One of the UK’s best known garden centre groups has outsourced responsibility for managing its outdoor furniture supply chain to Berkshire-based Walker Logistics.
Products are stored at Walker’s distribution centre facility from where orders are picked and dispatched directly to their various outlets throughout London and the Home Counties using vehicles from Walker’s own fleet on a just-in-time basis.
The order fulfilment process is relatively standardized: demonstration models from the garden centre group’s extensive collection of tables, chairs and sun loungers are displayed at each of the company’s centres and customers choose what they want and order their goods in-store. Orders are collated into the appropriate ‘set’ at Walker’s storage facility and delivered.
However, planning for a supply chain contract of this nature is anything but straightforward.
For example, the units warehoused and delivered are, by and large, ‘challenging products’ – large and usually irregularly shaped items that are difficult to store and handle.
And, because garden furniture tends to be a spring or summertime purchase, the contract only runs between January and August, which makes allocating adequate storage space and resource in a facility such as Walker’s a process that needs careful forward planning.
However, Walker was able to overcome these twin hurdles and develop a highly cost efficient supply chain solution, as sales director, William Walker, explains: “We have been partnering the company for a number of years now but it’s still crucial to understand each season and the volume of product they are looking to import so we can make space within our facilities,” he says.
“Normally, some 50 container loads of incoming garden furniture arrives in a relatively short space of time, which means understanding the specific weight/dimensions of the goods so we can allocate the most appropriate storage space.
“To cope with the unusual dimensions of some of the products many items are transferred into bespoke storage crates by SKU, while other pieces are stored using traditional pallet racking and floor space.
“We also had to ensure that staff levels were sufficient – which we have done by allocating experienced permanent members of our warehouse team to the contract and supporting them with temporary labour - who have all been trained to a high standard - when required.”
Outgoing orders are picked by specific centres and consolidated within a dedicated dispatch area of the warehouse before they are loaded on to vehicles from Walkers’ own transport fleet for onward delivery to each of the garden centre outlets. Initially Walker delivers orders on a weekly basis but frequency is scheduled to increase as the weather improves and sales increase.
“Some logistics service providers would be reluctant to commit resources and space on a shorter term basis to a client whose needs are so seasonal, but we have worked together for a number of ‘seasons’ now and the contract runs well,” adds William Walker.