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Part of the Japanese Itochu Corporation, Stapleton’s is the UK’s largest distributor of passenger car tyres.

Established for over 70 years, the company operates over 100 retail centres throughout the UK under the STS Tyre Pros, STS Tyre & Exhaust and Central Tyre brands. In addition, it is the leading supplier to automotive dealer groups and the independent tyre retail sector.

As you would expect, the company stocks tyres from all the major manufacturers – including Bridgestone, Continental, Dunlop, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli – which allows them to offer clients a comprehensive choice from budget through to premium end products.

In times of recession the replacement tyre market often prospers and, true to form, Stapleton’s has enjoyed significant growth during the recent downturn.

"When times are tough, people do not change their cars so often – they run them for longer which means that new tyres have to be bought. Throughout the recession, our business has never been worse than stable and most of the time our sales have been up," explains Head of Supply Chain, Ashley Croft.

But Stapleton’s recent success isn’t just down to market forces. The company has thrived in what is an extremely competitive sector by putting customer service at the heart of its business plan.

"Service levels are absolutely key for us," says Ashley Croft. "A lot of our customers are owner-operators who rely on us to get tyres to them in the shortest possible time, so an efficient supply chain is essential."

As part of its on-going commitment to greater supply chain efficiency, and therefore customer service, last Autumn the company opened a new 100,000 sq. ft. distribution centre in Birmingham. Located close to Junction 5 of the M6, the new facility represents what Ashley Croft describes as "a whole new concept for Stapleton’s in terms of the way the company moves tyres around the business."

The Birmingham DC has the capacity to hold more 250,000 tyre units and serves a geographical area as far north as Stoke, down to Corby in the south, to Nottingham and Leicester in the East and across to parts of Wales in the west. It is one of nine warehouses operated in the UK by Stapleton’s but is, by some margin, the biggest.

Having considered a number of alternative solutions, Stapleton’s chose a storage system designed and supplied by the Systems and Projects Division of Jungheinrich UK Ltd.

Customer orders are picked and stock is replenished using a fleet of three wire-guided Jungheinrich EKS308 very narrow aisle (VNA) order pickers. These trucks are capable of operating in aisles as narrow 1200mm, although aisles at Stapleton’s new warehouse are in fact wider than this. The wider aisle width was necessary to accommodate the dimensions of the order picking cages which have been designed to enable the optimum volume of orders to be safely and cost efficiently picked – even at heights of over 11 metres.

Incoming stock is handballed from trailers with the help of a conveyor and put into a stillage before being transferred to its allocated position within the warehouse. Jungheinrich reach trucks take the stillages of tyres from the goods-in area and put them away directly in to the racking or, in the case of slow moving lines, drop the stillages off at a marshalling area at the end of the allocated aisle. From here they are collected by the order pickers and the tyres are put away in the stock keeping stillage which remains on the racking shelf.

Jungheinrich’s engineers developed a simple hook mechanism to ensure that the stillages lock firmly to the forks of the reach trucks and the order pickers, while a load sensor tells the operator that the load can be safely picked up.

When it comes to picking, a paper-based picking list is created and orders are picked directly to stillages using the order pickers and transferred to the goods-out area by the reach trucks. A number of low level order pickers are also used to collate smaller orders.

Because safety is paramount to Stapleton’s the order pickers are fitted with Jungheinrich’s Personnel Protection System (PPS). The Jungheinrich PPS is different to other systems available because all hardware, electrics and software is built into the truck at the point of manufacture to provide a fully integrated solution. The system is ‘self-activating’ so there is no need for additional operational demands on the drivers. If the system detects an obstacle in its path, the truck will automatically slow down. If the obstacle remains in the path of the truck, then the vehicle will be brought to a controlled stop before a collision occurs – thereby preventing damage to the truck or product. Even more critically, if personnel are detected in the path of the truck, again the slowdown and stop process is activated, ensuring the highest levels of safety within the working area. In Stapleton’s case the Jungheinrich PPS has been pre-programmed so that the trucks slow down if any obstacle is detected within five metres and then come to a controlled halt if anything is within two metres of the vehicle.

The Jungheinrich truck is equipped with RFID floor transponders and readers. This allows the truck to know its exact position within each aisle of the warehouse. This was seen by Ashley Croft as a clear advantage of the Jungheinrich proposal, as in the future the truck can link to a Warehouse Management System (WMS) providing semi-automatic guided travel to the next location and thereby increasing pick productivity and accuracy further.

Stapleton’s operates its own vehicle fleet – mostly 3.5 tonne vans – which deliver to a set customer route twice daily and orders received via the company’s web-based ordering system by 7pm are delivered the following day. In addition to the vans, a fleet of 7.5 Isuzu lorries deliver to other regional distribution centres within the Stapleton’s supply chain model.

"The new site is our ‘super hub’", says Ashley Croft. "It is key to our business and the move away from our old storage model to the new stillage and racking-based system is bringing significant throughput efficiencies to our business."

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