When the two ‘Beasts from the East’ recently blanketed Britain in thick snow carried far and wide by bracing Baltic winds, everyone reached for their Wellingtons or ‘wellies’.
In UK plc terms, giving the six-foot drifts ‘a bit of welly’ is exactly what Coventry-based Pooling Partners did, to make sure tens of millions of pallets carrying everything from fresh food, fruit and flowers to toiletries, pet foods and industrial materials reached their destination, despite the weather and with minimum disruption.
Wellington Nyatanga, known to everyone in the business as ‘Welly,’ is Pooling Partners’ transport controller, the ‘go-to’ person who co-ordinates the supply chain on behalf of Europe’s leading pooler and manufacturer of sustainable wooden pallets.
The company ‘rents’ tens of millions of pallets to manufacturers who send produce to distribution centres, supermarkets, retailers, garden centres and cash and carries, as well as then collecting them and returning, repairing and repatriating them into what is commonly known as ‘the circular economy’.
This is a delicate eco-system in good weather, let alone when temperatures drop. However, Welly, and the ten transport planners under his control, worked tirelessly on behalf of customers for the duration of the ever-drifting crisis, plugging gaps in supply chains to minimise disruption.
He said: “We had a series of problems. Obviously, the amount of snow that was coming over. We had watched the forecasts in order to understand where it was going to hit and where it was worst, but it impacted the entire country, which presented many problems for our customers.
“This was compounded by the fact there was some areas – Wales for example – where there were six-feet drifts in some areas and very little snow in others. This was the case in Newport, where there were real issues, and Bridgend, where there were no problems, despite the fact they are only 40 miles apart. It was a completely changeable landscape and the challenges were like the snow itself – constantly drifting.
“East Anglia, where we work with all the major fruit and plant growers, was very challenging, as was the south-west with Storm Emma, while Scotland was almost completely shut. In one instance, we had a driver stranded two miles from his drop-off in Spalding and he was stuck there for 24 hours in his cab, but we kept in touch with him to make sure all was well.
“In Ireland, Dublin was closed, but in Northern Ireland there were no real problems.”
He said the service was maintained largely down to advance planning and strong communication between the teams and the customers, as well as the ability to move pallets from areas where there was a surfeit to those where supplies had been exhausted.
“All of our major plans were laid the week before because we knew the bad weather was going to be an issue, so it was not too much of a surprise, although the severity and widespread scale of the problem did throw up some difficulties,” said Welly.
“Our other big challenge was keeping open lines of communication. Customers were having their own weather-related issues and, in some cases, were unable to communicate in advance that they needed pallets or, conversely, they needed us to come and collect pallets.
“We found that by maintaining open lines of communication – we had an out-of-hours mobile service in operation monitoring the issue – the attitude of our manufacturing and retail customers was very positive, as they understood we were all working towards a common goal of finding alternative solutions when problems presented themselves.
“All of this couldn’t happen without the strong team we have here and the great relationship we have with our transport partners.”
According to Welly, who lives in Warwickshire with his family, there is ‘no business like snow business’ but thanks to his team’s planning and early interventions he was able to prove the case that ‘snow business’ is always better than no business.