The e-commerce boom created a drastic increase in demand for industrial real estate, leaving many retailers and distributors tighter than normal on space in their warehouses and fulfillment centers. Though a larger structure or an additional facility may still eventually be in the cards, it may be possible to buy some more time from your current facility by getting the most out of the space you already have.

If your warehouse has been in operation more than a couple of years, it’s likely that your original warehouse plan is no longer optimized for the changes that have happened across your operation. When looking for extra storage capacity in your warehouse, these tips may help you find some unused space.

Examine Aisle Width

How wide are your aisles? Compare the width of your warehouse aisles to your material handling equipment. If your forklifts have extra room beyond what they need to safely to turn and operate, you might be able to reclaim valuable square footage by moving your racks or shelves closer together. If your warehouse is currently set up for two-lane traffic in the aisles, consider implementing a one-lane, one-way traffic system that would allow move your racks in significantly to add more. Depending on your product, you could also switch to a smaller forklift that can operate in narrower aisles.

Moving existing racks in an operational warehouse is no small feat. Before moving forward, you’ll need to balance the potential space you might gain with the cost of repositioning racks to see if it’s worth it.

Improve Inventory Management

If you’re running out of space, you probably notice it most when you try to find shelf space for new and popular items. Conduct an analysis of your held inventory and see what you need to have on hand and what you could do with less of. Also consider whether its cost-effective to hold more high-demand inventory in stores to free up some room in your warehouse.

Perhaps most importantly, find and purge inventory that will never sell or get used. If you don’t regularly clean house, chances are you have some low-potential goods taking up valuable storage space. To make a long story short: Those VCRs and CD players aren’t going to sell. Let them go.

Explore Vertical Space

If you think you’re out of room, then look up. How much free space is up there between your racking and your rafters? In most states, you can place racks within two or three feet of your fire suppression system, though you’ll need to check your local codes for the exact distance to make sure any new storage solutions you implement remain compliant. Also check your shelves and pallet racks for unused vertical space above the actual pallets or stored items to make sure you aren’t wasting unnecessary space in cubes or on shelves.

Taking advantage of unused vertical space will probably require an investment in a taller racking or storage system. If you have enough unused cubic footage floating above your head, however, the investment will pay for itself over time.

Organize Returns Management

Last but not least, it’s probably time to look in that corner. You know the one. Yes, THAT corner, where your team dumps all the returns to look at later. Except nobody actually looks at them for weeks on end and they just keep piling up. If you haven’t made any effort to streamline your reverse logistics, doing so can help you find some much needed storage capacity in your distribution center. Processing those goods in a timely manner for return to inventory or disposal/donation will allow you to use the dreaded returns dump for more effective storage.


Strategic Real Estate. Applied Technology. Tailored Service. Creativity. Flexibility. These fundamentals reflect everything we do at Phoenix Logistics. We provide specialized support in locating and attaining the correct logistics solutions for every client we serve. Most logistic competitors work to win 3PL contracts, and then attempt to secure the real estate to support it. As an affiliate of giant industrial real estate firm Phoenix Investors, we can quickly secure real estate solutions across its portfolio or leverage its market and financial strength to quickly source and acquire real estate to meet our client’s need.

Frank P. Crivello is a Milwaukee-based developer and Chairman & Founder of Phoenix Investors.