Learning How Your Brownells Order Gets Packed

I don’t know about you guys, but when I order something online, I have sometimes wondered how they process so many orders as fast as they do with the degree of accuracy that they do. Most of my online orders for gun stuff are generally placed on the Brownells website due to the prices being reasonable across the board, and they ship things out rather quickly.

I was given a chance to wander around the Brownells facility for a few days with an all access employee badge and the thought occurred to me that I would really like to see how my orders are packed. Now I have worked in a warehouse in my younger days as well as worked in eCommerce operations in recent years, I am not a stranger as to how orders are packed. That said, Brownells has a slightly higher tech approach to things that are more in line with how I would expect Amazon to fill orders rather than a retailer in the gun industry. We do resist change heavily and many of the retailers that I have had the chance to see how they work have a rather old school approach to filling orders.

That said, Brownells has a slightly higher tech approach to things that are more in line with how I would expect Amazon to fill orders rather than a retailer in the gun industry. We do resist change heavily and many of the retailers that I have had the chance to see how they work have a rather old school approach to filling orders.

I pulled up to Brownells newer facility in Grinnell, Iowa situated right between the main highway and one of the many corn fields in the area. I have been told that the new facility was designed to hold Brownells for the next 10 years, but at the rate they have been growing under the leadership of Pete Brownell, I imagine that they may be adding onto this facility sooner than expected.

I know this is a familiar sight for many of you and even some of you might have it set as your home page. Placing the order online is as easy as you might expect and I was able to locate all the products that I needed quickly.

Once I had added everything to my cart, checking out is a bit easier than it has been in years past thanks to a revamped checkout process that is quite welcome.

For those of you that are wondering what I ordered, here is the list:

Once the order is placed, it is transmitted to the order picking software that transmits it to scan guns carried by warehouse employees like Chase. Since we wanted to track our order being placed we had to do things a bit different, but normally the scan gun will have several orders in its memory, and they are all picked at the same time and deposited in a large bin.

Chase starts with scanning the tote to let the system know where the products will be. Once that barcode is scanned the scan gun will tell Chase the location of every product on the pick list as well as how many to pull for the order batch he is working.

The first product Chase located was the .223 Accurate Mag. Every piece that is pulled from the warehouse shelves is scanned into the gun to confirm that it is the correct product. Brownells stocks everything on its website and as long as the website says it is in stock, chances are that it is there. Sure, there are a few odd glitches, but that happens everywhere no matter how advanced the system may be.

 

Bins are moved around the warehouse on conveyor belts, and rollers and the use of carts are limited to work in the aisles. Brownells keeps the products that are most commonly ordered along this roller conveyor belt to speed up order picking time.

Chase found the Magpul AICS on the main run of products and quickly grabbed one, scanned it, then deposited it in the bin with the other magazine.

Next Chase located the Glock 43 magazine, scanned it and put it in the bin with the rest of the magazines. Locating everything in my order has been pretty easy for him so far, which isn’t much of a surprise given how nicely the Brownells warehouse is laid out.

Every time Chase scans the product he just picked and the bin the gun will tell him if more of that product is needed or if he needs to move to another warehouse location for the next item on his pick list. Chase is getting the location for the final item on the pick list, the muzzle shims.

Once he gets to the location, each piece is scanned, deposited in the bin, then the bin is scanned to confirm it went to the right place.

 

Now that Chase has finished picking the order, it gets placed on the conveyor belt to leave the second floor of the warehouse and head down to a station that is called ‘Put To Light.’

 

Put To Light is designed to allow the warehouse pickers to pull several orders at one time and put them all into the same bin. Once they get to the Put To Light station, the bin is scanned, and the computer maps out all the orders into their own respective bins. Once the computer has that figured out, each product is scanned and placed into the bin that is indicated with a light and an arrow pointing to the correct bin for that order.

 

Again, since we were trying to follow a single order through the process, it got its own bin. Normally these totes are large blue ones that are large enough that a grown man can sit in them. Each and every one of them is filled to the brim with product to be separated out into their individual orders by a Brownells employee.

Now the order was turned over to Tia’s expert hands for the remainder of the order process. Now, normally there would be at least 4 employees involved in the process working each station that the order passes through but Tia offered to go from Put to Light all the way to slapping a label on the box. Who am I to say no?

Like previously mentioned, the put to light station requires Tia to scan every product in the bin she is currently working, and the machine will illuminate a light and arrow for the correct bin.

Tia got through the bin and every one of the items that were on my order happened to find their way into the holding bin. I did find this part of the process rather interesting as I haven’t seen something quite like this in an eCommerce operation. I am sure that it is standard practice in other industries, but it was a new concept for me.

Tia then moved to the other side of the Put To Light station to pack our order into a box that would then be placed onto the conveyor to the next station.

At this station, the box is filled with bagged air by a single employee. They pull the requisite amount of packing material from that black bet to Tia’s right and place it in the box so that everything is adequately protected.

Just a short trip down the roller conveyor and the box with your stuff now comes to a taping machine. That’s right, they use a machine to make sure that the tape on your box is not only secure but also laid on there just so.

Tia fed the machine our box and the machine spits out a perfectly taped package.

The last station that Tia showed us was the shipping label machine. Brownells has recently switched to a machine that prints the shipping label on one side and the packing list on the other side as opposed to the separate shipping label and packing list paper that they were using.

 

A few days later the box showed up on my doorstep looking much like it did when I last saw it at Brownells. Digging into the box you can see how Tia packed it a little better than previously. She laid a thinner sheet of bubble wrap type stuff on the bottom and then placed the items into the box then she filled the rest of the box with the green bags of air.

  

Huge thanks to Chase and Tia for getting my order to my house! If you are wondering what the hell I might need a .223 AICS mag for make sure you keep checking back for a speical project I have in the works.

Now that I see how Brownells picks and packs every order with the degree of accuracy that they do, I am even more impressed than I was before. Their order processing system is forward thinking and they spared no expense to ensure they will be able to serve their customers in a timely manner for the foreseeable future.

I want to extend a huge thank you to everyone that helped me out while I was there with the things I wanted to do. If you are looking to pick up any of the products that I bought, make sure to head on over to Brownells.



Patrick R

Patrick is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and TFBTV Host. He likes guns and has liked shooting guns for as long as he can remember. You can follow Patrick on Instagram @tfbpatrick, Facebook, or contact him by email at TFBpatrick@gmail.com.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • James

    I’ve not read it all yet, but this paragraph is there twice:
    “That said, Brownells has a slightly higher tech approach to things that are more in line with how I would expect Amazon to fill orders rather than a retailer in the gun industry. We do resist change heavily and many of the retailers that I have had the chance to see how they work have a rather old school approach to filling orders.”

  • Ehtacs

    At what step do they automatically start spamming your mailbox with gun covered catalogs and the address of where they are likely stored? Huge peeve of mine since Sears was crushed by Amazon.

    • PK

      Or, you could just call them and tell them to stop sending you any advertisements. I did that years ago, I receive absolutely nothing from them if it isn’t directly related to an order.

      • Ehtacs

        I did! I get re-opted-in every time I move so every year or two. Both Brownells and Midway :/

        • PK

          That’s wild! How in the world do you get added back to their list? It should be associated with your account, not your address.

          • Big Daddy

            They know where you live, they will find you….

  • PK

    Any business which ships and is of sufficient size either adopts this sort of model, or as business reaches this volume, it bogs down with mistakes/increasing overhead and is out-competed by a business which adopts this sort of model.

  • Bill Jordan

    I keep getting random extra items in my orders. This multi order packing system explains it.
    I must have wasted $5 in gas driving to the UPS store to return stuff. Kinda ticks me off when you return a $100 thing you didn’t order or pay for, and they don’t even say thank you.

    • James

      I have bought items totaling in the thousands from Brownells and Midwayusa over the last 5-10yrs. I’ve never received any bonus products; I must not be doing it right:)

      Every issue I’ve ever had with both firms has been corrected immediately with no burden on me. Once I lost maybe 100 projectiles when the 50# box of bullets split apart in the UPS truck. I emailed them telling them the packing sucked (asking for nothing) and unexpected they sent me an additional small box.

      Both companies are rock solid with their delivery and service with just a slight premium over pricing with some other less reputable companies. In the long run you will get your moneys worth using quality vendors. But you know this already.

      • Bill Jordan

        Ive had maybe 7 orders in the past year.
        3 of them have had “bonus” items. Extra bolt carrier group, fancy 50BMG hand priming tool, and some various AR15 springs. I didn’t bother to return the $5 worth of AR springs, after returning $200+ worth of items and not even having the person on the line say thank you both times I called to report extra items.

        • Russ Kell

          PSA sent me someone else’s order, entirely, in addition to my own, once upon a time. Took two weeks to get a human to actually get back back to me and give me a shipping label (was two uppers and bunch of Magpul staff and misc parts). Make me work to do the right thing.

          Another vendor boxed someone else’s stuff with mine (including two packing lists, about $150 worth of stuff). They were so surprised I actually called/emailed they said ‘just keep it’.

          • Bill Jordan

            We all want to do the right thing. Just annoying to make you work to not “steal” from a company.

  • Gun Fu Guru

    Much more low tech than I imagined. I know Amazon uses golf carts to get across the warehouse and sets up the top 100 products in the same spot for faster processing.

    • jonp

      Amazon is just a wee bit larger than Brownells

  • Dan

    So, it’s strange that a large company like brownells would have an order processing operation like any other large scale business that derives most of it’s revenue from online/mail/phone orders, because it’s part of the gun industry? Patrick how do you suppose places like brownells, midway etc keep pace with the volume of orders they receive? How else are they supposed to grow?

  • 22winmag

    Firearms not Logistics

    • Klaus Von Schmitto

      You don’t think a story about this country’s largest (I think) firearms parts and accessories retailer is not about firearms?
      You should get yourself a picture of your favorite firearm and every time you see a story that doesn’t fall into your definition of “Firearms” (which seems to be a lot), look at it. You’ll be happier and you won’t have to keep posting this.

  • Michael Gallagher

    Bet the system that MidwayUSA does the job more efficiently.

    Brownells seems to have fallen behind lately and is trying to catch up with commercials and fluff pieces like this one.

    .

    • plumber576

      Larry Potterfield kisses each box as it loaded on a truck. At night we walks his rows of inventory and tells them hunting stories. You think Pete Brownell has time to do that as NRA president?

      • mazkact

        That’s the way it is and thanks for your business.

      • Wow!

        “And that’s the way it is.”

        EDIT: Aw, beat to it.

  • Big Daddy

    So they pack it the same way all big outlets do. But they charge more to ship it.

    • Russ Kell

      Free shipping and discount codes almost continuously for Brownell’s. Usually for $99+ orders.

      • Big Daddy

        So do many of them. I’m waiting for a Brownells shipment, over a week. Wing Tactical offers free shipping all the time and I get it in a few days. Aero Precision offers free shipping over $99, AIM free on many items. They all do, but Brownells takes a long time to ship with their free shipping, the one they pass it on to USPS. Really slow.

  • Haulin’ Oats

    Amazon has robots that do the picking and sorting.
    https://youtu.be/Y-lBvI6u_hw

    • Wow!

      Amazon is a bigger business. Automation doesn’t always make sense compared to manual labor if your demands aren’t high enough to justify the cost and maintenance.

  • Veteran for Trump

    Did you proofread? You repeated a couple sentences.

    “That said, Brownells has a slightly higher tech approach to things
    that are more in line with how I would expect Amazon to fill orders
    rather than a retailer in the gun industry. We do resist change heavily
    and many of the retailers that I have had the chance to see how they
    work have a rather old school approach to filling orders.

    That said, Brownells has a slightly higher tech approach to things
    that are more in line with how I would expect Amazon to fill orders
    rather than a retailer in the gun industry. We do resist change heavily
    and many of the retailers that I have had the chance to see how they
    work have a rather old school approach to filling orders.”

  • USA_11C

    I haven’t ordered from Brownells in a couple years, mainly because my last two orders with them took nearly a week to fulfill, despite everything being in stock.

    Midway has always fulfilled same day or early the following. That’s why I use them when possible. Also I find Midway’s website is easier to use and generally has better prices.

    But that’s just me…

    • Gary Hoffmann

      Brownell’s is my “go to” for hard to find items. Both, Brownell’s and Midway USA, have high shipping and handling charges. IMO Midway has a lot of room for improvement in the packing department.

    • Gary Hoffmann

      Well, just to prove my point in my previous post, last week I ordered a couple of boxes of specialty shotgun shells from Midway. The package arrived with only one box of shells. It was open and shotgun shells were rolling around loose in the box. They did refund me for the missing box.

  • jonp

    Great post, Patrick. I order a great deal of stuff online from many different gun parts places including Brownells. We don’t get to see the nuts and bolts very often of how it’s picked and ends up at our doors. The scan guns are standard across industry, now. Forklift drivers have them on the forks. They scan the aisle then the pallet bar code and put it on the trailer. The information is sent to the office and automatically printed out. Much faster and accurate…unless the system goes down. I was at one place picking up and their phone lines went down so they couldn’t print the paperwork. Turns out the main office was in Poland and all information went there and then back.

  • Lanceo

    I’m about done with Brownell’s! They could hire any random middle schooler improve their crappy website. Last time I called I was 20th in line. Half of their stuff is backordered. When I broke one of their screw driver tips, I wasn’t even cranking on it, they acted like they were doing me a favor by replacing it for free. Well isn’t that the definition of lifetime warranty? Little Petey couldn’t hold a light to Frank Brownell!