There has scarcely been a time when successful supply chain management was more important or more of a challenge than it is right now. COVID-19, chronic congestion, to say nothing of a deal or no deal Brexit on the not-so-distant horizon are combining to create a ‘perfect storm’ for the UK logistics industry. Few people know this better than Les Flanagan of Northamptonshire-based Les Flanagan Logistics Services Ltd (LFLS), whose own logistics journey started back in the 1970s.

In a career spanning almost 50 years. I’ve witnessed supply chains becoming longer and more complex and at the same time consumers demanding quicker delivery times. Recent events, however, have highlighted the vital role the supply chain plays in keeping industry moving and nations clothed, fed and protected. Businesses more than ever before need a reliable, flexible supply chain, and safe and dependable warehousing and logistics. 

However, even without the extraordinary events impacting our industry in 2020, the pressures upon on it–and in particular warehousing–have been growing for years, says the logistics veteran.

In the UK, warehousing for certain sectors has been in short supply for a while – particularly those requiring wet bonded, frozen or chilled facilities. At the same time ecommerce operations have boomed over recent years as consumers have turned to online purchasing in their droves (a trend that has inevitably accelerated during the pandemic). And COVID or no COVID, B2B or B2C, there’s nothing to suggest that ecommerce expansion will slow in the future. 

Growth of any sort is good news for the UK economy but also tightens the squeeze upon those charged with managing supply chains. 

Which is why, when a huge, brand-new, international fulfilment centre which promises to help address some of this capacity shortfall is set to become available in the UK, we get excited. When that warehousing facility is being built less than a mile from Port of Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, we get very excited. 

The facility in question is the massive 500,000 sq ft, £50 million warehousing development being built by freight and logistics group Uniserve. Due to open its many, many doors in the second quarter of 2021, it represents a significant seachange for the UK industry as Flanagan explains: 

For the first time port-centric logistics at scale will be a reality for businesses moving cargo through the Port of Felixstowe – removing complexity, speeding up availability and giving better value to customers using Uniserve’s new facility. Of course, it will introduce some much-needed capacity in the frozen food, chilled goods and e-fulfilment sectors. 

Not that port-centric logistics are a new concept to the UK market. Benefits of the approach (such as quay rent / demurrage bill reductions, increased ‘DC bypass’ and cross-docking, improved inventory visibility / controls, quicker access to goods, improved cash flow via bonded storage etc etc.) have been trumpeted by ports and logistics businesses alike for years – particularly at DP World’s London Gateway Port more recently. However, the introduction of this enormous warehouse on the doorstep of the UK’s largest port is potentially game changing for its customers and for the industry as a whole.  

The number of handling stages are dramatically reduced giving many operational and cost benefits. This model of bypassing the RDCs is estimated to remove about 1m miles for every 5,000 containers transported inland – a model that has been favoured and adopted by many of the UK’s biggest retailers. With this simplified model there is far less risk to availability of stock as customs procedures are quicker, there are less risk of delays through traffic congestion and the access to stock is quicker and easier. 

The scale and offering of the new centre are impressive. The site will be BRC food grade accredited, bonded for both wet and dry goods and will offer consolidation services for goods in transit. Sitting on an 11.5 acre site, the warehouse will be 400 metres long, 120 metres wide and 20 metres high (put another way you could house TWO of the world’s largest container vessels under its roof). Inside the numbers are similarly daunting, including a 200,000 sq ft purpose built efulfilment zone, a 100,000 sq ft cold store, 80,000 ambient pallet spaces, 17,000 pallet spaces of frozen storage, 10 levels of racking and four mezzanine floors. 

As impressive as the scale and specifications of the Felixstowe site are, what’s really important is what this means for our customers – namely capacity, convenience, flexibility, visibility and cost savings across multiple sectors and commodities. 

David Barry, Director of Warehousing & Transport, Uniserve

While the volatility of global markets is unlikely to ease significantly in coming months, this is certainly a welcome development at the end of a year that has been short on good news stories, both inside and outside of supply chain management. 

This is a major development and much needed boost for the industry,  agrees Les.  Whatever 2021 brings, this new Felixstowe facility will eliminate a lot of headaches for its users and offers a bit of optimism of better times to come in the future.