Warehouse Specific Considerations: Dock Equipment

The Logistics of Leasing

Chance are there will be some changing of the dock equipment during the lease of a new building or a lease extension on an existing building. There are always improvements to be made, operational factors to consider and plain old wear and tear. In our discussion of dock equipment, we’ll include bumpers, levelers, plates and ramps as these are what you’ll need to install, replace or modify before moving into your warehouse.

Dock equipment, at a minimum, is the rubber dock bumper that keeps your trailer, or container, from physically hitting the concrete dock or tilt-wall panel. Bumpers come in different shapes and sizes. The negotiation of a lease is the perfect time to have the landlord replace these if they are past their useful life.

Dock levelers, plates, and ramps are the next three workhorses that bridge the gap between the container and the warehouse floor. It is the pallet jack and the forklift that will have to drive over the leveler, plate, or ramp into the container to pick up the pallet, and reverse back into the warehouse speed bay onwards to the pallets next destination. It’s essential to make this path of travel safe and efficient.

Dock levelers are the most permanent and heavy-duty solution most commonly employed in industrial real estate. The three main types of dock levelers are hydraulic, mechanical, and the edge of dock levelers. Each has its purpose and associated cost. The type of material being loaded, its weight, and its packaging will usually dictate what size of levelers you require, and the flow of your operation will dictate the quantity and location of these levelers. It is important to know this in advance as each one costs thousands of dollars.

For example, I worked on an assignment in San Antonio for a good client of mine. We negotiated a lease on 80,000 SF of distribution space in a newly completed industrial park next to Amazon. New buildings must have dock levelers because they are the most modern and advanced warehouses, right? Not exactly. Developers have a keen understanding of cost structure. They equip the baseline model of the building with everything it needs to be competitive in the marketplace, but not necessarily what you will need. Think of it like buying a car and the different available packages. On ground-up developments where you are the first company to occupy the building, it is common for the developer to include a certain number of dock levelers. Still, rarely have I found it ever to be sufficient. It is important to know what type, size and brand you require and to create enough leveraging negotiation to have them included within your landlord’s tenant improvement package. In this example we were able to do so. While the landlord was building out our office space, they were also demolishing parts of the dock area and digging the pits that house the leveler hydraulics.

Edge of docks levelers are very short and wide steel plates with a hinge that lifts manually to bridge the gap between a container and the dock’s edge. It is useful to test each edge of dock leveler during the first 30 days of the lease to ensure each one works. They can still be a few thousand dollars to replace. I have worked with a national flooring distributor for the last ten years on over 200,000 SF of warehouse space. One of the buildings that we leased had new edge of dock levelers installed. Upon further investigation, we found that some of the welds were faulty, leading to an unsafe environment where the leveler could snap under heavy loads. Fortunately, we were able to find this in advance of an accident. The landlord thought that it was our fault that we had damaged the leveler. We had to find a second dock installation company to inspect the docks, to prove to the landlord that it was in fact a faulty installation in order for them to do the right thing and replace it for us.

Dock plates are mobile pieces of corrugated steel that set down between the container and the dock door. These dock plates are practical for small deliveries loaded and unloaded by hand, as opposed to unloaded by forklift like pallets. They are cheap to acquire, easy to use, but also easy to damage. These don’t require installation and are usually used to deal with less than ideal loading situations.

When it comes to ramps, the purpose of a truck ramp is to connect the inside of the warehouse to loading area outside of the warehouse where the docks are located. Some distribution buildings don’t have grade level loading. In this case, there are two common remedies. The first is the most common, which is to pour concrete to create a ramp that can be costly and is permanent but ultimately the safest and longest lasting. The second option is to buy a steel ramp that bolts to the ground, which can be moved to different positions if needed, or can be removed and resold a later. I’ve found that when negotiating with landlords that concrete ramps are what they will provide because it is considered an improvement to the property whereas a steel ramp is the tenant’s personal property that can go with them wherever they move. The installation of a concrete ramp will happen during the same time as the installation of dock levelers before you move in.