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Trucking hell

Transport delays, road congestion and delivery woes can play havoc with a retailer’s supply chain, but new distribution initiatives can offer a light at the end of the tunnel. Simon Jack reports
Anyone using the UK’s roads regularly could be forgiven for thinking that congestion could not get any worse. But transportation times continue to deteriorate for fashion retailers, adding cost and uncertainty into their operations.

The Department for Transport, which measures delays on the slowest routes connecting major towns and cities, says delays have increased by 5% in the past two years. In urban areas, off-peak speeds have fallen by 4% since 2004, although peak-hour movements remain unchanged. If that was not bad enough, delays at ports are commonplace, especially as companies build up stock for the key Christmas trading period.

It is impossible for retailers to fully protect themselves against the effects of congestion, but they can take steps to lessen the impact. New Look, for example, has started using rail to transport incoming shipping containers for part of their journey from Southampton to its distribution centre in Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire. This approach began two months ago but is now used for more than half of the company’s containers.

New Look also avoids congestion by making the most of its store deliveries at night or early in the morning through logistics contractor Clipper. New Look logistics director Jason Keegan says: “By delivering at night, we believe we can deliver to an extra two stores with each vehicle. We also get much less wear and tear, as well as better fuel consumption.”

Night movements can also be used for transporting products to the distribution centre from the port. Ben Sherman tries to receive product into its warehouse in Radlett in Hertfordshire, which is run by DHL, at around 6am, which means goods leave Southampton by 4am. Group logistics director Alan Higgins says: “If you take products in at 8am or later you invariably hit problems and lose time.”

Another way of avoiding traffic congestion is so-called ‘portcentric’ logistics, where products are brought into the country as close as possible to their final destination to reduce road movements. For example, if products are destined for northern England they may be landed at Teesport, near Middlesbrough, or Hull.

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