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How facilities managers are keeping Christmas on track

From turkeys to woolly socks, facilities managers in warehouses across the UK are playing a vital role to get stock both on store shelves and into the homes of festive spenders.

It’s that time of the year when warehouses are full of festive goods – and the race is on to get them safely to their next point in the supply chain.

While the overall amount spent by UK shoppers in the run-up to Christmas is expected to be the same as last year at around £78 billion, according to research by courier ParcelHero, online shopping is increasing off the back of COVID-19 lockdowns. For the first time ever in the UK, it’s expected to overtake physical store sales.

The increased volume of online orders means facilities managers need to be more agile and responsive than ever to help get goods through the supply chain as efficiently as possible, says Peter Beatham, Integral account director for 10 clients across the UK.

“Our clients are typically well-prepared for the festive season, turning their focus to this period as early as spring – and despite COVID-19, this year is no exception,” says Beatham, who oversees facilities maintenance services for both a major UK shopping centre landlord and supermarket chain with regional distribution centres across the country.

“With more online orders all going to different addresses, it’s critical to keep stock moving smoothly through distribution networks and keep it safe from damage, fire and theft, all while maintaining optimal environmental conditions. More than ever at this time of year, facilities managers need to be ready to step in at a moment’s notice to resolve issues as they arise. That changes the pace for everyone.”

This could involve anything from fixing a broken cooling facility or a loading bay roller shutter at a supermarket distribution centre. Any mechanical failure or electrical outage, no matter how brief, can have an instant ripple effect on productivity and cause backlogs – as one distribution centre can serve as many as 150 stores.

“Everything we service and support, from heating to toilets and warehouse doors, is being used more frequently,” Beatham explains. “That higher usage means a higher likelihood of things needing a rapid response.”

Staying cool when the heat is on

It’s not just the latest toys or electronics being transported and stored; food is also in high demand. At both shop-floor level, in transit and in warehouses, effective management of cold goods is critical in the festive period, explains David Bostock, director of Integral’s refrigeration division, which serves the needs of the likes of supermarket chain Lidl and luxury retailer Harrods. A chiller failure can risk the loss of thousands of pounds’ worth of stock.

“While facilities managers may not get directly involved with vehicle maintenance, clients require back-up for mobile cold storage systems, which are recharged before being reinstalled in delivery trucks and vans,” he explains. “Making sure that all equipment is ready and available for increased use at this time of year is vital at the goods-out phase.”

Access to certain warehouse aisles of clients’ facilities at this time of year is limited, with the busy months of November and December off-limits to facilities maintenance teams for anything other than emergency remedial work. This year, COVID-19 has also restricted access to food packing areas as clients look to minimise the risk to their staff.

“Since the pandemic began, people’s safety has been paramount,” says Bostock. “And now in peak times, they’re fully aware of the risks of cross-contamination between site personnel i.e. support contractors, and their staff – and its potential to impact the flow of festive season goods.”

In the effort to keep things optimal, greater use of sensors to monitor refrigeration plant and conditioned space in order to flag faults real time, is enhancing facilities management.

“There’s still great scope for increased use of such technology,” Bostock says. “That could be down on the shop floor as well as in storage. Remote monitoring also has a key role to play longer term as companies look to minimise emissions in the drive to net zero carbon.”

In the meantime, the immediate focus is keeping the festive season on track. “Facilities management is a round-the-clock commitment but while shopping centres may be quieter than usual this year, distribution centres will need facilities managers and maintenance teams to be at the top of their game,” says Beatham. “The next few weeks will be busy for all involved.”

Read time: 3:55 min.

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