Types of Warehouses and Their Uses

Warehouses are commercial buildings used to store goods of all types. These include raw materials, finished products, spare parts, supplies, food, and just about anything else you can think of.

Warehouses come in many types and sizes. Some can be as small as a few hundred square feet. Others can sprawl over ten thousand square feet and more. The size depends upon the industry, location, and needs of the business. In general, the bigger the business, the larger their warehouses. For example, retail giants like Amazon and Wal-Mart are well known for their vast warehouses.

Warehouses tend to be plain looking structures. They are often located on the outskirts of towns and in industrial areas of large cities. You can also find them near rail yards, airports, seaports and other transportation hubs. Companies choose these locations for a couple of reasons. Land is cheaper if they want to own the property. Rents tend to be lower if they lease the building. Also, warehouse companies don’t need stylish buildings because customers don’t come to them. Instead, everything is shipped out to the customer.

No matter what type of warehouse, it will usually have certain features common to all warehouses. The most obvious is large loading docks used for shipping and receiving. Tall roll-up overhead doors that allow loading and unloading of large items are found in most warehouse. Other common features include high ceilings to maximize the storage space, and of course, warehouse forklifts of various types. Without these vital tools, the movement of products throughout the U.S. would slow to a crawl.


There are five basic types, or classes, of warehouses.

Private Warehouses

These are privately owned storage buildings. Most are used by wholesale or retail firms to stockpile inventory for future sales. Large retail chains might have many regional warehouses throughout the country to supply local outlets. Manufacturing companies use private warehouses to store their products until they are shipped. These are often located next to the manufacturing plant for fast shipping.

Some wholesalers own private warehouses to receive, store and ship their goods. Construction companies often use warehouses to store heavy equipment and building supplies. Private warehouses can be costly to build or buy. However, they tend to be cost-effective over time. As with most warehouses, forklifts and pallet jacks are used to move items coming in and going out.

Public Warehouses

Public warehouses offer both short and long-term storage space. They’re usually leased on a month-to-month basis. They also offer flexible usage. One company can lease the entire warehouse. Or several different businesses can share a public warehouse at the same time. This provides a good option for smaller firms that can’t afford to lease their own space. Many public warehouses also offer inventory management, control and shipping services.

Businesses that need short-term storage or distribution space often turn to public warehouses. When a retailer stocks up on products before their busy season or a special sale, they may use a public warehouse. When sales go back to normal, the company no longer needs the extra space.

Distribution Centers

Distribution centers are a key part of the nation’s supply chain. Also called “fulfillment centers,” they usually store products for a brief period of time and then ship them back out. As a result, products are constantly coming in and out the door at a high rate.  When used to ship products direct to consumers, these warehouses are also called package handling centers.

Fulfillment centers are one of the busiest types of warehouses. When goods are shipped to huge retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon, it sets in motion a flurry of activity. The products are unloaded from big semi-trucks. Then they’re moved by different warehouse forklift types to the correct place in the warehouse. They remain there until needed by the company’s retail outlets. At that point, they’re loaded back on to trucks and shipped where they need to go. One large distribution warehouse can supply up to 100 or more retail stores.

One type of warehouse used for distribution is keeping fresh food and other perishable products safe until delivery. These centers can be refrigerated, air-conditioned or both. Some will also have walk-in freezers for frozen food.  Items received in the morning are often shipped out to customers the same day.

Automated Warehouses

Today’s technology reduces the need for manpower in most industries. Warehousing is no exception. Fewer human workers means less supervision is required. To handle inventory with fewer workers, these warehouses use automated storage and retrieval systems. Software is used to program which products go where. Robotics control the inventory handling. To move goods, these warehouses mainly use conveyer belts and self-propelled forklifts. Some use cranes and carriers as well.

Robotics are used for picking, sorting, and sending goods to a packing station. A worker then prepares the goods for shipping. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are used to move pallets or packing crates. AGVs travel by following markers or wires in the floor. They can also travel by using a system of magnets or lasers. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) use sensors and cameras to find their way around. Robotics and automated systems reduce labor costs and improve efficiencies. They can also be scaled up in size. As a result, the use of both in warehouses will increase.

Some of these warehouses are three to five stories tall. Others contain tens or even hundreds of thousands of square feet of floor space.

Climate-Controlled Warehouses

This type of warehouse is for products that require certain temperature and/or humidity levels. Climate control tools range from ceiling fans to huge refrigerated rooms and giant walk-in freezers. Dehumidifiers are used to suck moisture out of the air. The degree of climate control depends on the products being stores. Perishable food is one example. Others include flowers, plants, medicines, chemicals, and electronics.

To maintain control over the environment, warehouses often place sealing strips around doors. Many also insulate the walls and ceilings. The location of the warehouse must be taken into account. Warehouses in hot, humid areas will require a higher degree of climate control than dry regions.

Regardless of the type of warehouse, workers need to be trained and certified to use the forklifts.  This includes knowing how to safely stack, retrieve and load pallets of products. A great way to become a certified forklift operator is through ForkLiftCertification.com. Our online training is OSHA approved. It’s convenient and affordable. It’s available anywhere you can connect with the Internet. And it only takes about an hour to complete. To get started today, click here. You can also contact us online or call us at 888-278-8896.

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