Maximizing Your Retail Space: Tips for Converting to a Warehouse

Because of the concurrent growth of e-commerce and the decline of traditional retail at roughly the same time, space planners are increasingly turning to retail warehouses as an unconventional solution to the problem of their shrinking availability of space.


Although the idea of warehousing goods for retail may come to mind when you hear the term ‘retail warehouse’ (and in modern times, that makes up a significant portion of warehousing), what the term actually refers to is the process of converting unused, previously used retail space into warehouse space and distribution centres. As big-box retailers and shopping malls have continuously fallen out of favour, enterprising business owners and space planners have continued to find ways to maximise the usefulness of those spaces by converting them into new businesses such as restaurants, recreation centres, and warehouses. This has allowed those spaces to be used to their full potential.

Because the design and layout of big-box retailers and shopping malls (specifically, the defunct anchor stores that used to take up the most space) can serve the needs of incoming and outgoing product as well as long-term storage, more and more warehouses and ecommerce companies have been resorting to moving into closed up Circuit Cities, unused malls, and other available locations all over the country to help maximise their reach and storage capacity. Retail display manufacturers and shopfitting suppliers are then hired to provide the equipment for storage.

If the thought of converting retail space into warehouse space has even the slightest bit piqued your interest, there are a few things you’ll want to keep an eye out for that will make the transition much smoother and more productive:

Verify the structure that is already there:

When converting an old space into a warehouse, the first thing space planners should always do is inspect the current layout to determine whether or not it meets your requirements. If it does, then you can proceed with the conversion. The majority of big-box retailers will have the bare essentials, such as large loading bays and spacious inventory capacity; however, you will need to keep an eye out for things such as un-removed store fixtures, unusable architectural choices (like having a giant fountain in the middle of the store, remember those?), or narrow passageways that could get in the way of your incoming shipments. You may also want to check with your local retail display manufacturersand shop equipment providers to get an idea on latest storage solutions available.

Prepare the area in which your workers will be working by:

You may find that some of the larger retail stores have the high ceilings and spacious aisleways that are necessary for warehousing, but you won’t always have that luxury. Because of this, the shelving, sourced from reliable retail display manufacturers or shop system suppliers, in your warehouse needs to be designed in such a way that it can accommodate the lack of space. Keep your inventory loosely packed together and store it on wire shelves or steel shelves that can be easily accessed without the need for ladders or forklifts. This is especially important for e-commerce needs that require quick access to individual products as opposed to picking entire pallets. This will prevent your team from wasting a significant amount of time digging through pallets or attempting to reach products in a manner that is not as straightforward as it should be.

Consider delivery options:

The majority of major retail locations were picked due to their proximity to densely populated areas in the hopes of luring in customers from those areas. If you have recently acquired a retail warehouse in a community that is in close proximity to a major metropolitan area, you might want to investigate the possibility of providing customers with more expedient shipping options within a particular service area as a direct result of your new location.

Make use of the dock for sending and receiving packages:

Since most large retail stores already had a sizable docking area for trucks, which allowed for easy access to outgoing shipments and the drop off of incoming items, this area won’t be as important now that you’re using the space for warehousing, but it will still be essential in the future. Installing some workstations at the loading dock will assist in checking in new products in a more timely manner, getting outgoing products ready to go in a more timely manner than in the past, and assisting in the timely movement of your shipments than they may have been able to back when it was a store.

Remember to get approval and proper zoning:

If you want to make any significant changes to your company, like this one, you are going to have to go through the appropriate procedures and make sure all of your paperwork is in order. This is probably the least exciting aspect of the entire operation. Make sure everything is above board before you get too far into the weeds with your planning by having a conversation with the current owner, the previous tenants, the city zoning board, and even the building’s neighbours (especially if there are still retail operations in the area that might not appreciate the truck traffic).

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