You know your warehouse or distribution center has a problem. Maybe it’s an inability to meet spikes in demand, or to efficiently and cost effectively accommodate customers’ desire for free next-day shipping. Or, perhaps you’d like to add automation, but aren’t sure which process would benefit the most. Or, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended your traditional, full-pallet retail replenishment model and your operation is now shipping single parcels direct-to-consumer — and you need help figuring out how to accommodate the switch.


All of these (and many more) are great reasons to engage a consultant. As described in a previous post, organizations typically partner with a consultant because he or she brings expertise outside their core focus to help them solve a challenge or to provide a service. But how do you select the consultant, or consulting firm, that best addresses your specific needs?


Some operations are procurement-driven, issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) and selecting the consultant who offers the lowest price. While that’s certainly one way to vet your options, it may not result in the most effective partnership or a satisfactory outcome. Instead, consider evaluating a potential consulting partner in a manner similar to conducting the hiring process. After all, you’re engaging this person (or firm) to tackle a specific task — which isn’t so different from filling a defined role within your organization.


Here are a few tips to help you assess and select the right consultant for your project.


  1. Define Your Need. Think of this as the job description. Describe the challenge you’re hoping to overcome, and the objective(s) you’re seeking to achieve. Outline the deliverables you expect to receive, and the timeframe in which you’d like the project to be completed. This is also the time to identify your internal project manager, as well as set a budget.


  1. Assess Experience. Whether you’re hiring an individual or a firm, chances are you’ll be working with a single point person — regardless of whose logo is on their business card. The consultant you engage will bring his or her own unique background and individual experiences to the table. That may include working as a practitioner, an equipment supplier, a system integrator, or in warehousing, logistics, procurement, or transportation. Perhaps they’ve worked for large multi-national consulting firms, small regional providers, or hung out their own shingle.


Regardless of the content of their resume, you want to find the best match for your situation. What’s key is to look for someone who has experience working on projects with similar challenges to yours, with clients similar in size and structure to your organization, or within the same industry (or all three).


  1. Compare Services Provided. Depending on the consultant (or firm), their offerings may be specialized or span multiple services. Some offer current-state operational assessments; others help strategize on near- and long-term investments in equipment or automation. Others provide labor analysis, transportation services, business analytics, fulfillment strategies, network optimization, real estate procurement, regulatory compliance, and more.


If your needs are fairly focused, a one-time project, or you’re a small operation with a limited network, a specialized consultant may be the right fit (notably, if you’re looking at a software implementation, you definitely want a specialized consultant). If you have a larger challenge, a multi-location network, or have multiple interrelated challenges, consider a consultant with a broader service offering.


  1. Determine Brand Affiliation. Some consultants have made arrangements with major manufacturers and suppliers of material handling equipment to only integrate their products into recommended solutions. While this may not be an issue for your organization, chances are high that the optimal solution for your operation will integrate components and equipment from multiple manufacturers. For that reason, it’s generally advisable to work with a consultant who is brand agnostic and therefore able to freely offer a variety of potential solutions from different sources.


  1. Compare Rates. As noted above, the least expensive consulting option may not yield the most effective solution or outcome. That said, compare rates from potential suppliers to determine if they are market competitive as part of your decision-making process. They should all be within the same range, and — of course — within your budget.


  1. Query References. While it’s unlikely a prospective consultant is going to provide references from unhappy customers, don’t accept a list at face value; it’s also important to speak with those references yourself. By asking each reference a series of questions (which I’ll elaborate on in my next post), you should be able to ascertain specific details about what it’s like to work with the prospective consultant in terms of responsiveness, communication style, potential cultural fit with your organization and team, and — most importantly — the quality of their deliverables.


Need more ideas for ways to improve your operational performance or supplement your team’s expertise? To learn more about working with DCS, connect with us.


Mark Kidwell, Director of Supply Chain Consulting,

With over 35 years in the Material Handling Industry, Mark provides valuable solutions for our clients regarding operations and process improvement, labor efficiency, DC design, and inventory management. Mark received his Bachelor of Science in Business Management and moved into operations and engineering management before supply chain consulting. A couple of his most significant achievements include helping start a 3PL company in the food industry and assisting grow and develop a supply chain consulting company from the ground up.