Today, Martin Bysh, CEO of Huboo, shares his planning to prepare for peak demand in the biggest period of uncertainty since ecommerce first started some two and a half decades ago. The crises of pandemic, peak and Brexit are all coming to a head at the same time, so what can you do to prepare?
The run in to the peak winter season would normally be a period of great excitement across the retail sector. This year, however, everything is being tempered by the fear of the unknown. Will there be a second wave of the pandemic? What will the impact of Brexit be? How will ongoing supply chain challenges affect customer fulfilment?
For logistics providers, it’s a litmus test for how far the industry has come since the initial Covid crisis – one that we cannot afford to fail.
A full-blown second wave
No one was expecting to be hit by a global pandemic early in 2020. Many third-party logistics businesses were caught unawares and forced to turn down new clients or close their doors entirely. And, six months on, many traditional providers are set to make the exact same mistakes all over again, because they haven’t sufficiently adapted how they run their businesses to cope with unpredictable operating conditions this winter.
Providers must prepare for the possibility of working through another full-scale lockdown. This is not just about giving staff PPE and hand sanitiser. It’s about making warehouses efficient enough to deal with unprecedented demand, and to ensure there is sufficient contingency – without massive delays – to cope with any Covid-related workplace incidents.
For example, we house our teams in self-contained ‘micro hubs’ (think of them as being like individual servers within a big server farm). These hubs replicate the inputs, processes and outputs of a complete warehouse within a few hundred square feet. Because of this, our teams don’t have to walk miles each day. They can work quickly, intelligently, and on a set client portfolio, meaning that clients get to deal with the same team member each time. Most pertinently, in the event of someone experiencing Covid symptoms, the individual hub can be immediately isolated and replaced with no impact on the wider warehouse.
Multiple workforce challenges
Most industries are set to experience a high level of workforce disruption this winter. Not only do we have the usual seasonal ailments, but we have the presence of Covid to contend with, as well as the possibility of self-isolation forcing unlucky staff out of work at any given moment.
All of this has the potential to further disrupt a logistics industry that is plagued by appalling churn rates. Providers regularly fall behind the curve because team members leave faster than their replacements can be trained.
Hence why we’ve taken a different approach, building a business that empowers team members rather than disenfranchising them. It’s quite simple, but alarmingly rare within our industry: our micro-hubs are staffed by people who enjoy their jobs and value their customer relationships, hence our customer service is much improved and our churn rates are far lower.
Crucially, if people are unexpectedly off sick or forced into self-isolation, we’ve invested in training tools and processes that enable new joiners – even those recruited at short notice – to do their jobs properly from day one and bring immediate value to the business rather than compromising client activities while they’re getting up to speed.
The Brexit question
No one is quite sure whether we’ll have a trade deal with the EU by January 1st, so fulfilment providers should look at the practical steps in their control to keep products moving between the UK and Europe come the new year and future-proof their operations against a worst case scenario.
At Huboo we’re moving into Germany in 2021 to make sure we can continue to support UK businesses’ European exporting needs. And we already have the software systems in place to track all of our clients’ business and ensure customs compliance wherever in the world products are being shipped – again, our micro-hubs approach makes it far easier and quicker to track products as they move through our business.
Understanding clients’ plans
The best logistics operations involve close knit partnerships with clients, fulfilment providers and last-mile couriers. So while we’ll be doing everything we can to prepare operationally for the winter, we’ll also need a heads-up from clients on their planned marketing campaigns and objectives.
Our micro-hub model makes it easier to adapt to changing client needs, even at the 11th hour. We can scale up and down within hours based on each clients’ specific Black Friday, Christmas, New Year or other seasonal campaigns. But we can only do this if we’ve been told what to expect.
It’s going to be an unpredictable and challenging winter, but with transparency, forward-planning and plenty of built-in contingencies, we can meet customer needs whatever unexpected external challenges emerge along the way.