Investing in value

BWG’s new voice picking system allows employees to receive instructions from a computerised voice, instead of on pieces of paper, saving time and reducing the likelihood of accidents
BWG’s new voice picking system allows employees to receive instructions from a computerised voice, instead of on pieces of paper, saving time and reducing the likelihood of accidents

BWG recently invested €15 million in its new wholesale facility on the North Road, Dublin. ShelfLife spoke to general manager Michael Newman about increased efficiency and customer satisfaction

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8 December 2008 | 0

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The phrase “one-stop-shop” is one that’s frequently used within the retail sector. And why not? After all, this describes exactly what well thought-out stores offer their customers; the flexibility to buy what they want when they want it. In this sense, the new BWG wholesale facility on the North Road is most definitely a one-stop-shop. 

However, the catch all term in fact doesn’t go far enough to describe the range of activity that takes place during all hours of the day and night at this 24- hours-a-day, six-days-a-week complex. The centre serves as both a Value Centre cash and carry store for walk-in customers and the site from where orders are gathered and sent out for BWG’s Foodservices business. Multi-functionality is therefore the order of the day at this new state-of-the-art facility, just recently opened in September.

In fact, as well as BWG Foodservices deliveries, it offers deliveries from the Value Centre also; another string to its bow. General manager Michael Newman notes that the foodservice side of the business alone has over 1,000 customers in the greater Dublin area, and the warehouse is able to offer a complete east coast multi-temperature logistics solution, delivering to Drogheda, Louth, Wexford, Carlow and Wicklow. 

A multi-temperature solution

Both Egan’s Value Centre on the North Circular Road and BWG Foodservices on the Naas Road have both been transferred to the new site. Not content to simply relocate without seeing where further improvements could be made however, BWG has significantly expanded the product range available within its new Value Centre offering.

It now offers a multi-temperature solution with a full range of chilled, fresh and frozen goods, alongside the ambient goods previously stocked by Egan’s. “The location adjacent to the M50 is easily accessible for the walk-in customer,” says Newman, another important bonus for the new site. 

Giving me a tour of the complex, Michael Newman, who has been with BWG for eight years and was previously a regional manager, explains that both sides of the business are important. In order to give walk-in customers the best possible shopping experience, the store’s staff continually work hard to ensure that a neat and tidy appearance is maintained.

Indeed, nothing is out of place throughout the store’s spotless, broad aisles. “It’s important to make the cash and carry as attractive as possible for customers, so that it’s more than a warehouse”, he says. “We’ve worked hard to make the store smart and modern, and easy to get around for customers.”

Clear signposting at each aisle makes the store easy to navigate, while cheerful banners brandishing logos for the various brands stocked and the XL Stop & Shop chain give the store a pleasant backdrop, and help to create a bright and airy feel overall. The double functions of warehouse and walk-in centre are further fulfilled through details such as a smart wooden back-drop for the alcohol section, which enhances the appearance of the space and makes it smart and welcoming instead of merely functional.

Optimum efficiency

In terms of efficiency, and gaining the best use of resources, there are clear advantages to having the same space operate as both a store and warehouse. However, it would not be practical to have the warehouse operating at full tilt on the shop floor while customers are busy shopping the aisles, Newman explains. For this reason the Value Centre opens between 8am and 4.30pm, and full warehouse operations start after this time.

He says that the busiest period for walk-in customers tends to be early afternoon, as retailers have gotten through the lunchtime rush and have had a chance to check stocks before the evening trade picks up again. However, always efficient, the warehouse operations have certainly not ground to a halt during this time, and there is still one employee diligently traversing the store aisles, picking orders as he goes.

The voice of wisdom

This gives me a chance to see the store’s best-in-class voice activated warehouse management system in action. Explaining the decision to implement such voice technology, Newman, who has a masters degree in supply chain management and therefore fully understands the importance of being as progressive as possible, explains: “It’s part of BWG’s strategy to future-proof the business.”

Whereas previously, BWG used a paper-based system for employees to pick orders, the voice system means employees now receive instructions from a computerised voice, which saves time and reduces the likelihood of accidents; removing the need for employees to keep referring to pieces of paper.

Newman points out that every block of shelving is marked with a particular number. When an employee is directed to a certain spot such as the one where we’re currently standing, they read back the number to ensure they’re at the right place to collect the right item.

“This increases accuracy as staff will be told if they’re at the wrong place. The order is also processed sequentially, which saves time as a person won’t have to turn back to the start of an aisle again before they’re finished.” He adds that while this technology is a long-term investment, “We’ve already noticed greater accuracy of picking orders, faster turnaround of orders and shorter lead times.”

Prioritising training

When using a new system like this however, staff must be fully on board, and Newman explains that training is a top priority for the new centre. This is demonstrably so, as I see several employees training in the IT suite with concentrated expressions, as my tour continues through the offices. “And no, they weren’t placed there for your benefit!” he laughs.

“A lot of thought and effort has gone into offering staff here a complete training plan, comprising of IT solutions, as well as training for the trading department and human resources development. We gain a great deal of support from head office in this regard.”

The bottom line

A dedicated team of staff is never more important than in the run-up to Christmas. According to sales manager, Pat Rogers: “30% to 40% of all our business would be dealt with in the next three to four weeks.”

However does Michael believe that this Christmas will achieve the same sales performance as Christmases past? At the time of our late November meeting, he notes: “It’s too early to say how the year will finish off but we’re optimistic…We’re offering very strong promotions and a strong pricing strategy, with strong pricing on Christmas confectionery.” 

This can certainly be seen throughout the store, with offers such as “buy two cases of Cadbury’s Medium Selection boxes get one free”, adorning the aisle ends. The store is also busy arranging the many corporate accounts it secures at this time.
“We provide a strong corporate offer at Christmas time, arranging hampers, wines, spirits and chocolates; for which we receive a huge amount of repeat customers.” In fact, the business employs five or six seasonal staff just to make up these hampers and gifts for over 200 businesses who avail of the service.

In order to deal with its overall high level of demand, and indeed, meet its strong growth targets, the centre has a dedicated telesales staff of six. This line is open for retailers between 7.30am and 5pm, and an answering service is set up after 5pm so an order can be processed as quickly as possible. Again, flexibility is key, with the centre being able to provide next day delivery everywhere in Dublin.

With so many various aspects to consider, wholesale appears a complex trade. However Newman describes “the variety and fast pace associated with challenges,” as being what he enjoys most in his daily role.

“Yes, it is complex as it’s business to business, and you’re dealing with extra exposures there,” he concedes. “Ultimately, our role is to help customers grow their business…our whole area of promotions is guided towards the retailers and ultimately what their consumer wants.”

 

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