One of my Christmas gifts was a set of videos of old black and white Ealing films from the 1950's. One of the things that struck me about the street scenes in the films was the absence of lorries. My scant memories of those days were that much of the goods we bought, such as bread, milk and vegetables, were produced locally. Things are now very different; almost everything we buy is shipped by road and distributed to factories and stores seven days a week. This reliance upon road transport has spawned a whole new industry, Logistics.
Logistics is so much more than basic distribution. It is the science of how to move goods to a customer on time, at the lowest possible cost and without damage. Importantly the smallest of companies benefit from pursuing improved logistics.
What price distribution?
I am increasingly amazed at the vast distance a large proportion of windows and doors travel to get from the fabricator to the installer. Equally amazing is that distribution is very much an after-thought resulting sometimes in damage, incomplete deliveries, late arrivals and upset customers.
Distribution has always been the Cinderella of window manufacturing. Improved customer satisfaction profitability should result by looking hard and improving how you distribute.
The seven secrets of distribution
- Be sure that you always load onto the vehicle all the customers' order, missing nothing off. I have come across many instances where trims and even the odd window or door is simply not loaded, although available. Returning to deliver missing items or using carriers is an expensive business. Use a check sheet for every order listing every item, and then have the people loading and the driver check every item as loaded onto the lorry. The driver should also tick off each item as he drops each order off.
- Avoid damage during loading, transportation and unloading by equipping the vehicle with protective materials, ties etc. Think carefully about fitting protection for each window or door in the form of corner protectors and shrink-wrapping. This may seem to be a costly measure but ensuring damaged items do not reach the customer saves money in the long run.
- Plan each load carefully to ensure that orders can be unloaded in sequence yet still maximising vehicle payload. You don't want your lorry to be delayed at a customer by having to unload other customers' orders to get at the ones you want. Not only does this add time but it also increases the chances of damage.
- Carefully plan the quickest, most cost-effective route. Congestion and delays are a real problem on today's roads. Some companies get their vehicles off early before the main congestion occurs. This depends, of course, upon customer acceptance.
- Select the best vehicle for the job both in terms of the prime mover and the load space. You may not be able to change immediately to the best vehicle but keep your eye open for one. Also remember that a smart vehicle (not necessarily brand new, but clean and tidy) and a well-trained polite driver will reflect positively on your company. They are your ambassadors.
- Measure all the costs associated with distribution including:
- Vehicle costs, servicing, fuel etc.
- The cost of damaged items incurred during transportation.
- Costs involved in missed deliveries.
- Driver costs.
- Encourage continuous improvement among your staff. Examine your methods and processes to see how you can cut costs, errors and damage and improve the overall service to your customers.
The science of logistics
Chris Foreman, General Manager of Status who sponsors these articles comments: “Effective distribution is a vital part of your business and poorly organised distribution a significant cost. Other industries have taught us that delivering parts from our factories to our customers has moved on from simply loading materials onto a lorry and sending it on its way. Congestion, vehicle and fuel costs, and more demanding customers mean that fabricators from the smallest to the largest should look seriously at distribution. Logistics is a science, not an art. Careful measurement and planning in logistics contributes to healthier profits.”