Atlet's lift truck solution for Laura Ashley at Coalville is projected to cost less over the trucks' lifecycle than the original fleet that it replaces. The fashion and home furnishings retailer chose Atlet because the company offered a highly effective single package – including powered pallet transporters, battery changing facilities, maintenance and service – to deliver best value over the whole life of the contract.
“We went through a detailed assessment and tender process and while Atlet was not the cheapest on initial price it was the most cost effective over the life of the contract,” says Ivan Bere, Warehouse Manager at Laura Ashley Logistics. “Atlet worked hard to build the relationship and demonstrated an impressive level of integrity and belief in their products.”
Laura Ashley was established in the 1950s and has remained one of the UK's most popular and successful retailers. The Coalville distribution centre opened in 2002 to manage the delivery of sofas, beds and other furniture items to customers throughout the UK. Sustained growth of the business, averaging 60 per cent year on year by volume, led Laura Ashley to introduce 24/6 operations to meet its delivery commitments. This placed added pressure on the existing trucks even though the warehouse is designed for efficiency with minimal use of mechanical handling equipment.
Atlet spent time with Ivan Bere and the shift managers to understand the warehouse operation and identify the longer term requirements. This helped ensure that the proposed solution would continue to be suitable towards the end of the contract as well as fulfilling the initial requirement. Atlet then suggested that ten of its high performance Presto PLP powered pallet transporters deployed in conjunction with the latest battery facilities would offer a better solution without the need to reconfigure the warehouse.
“Other companies quoted for what we thought we wanted,” says Ivan Bere. “Atlet was different. They took the time to find out about our operations and where we thought we would be in five years and politely suggested we could do it a different way.”
As part of its selection process Laura Ashley undertook extensive forecasts and cost projections that took a number of factors into account. Among these were the build quality of the trucks, reliability, service and maintenance, and overall support and commitment from the potential suppliers. Atlet invited Ivan Bere to visit its UK head office and a number of customers to see how the company operated.
“This is a big investment for us and we realised that simple, robust and reliable trucks would offer the best option over the life of the contract rather than basing our decision on up front price,” says Ivan Bere.
The Presto PLP is a high performance powered pallet transporter that is ideal for fast and efficient handling over longer distances and extended working hours. It is designed for stand-on operations but can be pedestrian controlled for complete flexibility to support a wide range of picking operations from single item to full pallet. The powerful AC motor ensures that the truck responds to the slightest command from the driver, while every braking movement generates and returns current to the battery to extend the period between charging for maximum uptime.
“These trucks have AC power, longer service intervals and good spare parts availability, all of which adds up to greater reliability for us,” says Ivan Bere. “They have proved to be very popular and are quieter than the old ones.”
Ivan Bere worked with the shift managers to finalise the specification of the trucks. This led to a request for a small production modification to the operator footplate. On a standard truck this is raised and lowered by hand but Laura Ashley wanted a footplate that folded up whenever an operator stepped off the truck. This was important because operators often alternate between ride-on and pedestrian operation depending on the task in hand. It saved time and reduced the risk of operators bumping into the footplate when carrying items. Atlet was also able to confirm that the new trucks could be used on a mezzanine.
“We wanted to make sure they get the maximum out of the trucks,” says Lee Longbottom of Atlet. “It's important that we get it right because things can change down the line.”
After the trucks had been delivered, Atlet and Laura Ashley assessed the operating conditions and adjusted the trucks' performance by reprogramming the on-board computers. This included reducing the top speed to be more in line with what operators were used to. An unforeseen issue was identified when the trucks started to slip on the unusually shiny floor. Atlet tested alternative tyres and retrofitted the most suitable replacement to eliminate the problem.
“It took some work on both sides to get it right but Atlet put the effort in and made the commitment,” says Ivan Bere.
One of the key changes with the new fleet has been the introduction of battery charge and change facilities. Atlet discussed the overall requirement with Laura Ashley, carried out some simulations and came up with a proposal designed to get the best possible performance from the fleet. The solution designed and installed by Atlet incorporated high frequency chargers and single point top-up facilities that ensure battery utilisation and efficiency is optimised. Battery changes are completed by supervisors using Atlet's “Transfer Track” dual trolley system that allows simple and efficient battery switches with no need for any manual handling or lifting. Each truck was supplied with a spare battery that is changed whenever required, typically between shifts.
“The battery system is fantastic,” says Ivan Bere. “It's simple and slick.”
Almost all Laura Ashley's products are made to order – the company estimates there are 10,000 different combinations when taking into account the style, upholstery and finish options across its range. Products only arrive in the warehouse when they are ready for delivery to customers. The operation has to be flexible so that deliveries, around 3900 items each week, can be scheduled in line with customer requirements. Items must be handled carefully to ensure they arrive in perfect condition.
Atlet's ability to work with its customers to provide a complete solution was demonstrated when Laura Ashley needed to set up a satellite depot at very short notice in Milton Keynes to cope with some exceptional seasonal peaks. Atlet supplied some short term hire trucks and managed all the logistics which included ensuring the trucks could go through the doors of the warehouse.
“Atlet has worked hard to build the relationship. ”
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