Assuming that it obtains its members' approval, the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) will soon change its name to the Strategic Outsourced Logistics Association (SOLA). Though IWLA believes this new label will more accurately reflect its members' business, the idea of scrapping the word "warehouse" has generated some controversy within the ranks. Some are all for it, arguing that "warehouse" is an outmoded term; others feel this is nothing more than a word game that will require expensive changes in letterhead, Web sites and signage.
The current controversy again brings to mind the on going industry identity crisis of warehouse vs. distribution center. You might think that the difference between the two are so obvious they're hardly worth mentioning, but you'd be wrong. Though a leading logistics text book, which probably should remain unidentified, states, "The term 'distribution center' is virtually synonymous with 'warehouse,' "nothing could be further from the truth.
What's the difference? Granted, they each have four walls, a roof, floors, dock space and truck doors. And from the outside, the structures might even look quite similar. But as the following definition (from Words of Warehousing) makes clear, what happens inside those four walls is really quite different. That book defines a distribution center as a "facility from which wholesale and retail orders are filled," adding that, "The term is used to describe a high-velocity operation as opposed to a dead storage warehouse."
Though this definition makes the difference pretty clear, a look at the primary functions of a true distribution center should remove all doubt:
What should your facility be? Somebody once defined a warehouse as "inventory at zero velocity." Compare that with the high-velocity activity level, customer focus and sophistication of today's distribution center. Which would you rather be?