The final three months of the year are often referred to by retailers as ‘the golden quarter’. However to ensure the potential benefits offered by this period are achieved, FM has an important role to play.
During this time, staff availability, pre-planned maintenance, good communication and keeping a close eye on the weather, are some of the key factors to making sure busy distribution centres and depots can cope. Steve Kruger, Head of Distribution FM Operations, Arcus, highlights some of the important areas that can make a real difference when the pressure is on.
‘Lose one depot and you lose up to 80 stores’ is a mantra often heard around the world of facility managers; the professionals who are responsible for the effective and efficient running of the network of vital depots and distribution centres on which the UK retail sector depends.
Add in the increased pressure associated with servicing multiple retail locations that anticipate their turnover levels to at least treble in the run-up to the peak Christmas and New Year period, and it is critical that FM services do all they can to keep essential support services operational.
While seven day opening is now commonplace across the retail sector, nonetheless the sheer increase in the volume of goods to be handled throughout winter is substantial. And it is during these months, that the operations at distribution centres and depots are at full stretch.
Nothing can happen without staff, so high employee availability is key across this period. Many depots look to carefully rota workforces so staffing levels are optimised and essential staff are ready and prepared to deliver a 24/7 reactive response to technical issues if required. FMs who can liaise with the workforce ahead of the winter months organise rotas, shift patterns and escalation routes if a major problem happens, can ensure everyone is on board and understands the importance of the season to all stakeholders.
Equipment availability – pre-plan
Many operational facets of a distribution centre or depot will be severely tested during the peak winter build-up period, and it is essential all equipment and services are available at all times. A fast response to all aspects of operation that could cause an issue - from temperature control of perishable goods, to fork lift trucks and even electrical gates - can prevent a small issue escalating into a major concern that could affect vital delivery schedules to stores waiting for stock. Pre-planning should also include a reduction on all non-essential maintenance work at this time so staff know where the priority lies for the period – which is to keep everything on track and working.
One of the most critical elements in optimising the efficiency of a distribution centre/depot’s performance is the role of loading bays. With some large-scale depots using up to 250 loading bays and having to carefully match specific loading bay operation functionality to the appropriate transportation, it’s very important that all bays are fully working and constantly available. Problems in this area can have a profound knock-on effect in terms of transportation scheduling, with lorries having to wait unnecessarily to gain access to the site and the resulting delays causing issues further down the supply chain. Again, pre-planning in terms of servicing can ensure any electrical and mechanical-related problems are minimised, each loading bay is fully available and deliveries can happen as predicted.
Establishing good communication channels between all parties will also aid the smooth running of operations during the winter period. Daily liaison between FM and distribution personnel can often pre-empt potential problems with both sides appreciating the stresses and strains they are each under. Working together through a joined-up operational strategy on the ground and regular dialogue, will provide a solid foundation for a trouble-free period. Likewise, clear channels of communication need to be established with specialist third party contractors so that, if required, additional expert skills can be swiftly employed to deal with particularly complex technical challenges such as refrigeration.
Finally, adopting a strategy of continuous improvement can aid future performance. Undertaking a thorough post-winter period review covering all aspects of the FM operation can highlight successes and identify areas for future improvement.
With careful pre-planning, good communication and a flexible approach, winter pressures can be successfully handled and a return to New Year normality enjoyed.
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