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Make the most of your warehouse space

12 September 2019

The UK is dotted with many SMEs struggling with warehouse space who need to modernise and maximise without investing in new facilities. SEC Storage is a distributor with integrator-like capabilities offering a broad range of astute warehouse design solutions. SEC Storage Systems Division commercial director, Harry Watts explains more to HSS editor Simon Duddy.

We have a warehouse space problem in the UK. New build warehousing is ramping up but these units tend to get snapped up by the likes of Amazon, and it doesn’t satisfy the demands of SMEs. What’s more, warehouse design is often stuck in the 1980s. It is over reliant on pallet racking, when pallet in / pallet out movements are in decline, and the need to move and hold cases and singles are dramatically rising.

The good news is SMEs can achieve a great deal by better utilising the warehouse space they have. Securing a trustworthy and innovative partner to re-design the warehouse for the present and future is half the battle, and SEC Storage is emerging strongly as one of the more capable rising stars in the industry.

SEC Storage Systems Division commercial director, Harry Watts explains: “End-user demands on logistics are changing significantly. For more and more companies, logistics is now an area of competitive advantage. This means firms like us must offer a value-add, customer-centric approach to our solutions. We’ve always believed this, and our success to date has been based upon our ability to convince early adopters to work with us.

“Two or three years ago however, there was a watershed moment when many customers realised it’s about more than just pallet capacity and minimising expenditure. We were ready for that.”

SEC Storage has grown dramatically in the last few years. The whole business has doubled, while its major projects business has tripled in size.

Harry continues: “We are a £12 million business now, and in five years, we aim to be a £20m business on the storage side alone. Customer-centricity will be essential for us to get there; it’s what we have done for a very long time and we have spent a great deal of time formalising the processes that have taken us there.”

SEC has a new vision and structure to match its ambitions.

The company has called the approach SEC 2.0 to indicate the size of the change, as Harry says it’s a big step and has been challenging. 

“Salesmen had to manage a wide range of jobs, so we decided to split the business into three. One of the divisions was the Systems division, which I am heading up, and is focused on complete warehouse design and fit-out contracts.”

The Projects division tackles particular warehouse problems, with a particular solution. Generally these contracts are faster to complete and lower cost than Systems jobs.

Its newly created Direct division deals with any orders less than £5,000. These are typically intended to immediately solve operational problems, such as acquiring shelving, or an extra bay of pallet racking. SEC has added an eCommerce avenue to this division, to help it satisfy customers quickly and easily, called SEC Direct.

Harry explains: “Having this specialisation has allowed us to create better service for our customers. Each type of sale now has its own pathway and this has led to a considerable improvement in conversion ratios. For example, we closed 16% of projects greater than £100,000 three years ago that physically went ahead. That’s not bad, but now it’s 56%.”

SEC Storage sees itself, not as a traditional distributor but rather as a low-level integrator, meaning possessing broader capabilities than a conventional distributor albeit with a focus on smaller-scale facilities than leading systems integrators.

“Fitting out a warehouse effectively is no longer about frames and beams, it’s about something more holistic,” says Harry. “The industry is trying to catch up with that trend but in our niche, we feel we have broken away.”

SEC Storage wants to bring many of the benefits of sophisticated warehousing and logistics to SMEs.

“It’s a bit frustrating,” says Harry, “There is a huge amount of marketing on tech such as robots and AI targeted at large customers but much of it is not particularly tangible for SMEs. A typical reaction is ‘that is really interesting but it isn’t relevant for me’. Well, we aim to make it relevant for SMEs.”

Seeing a big opportunity for SMEs, SEC Storage has significantly grown the work it does with conveyor systems and warehouse management systems (WMS).

Harry explains: “We offer bespoke WMS, I have a software development background, and that’s where we move into that ‘low level integrator’ status because we are able to tie everything together which other distributors can’t do.”

SEC is also exploring co-bots and enhancing the way it works from an after-sales perspective. Pallet racking is still the most significant product type sold and is still growing, but it is diminishing as a percentage of its turnover, as it diversifies.

SEC Storage is building a reputation as leading supplier of warehouse solutions and it is establishing a best in class design team, supported by an education programme.

This has brought another seismic change coupled with major investment from the company. It is investing in young people and building them up to carry out key roles. The SEC Academy is, to use a football analogy, taking a Tottenham Hotspur style approach by recruiting young talent and developing them, rather than the buying ready-made stars method of Manchester City.

Harry explains: “The talent pool in the logistics industry isn’t deep enough to pluck people out, and those with experience have been doing things a different way and are often resistant to change, so we’ve gone for the Academy. 

“It’s worked brilliantly. A few years ago we had a few people under 30, now 60% of our head count is under 30.” 

A great example of this success is SEC’s young project manager Alex-Mae Underwood being awarded finalist in the ‘Young Employee of the Year’ category at this year’s UKWA awards.

SEC is taking the Academy seriously, with dedicated resource to produce content for the learners.

“We try to employ people with good soft skills, then we train on the hard skills, such as warehouse design, interpreting data, and understanding the warehouse of the future,” says Harry.

The Academy is part of SEC’s holistic approach, which is also demonstrated by its use of transparent, powerful simulation tools that use customers’ own data to demonstrate how solutions can provide value and pay for themselves, typically within 18-24 months for larger projects.

Harry concludes: “We want an ongoing relationship with customers, and this is something many are looking for. They anticipate logistics processes may have to change multiple times as the market changes, so it is useful for them to have a supplier embedded as a partner.”

SEC commits to service level agreements on support and availability of product etc. and will also deliver training as part of its offering. The company is convinced this value-add, holistic approach will help it to meet the pressing and complex logistical challenges facing SMEs in the UK in the coming years.