Magazine article Management Today

MT People: The Sharp End - A Taste of the Goods Life

Magazine article Management Today

MT People: The Sharp End - A Taste of the Goods Life

Article excerpt

Ever wondered who keeps your local shopkeeper stocked up? Dave Waller finds out.

Sweet retribution at the Sharp End this month. I simply professed that I didn't know how my daily Double Decker finds its way to the office vending machine. As a result, the team sent me to Coventry. More specifically, to the HQ of Palmer and Harvey - which proudly boasts it's the UK's largest delivered wholesaler.

Or, in the words of Julian Streeter, managing director of operations there, 'the biggest company you've never heard of'. That's a tough claim to verify, of course, as I've never heard of the competition either Fuelling P&H's case is its fleet of 1,000 vehicles, which makes up to 10,000 drops a day - delivering baked beans and packets of Twiglets to the nation via a network of clients, including Tesco and Sainsbury, Esso garages, down to the smallest family store.

The Coventry HQ alone has quite a reach, I learn, as I stare at the computer screens in the upstairs office. Customers are marked by pink blobs and there's barely a patch of the midlands that hasn't been coloured. If the map showed the reach of all 13 distribution depots together, it'd look as if the entire UK had suddenly begun voting Barbie.

As you can imagine, this kind of operation is all about efficiency - planning supervisor Sally Somal boasts how she's an expert in squeezing every millilitre of capacity out of a 14,000-litre van. And while equal skill goes into tweaking routes to get the most efficiency, this isn't a case of pencilling orders on the back of a fag packet. Computers are king, from processing the orders, right down to what Julian describes as the 'special environment' of the transport office. For that, read a Portakabin of surly moustached men barking into phones, next to banks of computers tracking the lorries' GPS.

I don't stick around long enough to learn what makes transport such a 'special' place. Instead, I'm in the 163,000sq ft warehouse, a vast space alive with the incessant beeps of horns as armies of men whizz past in a fork-lift ballet. It's home to 8,000 product lines, everything from household bleach to boxes of chicken-flavoured crisps.

The vehicles here have all been given women's names, like Leona and Ruby. Apparently this encourages the team to have a better relationship with them, but it has the unintended consequence of making the whole place seem like an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. …

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