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Steven Moore presents five essential attributes FMs need for retail warehouse operations.


08 October 2018 | Steven Moore

1) Safety at their core

Warehouse safety needs to be a number-one priority. My own experience transitioning from a high street retail role to a warehouse distribution centre surrounded by lorries and material-handling equipment was initially a shock to the system.

It’s essential to invest in and promote a positive health and safety culture in a warehouse environment. If we provide a safe place to work, the effect is an overall improvement in productivity and employee satisfaction, which means they will look after the building better. 

2) Leadership and people skills

It takes strong leadership to attract and retain a team, but also to motivate them to go out every day and perform in a challenging environment. Around 75 per cent of Atalian Servest’s FMs come through succession planning within the business, as it is very rare to find a distribution FM ‘off the shelf’.

The trend of outsourcing distribution is also relatively new. Larger supermarket chains were the pioneers of this and, in my experience, trying to transition an office-based FM to a warehouse or manufacturing environment can be challenging.

Having a good succession strategy on site is a great way to retain the team. This way, expectations and opportunities are clear from the beginning. Being able to coach members of the team on a host of areas is crucial.

3) Insight on the inside

Being able to act on customer insight is key to understanding what drives customers to make decisions. A proactive FM can measure the current market position of a retailer and, if a downward trend is evident, is able to anticipate how to provide solutions and possible efficiencies for the customer.

Closely linked is the need for flexibility. In distribution, and specifically within grocery retail, certain foods and beverages typically experience an increase in sales at the end of the week, meaning the volume of product picked increases through the warehouse.

The FM should be able to produce a robust plan incorporating various service lines to accommodate higher volume movements. This might mean increasing customer staff, which could result requiring more security guards and chefs, extended serving times, or an increase in recycling colleagues.

There are also seasonal trends such as back-to-school times or ‘Black Friday’ sales. The FM may spend up to six months planning a three-week period, so it is crucial to take data gathered from previous experiences and produce a plan to deliver across all service lines. 

4) Look ahead

FMs have to seek out further opportunities as they arise. We like our retailer customers to concentrate on what they are good at, which is selling products; they might not always be experts in FM.

Since a large proportion of the roles within distribution do not require specialist training, this provides the business with the opportunity to increase bespoke service lines. Trailer washing, battery changing, pallet management and pick face management are all service lines that may sit outside a retailer’s core delivery strategy.

On some occasions, FMs provide solutions to opportunities that the customer may not even realise existed. Being proactive is also about challenging the model.

Distribution centres, particularly in retail, are evolving to meet the needs of the high street customer and we must trial new ways of delivering.  

5) Communication and problem solving

Ideally, FMs need to be able to communicate at all levels and possess motivational abilities that appeal to everyone, from the C-suite to warehouse colleagues, as well as be able to drive things operationally.

Problems and opportunities arise hourly within a warehouse setting. For example, the FM could be trying to resolve a recycling challenge from a specific type of plastic new to the depot supply chain that requires specific disposal methods, or provide a solution on how to restrict the amount of queuing time experienced by on-site colleagues grabbing their morning coffee.

The FM needs to solve these issues while simultaneously managing the daily operations. The fundamental role of the FM is to assist the retailer in picking and processing stock by providing an exceptional facility for colleagues to work where it can be converted into sales as quickly as possible. Maintaining this function is essential to the running of any customer’s business.

Steven Moore is managing director, logistics and manufacturing at Atalian Servest