting key statistics. Safety yellow is used on all hand rails and clearly marks the pedestrian areas where caution is needed. End caps were created and attached to the end of each bin section. To structure the dispensing of information, we “trained the trainers” and equipped all potential tour guides with the right facts to share with an emphasis on guest safety.

Good commercial design should not be exclusive to retail, and examples of exceptional designs in industrial spaces can be seen everywhere. For instance, the SKF Solution Factory in Leeds, AL, brings a chic European sensibility to its space. And if you ever get to Nashville, make an appointment to meet the team at Industrial Strength Marketing and check out the ultra-hip space that was created for this very creative group. (Some of the guys let me try out their skateboards as a way of unwinding after a very long meeting. Speaking of color, it only took two weeks for the bruises to fade.)

In the end, the journey through the design phase of our project was fun, and we are now in the process of implementing 5-Star at all of our distribution centers. It has confirmed for me that having a safe, comfortable, inviting workplace just makes sense. And while good commercial design in and of itself cannot increase productivity, it certainly can make people more productive.

Take the Red Tour with Joe >>>