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Garden furniture retailers should take a leaf out of the book of general retailers when planning for peak

With the aftermath of Christmas still being very much at the forefront of retailers’ minds, the need for advance planning and scheduling in partnership with delivery firms is paramount – in fact it could mean the difference between trouble-free peak periods with happy customers and a stressful season with frustrated ones.

Retailers of garden furniture and barbecues would be well advised to follow the path of successful general retailers and plan early and plan well for peak if they are to avoid delivery chaos. If not, they could end up with a lot of disgruntled customers, evidenced by recent press reports suggesting that delivery services of general goods buckled under the strain of orders placed on the Internet during spending sprees on the new peaks of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in November of last year.*

When general retailers are winding down post peak in January and February, garden furniture retailers are just gearing up for their own three peak periods, which are traditionally the Easter weekend, the two bank holiday weekends in May, and the early summer season. The combination of warm weather and holidays usually triggers buoyant sales of barbecues, garden furniture like gazebos and sun loungers, along with garden equipment such as lawn mowers.

As well as these traditional peak periods, online sales growth is also changing the pattern of orders. The potential will be that weather conditions, rather than simply holidays, will trigger sales of garden furniture in the future. And customers will want their goods immediately to capitalise on any sunny spell. And, according to a recent report on ‘Seasonal Peaks’, shoppers are buying closer to the date, as fulfilment methods improve, while they are also carrying out ever more research online before they buy. ** That all has implications for the way retailers plan. In truth, retailers can maximise capacity for handling the peak times by using the quieter times to prepare for the rush.

Along with changes in online shopping patterns at peak, the amount of large-ticket items, such as garden furniture, is set to grow exponentially over the next five years. For example, the total number of deliveries generated online for DIY and gardening products is anticipated to grow from 20.1m orders in 2013 to 24.5m in 2018 while the number of deliveries of homewares generated online is expected to jump from 27.5m in 2013 to 31.1m in 2018.

Successful general retailers ensure that they start early in terms of the vital planning needed to cope with a hefty influx of orders – typically up to a year in advance. This can take the form of forecasting sales and the subsequent assessment of recruitment and equipment/resource needs. Predicting stock demand and delivery requirements is a fine art but developing a close working relationship and ongoing dialogue with reliable and innovative delivery partners can pave the way for a smooth-running peak. Communicating throughout the year with third party logistics companies ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding demand, putting in place sufficient capacity and ensuring that contingency arrangements are rock solid.

At their busiest times of year garden furniture retailers do not want to be let down by the ‘last mile’ delivery experience so it is crucial that joint planning at every stage takes place with logistics provider/s. After all, the delivery company needs to know anticipated sales volumes so they are able to bolster vehicle and trailer numbers, staffing levels and possibly warehouse equipment such as fork lifts and scanners.

A changing marketplace, with strong growth and higher customer expectations, means that delivery partners need to be focused on innovation and flexibility in the years ahead. Capacity could become an issue with this anticipated level of growth so logistics firms that are proactively striving to meet this increased demand and improve their technology to achieve efficiencies will be in an excellent position to work hand in hand with garden furniture retailers.

With an enviable position in the marketplace, logistics specialist Panther Warehousing is well placed to accommodate this growth. Recently Panther Warehousing boosted its capacity with a move to a new cross dock facility in Northampton, part of a £3 million investment programme.

The new 165,000 sq ft site, at Lodge Farm Industrial Estate is more than three times the size of its former site in Crick – it comprises 25 docking bays as opposed to six.

The new premises will not only allow Panther to enhance its service to existing customers but to also handle new business.

In the past two years Panther has experienced exponential growth during which time it has won new contracts to the value of £11 million per annum and increased turnover levels from £11 million in 2013 to an estimated £20 million this year. Volumes too have increased from 1500 p/n to 3000 p/n.

As to the future Panther expects to gain around £4.5m worth of new business in 2015, which equates to around 9,600 consignments a month. It expects the fastest growth in online deliveries to emerge in rural areas.

With a flexible, innovative and manageable delivery service, Panther can offer garden retailers both a cost-effective solution and a level of service that is unmatched in the industry.

Indeed, many retailers of outdoor furniture, patio furniture and barbecue equipment are still offering a delivery service that takes several weeks to complete. By this time the sun could have disappeared and the rain set in.

However, Panther is typically able to deliver these types of garden furniture goods within 24 hours. It is constantly investing in leading-edge technology and adding new services, such as timed deliveries, to stay ahead of the competition. By understanding the marketplace Panther can work in true partnership with retailers of garden furniture to cope with all the vagaries of peak planning and ensure that customers get their gazebo or patio furniture in a timely, professional fashion.

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