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Fast fashion requires fast logistics

12 June 2017

HSS editor Simon Duddy meets distribution centre manager Allan More at fast fashion retailer Quiz’s distribution centre in Bellshill near Glasgow, and hears how automated systems integrator Logistex helped it implement a leading edge approach to logistics.

Fast fashion is all about getting stock in to the distribution centre and back out to stores as quickly as possible. Holding stock is bad for business.

“The days of using the warehouse to store stock have largely passed, the distribution centre at Quiz is used to pause stock really, pause and move it on quickly,” says Allan More, distribution centre manager at Quiz.

The new distribution centre in Bellshill went live in 2015. The building was an empty shell when Quiz took it over, and it has been kitted out to cater for the retailer’s specific needs. 

The site sprawls across 6.2 acres, with three chambers in use, and two further chambers ready if needed for expansion. The warehouse has 157,000 sq ft of space in use, with a mezzanine level proving a further 30,000 sq ft. Logistex provided a material handling solution controlled by its WMS - LWS Reflex. The solution also features a hanging garment system, belt/line feed conveyor and gravity systems, pallet racking, shelving and live storage.

All very impressive kit. And it needs to be. The facility is processing stock for a burgeoning store portfolio and eCommerce orders that are growing at dizzying speed. Quiz can receive around 120,000 units per week (hanging and boxed) from delivery and can re-process this stock within the confines of the week if its hanging. The facility can also process flatpack to hanging and can handle around 5,500 B2C orders per day, with the ability to pick both singles and multis.

Approximately 80% of stock goes to stores, with the remaining 20% used to fulfil online orders. 

To give you an idea of how fast stock changes, Quiz can have 12-15 new styles per day going into stores. That’s driven the layout of the distribution centre.

“It’s important to let our customers dictate to us how we re-order that stock,” continues Allan. “Turning it around as quickly as possible is key. Moving to a purpose built facility and implementing an innovative cross-docking model allowed us to get on top of this.”

Logistex was onboard from the beginning, with involvement at the planning stage for the material handling system, the equipment and the software.

“Logistex had worked with other fast fashion groups and had knowledge of how we wanted to operate. Its WMS system was tailor-made for what we wanted to achieve. It is very important to state that we weren’t led by the system, it was vital that technology and equipment would adapt to our model. We demand flexibility from all our solutions partners and Logistex was very forthcoming on that.”

Handling complexity

The Omni-channel approach to retail logistics has evolved to handle the much greater complexity that internet shopping has brought. Quiz has taken this on across the board.

“We’re an omni channel business,” explains Allan. “So within the warehouse we have the same approach. Each channel is being fulfilled and attended to appropriately. Picking and packing for web orders is happening simultaneously to store replenishment and dealing with web returns etc. 

“With Logistex, we created a solution so this warehouse could handle all processes all the time. We could move labour around as required and carry out processes simultaneously. That was one of the key drivers - we need to be able to fulfil every channel as demand requires.”

This fast fashion supply chain model demands a high level of organisation from the management team.

It also requires joined up IT. The ERP system (from Cegid) gives Quiz live visibility of stock in all channels at all times, with the WMS (LWS Reflex) executing the orders, sending stock to where it needs to go. The ERP has middleware that allows it to integrate with the WMS.

The ERP system is also integrated in-store as the EPOS the merchandising team uses to order, and monitor stock levels and sales.

Quiz uses carrier management platform MetaPack, which integrates with its eCommerce platform; and uses TNT software, as the delivery firm is its major carrier.

The next task with Logistex will be to integrate the WMS with the TNT software.

Allan says: “It has to be linked up, and because it is, our IT system de-risks the risks of fashion. And it’s important to say - we use a number of partners but our in-house IT team controls and drives the process. IT integration is challenging and we are delighted to have got it right.”

Peak

Peak periods throw another level of complexity on top of already busy everyday operations. 

Allan says: “At Peak, to have all those channels functioning every single day for a span of say six weeks, well it takes a lot to manage all those patterns at the same time. But the WMS reels off orders.”

During non-peak Quiz uses some 50 pickers and packers at the facility. At Peak the number doubles.

Quiz uses sales projections to establish how many orders they are going to have to fulfil and cross-references with its KPIs on picking and packing performances. This is used to forecast how many people will be needed to pick and pack, shift length and number of shifts.

The WMS allows Quiz to monitor actual performance and check forecast accuracy.

“We don’t want to bring in busloads of people and discard those we don’t need. We like to be more careful in hiring.”

It helps that the pickers and packers who work on the eCommerce side are multi-skilled, and can turn their hands to different tasks depending on the volume of orders. Quiz carries out staff training in tandem with its experienced pickers using a buddy system.

In terms of packaging, orders are not treated differently according to value. The one exception is the retailer’s bridal range. These are packed slightly differently and into a presentation box.

Allan adds: “This ties in again with training. When a customer opens a package, we have one chance to get it right. So we make sure our guys get the right training to understand this.”

For Quiz, managing returns is important. Allan states a key aim is to get returns back into the general stock as quickly as possible. “It’s a pain you have to suffer at times, but if stock comes back today, it will be back for sale tomorrow, if it passes our QC check.”

Looking ahead

The future looks bright for Quiz. The fast-fashion retailer plans to grow UK store footprint, as well as online sales and international sales, with a soon to launch website for the Spanish market just one highlight.

Allan see the distribution centre as an essential driver to the strong performance of the business and sees use of the retail store footprint to help fulfil online orders as a key part of future development.

“For us, the product is key, as is getting the product to right channel at the right time. This facility has allowed to distribute quicker and quicker and with greater pick and pack accuracy. As we grow and develop this building we will be looking at opportunities for automation to increase efficiency, wherever they are - as long as we can see a return of course.

“In addition, we will use our store estate to help fulfil eCommerce orders. That’s something that is on the roadmap for us.”

 
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