Across society, the end of 2020 was greeted with welcome relief. While this year hasn’t exactly been a clean slate so far, the successful rollout of coronavirus vaccines and resumption of events has driven hopes that normality will return soon.
Unfortunately for the UK storage and logistics industries, this year also saw the culmination of the Brexit process, and the start of new challenges for cross-border trade. It’s likely that we haven’t seen the worst of this yet, though the pre-Christmas chaos illustrates a worst case scenario.
In amongst all this ongoing uncertainty, it may seem like a time to be conservative, and avoid making drastic changes. But dealing with the problems at hand and planning for the future will require some adjustments – and will ultimately benefit your business.
1. Expand efficiently
Many businesses made a point of stockpiling over the last few years in anticipation of Brexit chaos. While this hasn’t materialised so far, the events before Christmas illustrated a nightmare scenario for the Port of Dover, and something that could be replicated across the country. With many businesses avoiding cross-border trade around the Brexit deadline, it’s likely that the worst is yet to come, and that traffic will ramp up as travel increases.
With this comes new questions about how businesses attend to storage. While some will have expanded their storage capacity to deal with this stockpiling, others may be looking at stockpiling for the first time, taking on bigger shipments than usual. Some may also have been renting storage anticipating a short-term issue, but now wanting to be better safe than sorry, and to insure themselves against the prospect of lengthy delays.
With financial pressures being widespread due to the coronavirus pandemic, most businesses will be either unwilling or unable to relocate in order to increase their storage space. Instead, you should consider ways to upgrade your existing storage. Higher density pallet racking formats are available and cost-effective, with the ability to store a variety of goods, fit a variety of spaces, and maximise the available headroom in your warehouse. The right format can almost double your storage capacity or halve the space your storage currently uses – giving you the flexibility to keep up with events.
2. Plan ahead
You would think people wouldn’t need to be told to plan ahead at this point. After all, the government has been advising people to plan studiously for the last year or two ahead of this Brexit deadline. Yet until about a week beforehand, nobody had any firm idea as to what the Brexit deal would look like. As such, many held off from planning at all, or could not plan things in the depth and on the timescales they would have liked.
Now that the Brexit deal has been agreed and put into action, we all have much more clarity. This should be seen as an opportunity to take stock of what’s happened (literally and figuratively), and how this ratified agreement may affect you going forwards. One example may be that European customers are now being charged extra for VAT and customs; if you have a large European customer base, you may have to look at absorbing this, or even investing in new storage space on the continent.
Presently, many of the changes that have been made in terms of trade and logistics are negative, adding to the current administrative burden. As the months and years go on, however, it is possible that the UK will strike trade deals that will help to ease this, and allow businesses to harness new markets. Having the flexibility in storage types, capacities and locations will help you to take these opportunities, and shield you from further turbulence.
3. Don’t just comply – understand
The issue when any major new piece of legislation or directive comes into force is that very few people understand it. We’re still seeing extended fallout from the GDPR regulations more than two and a half years later, with many companies (and particularly websites) still applying the law in dramatically different ways. This is partly an issue of clarity and messaging, but it’s also a certain stubbornness on the part of many businesses, who don’t want to lose out by complying with something when others fail to.
With the Brexit deal, it’s especially important for businesses engaged in trade and shipping across Europe to understand the agreement, and how it affects them. By failing to do so, you could end up missing out in a number of ways. Each part of your supply chain could now be incurring additional costs, but without knowing what these costs and barriers are, you won’t be best positioned to judge what you’re being quoted, or even how to budget for the year.
After four long years of uncertainty and an apparently smooth start, it may be tempting just to rely on the premise that very little has changed. While this may be true in certain respects, the Brexit deal is still a landmark piece of legislation, and affects every business in the UK in one way or another. Without reading the deal and understanding all the levels on which it affects you, you’ll be flying blind, and missing out on key data for decision-making.
4. Reassess traditional processes
Part of being reactive to recent changes is considering what you could do better. It may well be that your existing supply chains and processes are perfectly suited to the post-Brexit environment, and don’t need to be readdressed. But other things may have to change in order to minimise disruption, keep down costs, and keep your customers happy. There’s also the end of the pandemic to consider, and whether this will prompt a sudden splurge of spending, or a tightening of purse strings as the government looks to recoup its costs.
As a result, you should be proactive about finding efficiencies where you can. This may include higher density pallet racking or other forms of storage, as well as investing in time-saving technologies such as automated vehicles, AS/RS and more advanced forklifts. These can save both space and time, and are particularly applicable while staff numbers are reduced, as they can help to alleviate the physical burden and even eliminate some warehouse roles.
You should also reassess your B2B relationships, and how cost-effective these are in the new climate. It may be that some companies you work with have got a better grasp on Brexit and other recent changes, and have themselves been more proactive and transparent in how they accommodate them. This could be a legal issue as well as a financial one, so it pays to ask questions, do your research and calculate the figures yourself.
5. Prepare for the end of coronavirus
Chief amongst your plans should be how you will tackle the gradual ending of the coronavirus pandemic. As the vaccine is rolled out more widely – and infection rates go down – you will need to consider how and when employees will be able to return to work. This will likely require another safety assessment, and a consideration of the unique circumstances of each employee.
You will also want to think about how best to capitalise on people’s ability and desire to shop, and the resumption of B2B relationships as other businesses get back on their feet. In light of this, you might decide to stockpile certain goods, and prepare marketing strategies to tempt people back to your business.
While there will no doubt be a desire to return to normal as soon as possible, it’s likely that this will happen in phases. If you want to ensure that employees are as safe and productive as possible, you’ll need to ensure their safety. With a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus, this will mean going beyond the bare minimum outlined in the ‘COVID-19 Secure’ guidelines – and may necessitate redesigning your warehouse or storage space to increase the distance between workers.
While this year hasn’t been the fresh start many were hoping for, it does give us a chance to mentally reset, and set our goals for the year. By setting out a framework to improve your storage and logistics processes, you can set a template that will guide your business through the rest of 2021 and into a successful future.
This post was written by James Beale, Operations Manager at Invicta Pallet Racking. Invicta are renowned designers, installers and inspectors of high density pallet racking systems, with clients including Booker, Brakes and Crown Records Management