Tags: industry insights, Industrial, Logistics...

As the holiday season draws closer, distribution centres throughout the country are gearing up for what promises to be one of the most hectic Christmas periods in living memory. With restrictions still in place for the high-street and a huge shift to online shopping, the diversity of the supply chain, and the importance of timely delivery and customer service, will be under more pressure than ever before.

In this article, we speak to Lindsey Thompson, Associate Director for Search Transport, about how to prepare for the rush, and how to effectively manage the Christmas supply chain during this increased demand.

“Organisation is key”, says Lindsey. “As is forecasting. Plan implementation strategies that will allow distribution centres to remain efficient during the festive season, when demand is certain to significantly increase.”

Preparation is key to managing the Christmas supply chain

1.Analyse past sales

While it goes without saying that many companies will be looking to hire greater volumes of staff over the festive period, it’s important to gain insight into the exact scale of the demand first.

“Analyse past sales, future orders and defined delivery days. Remember the current pandemic means there’s been a bigger shift online than we’ve seen in other years, so factor that into account by also reviewing in-store sales,” says Lindsey. “Don’t get caught out by failing to plan this in.”

2.Review forecasts from clients

Reviewing forecasts from clients will give you insight into where you’re at in terms of volumes. This information can then be used to evaluate fleet size and help to secure agreement from third party partners before the Christmas peak.

3.Leave plenty of planning time

“Every year the critical ‘seasonal forecast’ period varies significantly depending on the products and holiday period in question. This year, logistics for retailers will differ even more, as there’s also the pandemic to factor in. Restrictions to the high-street, large groups, and travel all mean that there will be more demand placed on those supply chains, in a way that we perhaps haven’t seen before,” says Lindsey. “When demand for almost all products increases sharply, delivery volumes to stores are consequently very high, so stock building has to begin well in advance. Thus, the supply chain planning period needed is at least six weeks, and usually longer.”

As part of this planning stage, you must consider your marginal capacity. All operators have a maximum authorised number of vehicles permitted on their licenses and margins must be sufficient for each authorised operating centre, this means a higher number of vehicles must be authorised than normal.

Do you have enough people in the supply chain to meet the increased demand?

There are many questions that need to be considered for the Christmas rush. How many shifts do you plan to run during peak holiday season? Have you considered additional coverage in case of staff self-isolation? How many agency workers will you hire, and what tasks will they handle? It’s best to answer workforce questions early, because once the tidal wave of orders strikes, you will need extra staff to cope with the increased demand.

1. Plan now for vehicle usage

Take potential sickness/holiday cover into consideration and, when in doubt, overbook. It’s always easier to ‘double-man’ or cancel a driver than it is to have a vehicle which is unable to depart from the distribution centre.

2. Work closely with your agency

Share your recruitment plan early on so that your agency can be prepared and recruit specifically for peak demand. Agencies are more effective when there is strong communication, so ensure that your agency is available 24/7 to support you.

3. Be flexible

Once you determine which shift times you will struggle to fill, tell your agency and work in partnership to discuss the plan to cover all eventualities.

4. Have a unique selling point to retain drivers during peak demand

While many transport companies will offer bonus payments, it’s important to note that it's not always about the money. There are a number of additional benefits a driver may desire, such as family-friendly start times, a decent vehicle and to feel part of the team rather than just an agency driver.

5. Ensure your driver is paid correctly and on time

Work closely with your agency to ensure that wages are paid on time. Remember that a disgruntled driver will quickly move on if they are unhappy and short on their wages.

Choose Search Transport to plan your supply chain workforce strategy before the festive season

As an Associate Director for Search Transport in Liverpool, Lindsey Thompson is fully experienced and qualified in transport management, having previously worked for an international 3PL Haulier. She leads a team which comprises of three industry specialists, who are also qualified as Transport Managers, and thus have a thorough understanding of the demands in the market.

To find out more about how Search Transport can help you plan an effective workforce strategy to manage the Christmas peak, get in touch with us here.