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BROWSE PRODUCTS
 

Twenty four Hours from Burslem

One of modern life’s great joys is being able to order something online or over the phone and it appearing at your home or business the following day. Often the company you’ve bought from will advise you that the product could take up to three working days to arrive, so next day delivery is a bonus. But if you’re one man band electrician getting products sent to you within very short lead times is vital, so EPA was very interested to learn more about Screwfix’s new Electricfix service.

I travelled up to Screwfix’s main distribution centre in Stoke-on-Trent to see how the new Electricfix service had been put in place and how the process worked. The building itself is enormous, looming over the industrial estate it’s situated in with 320,000 sq ft of office and warehouse space. The site was built in 2004 and at that time carried 11,000 product lines. Five years later and they now hold 19,000, thanks in part to the expanded Electricfix lines.

The objective of the visit was to track an order from its birth to its delivery in EPA head office and to see how Electricfix manages to uphold its very narrow service levels. In fact, EPA had the honour of putting the very first order through the Electricfix system, so it was slightly nerve-jangling for the Screwfix team to see if all the glitches had been ironed out in time for ‘go live’.

But any fears were soon allayed as the order of some VDE sidecutters, safety boots, a PIR floodlight, a torch, a socket and a cable jointing kit was put through with seamless efficiency by the dedicated Electricfix call centre staff. After making the call and putting through the order I went into the warehouse itself to find the box assigned to carry my goods all ready and bar coded up so its movements can be tracked throughout the warehouse and on the road.

Having visited quite a number of warehouses in the past, I have to say I wasn’t overly excited about seeing another one, but what I found here was particularly impressive both due to its size and its automated approach to storage. This involved colossal banks of automated storage shelves, known as the ‘high bay’, which carries some of the larger items ready for release into the main warehouse picking areas.

Manufactured by Siemens, the high bay contains over 37,000 pallet locations and scales 29 metres (100ft) into the warehouse rafters. It really has to be seen to be believed. And not only is it physically massive, it is also pretty clever and rotates its stock to ensure that pallets it believes will be needed soonest are kept to the front and stock it reckons is likely to be needed in a month or two is kept towards the back.

The warehouse had been extremely busy recently stocking up for the new Electricfix catalogue launch and this meant taking in 1200 pallets of product per day rather than the normal 1000, but despite this, there was a definite air of calm about the place thanks to the military precision of the process.

I followed my order around the labyrinth of storage bays, being directed by LED indicators which told me where to look to pick the next item. What struck me as impressive while I was doing this was the fact I had only put through the order literally 15 minutes before my consignment was already half complete. The people at Screwfix assured me this was not being staged for a visiting journalist and was the normal timescale for an order!

But not everything was automated by a computer brain. The fastest, most popular lines are held in a manual picking bay so they can get sent out quicker and more efficiently (it’s good to know there are some things humans can do better than computers!). There are 300 products considered to be the fastest selling and these are picked directly off the pallet for speedy dispatch including washers, screws, electrical cable, junction boxes, sealants and u-bends.

Following my completed order towards the dispatch bay my box rolled across a weighing machine to spot if there are any irregularities. The computer knows the weight of each item in my order, so if the box is too light or too heavy, something may have been put in incorrectly. After it is weighed, any voids within the box are automatically filled to stop any damaging movement in transit, the label is slapped on and when the bar code is scanned for the last time it is then in the hands of Parcel Force or Fed Ex. All done in under 40 minutes from the initial call.

So the next day came and I’m waiting expectantly at my desk and those same feelings come into play that you experience when sitting at home waiting for the boiler man to arrive. But rather than an apologetic phone call saying, “Sorry mate, will have to be tomorrow”, I received a call from the receptionist to say that my parcel was here an hour before the 10:30am guaranteed delivery time. The very first Electricfix order was a resounding success!

But what good will this bring to an electrician? Well, Screwfix claim they are the first wholesaler to make any meaningful attempt to offer a service that is exclusive to recognised, registered professionals, and this I feel is a good step towards tilting things in the favour of honest traders. This service has been developed in collaboration with the NICEIC, the ECA and the ESC so that only people who can prove their membership to an electrical trade body or their qualifications, such as Part P, can use it.

Screwfix’s marketing director, John Mewett, said: “Through Electricfix, we are supporting and rewarding professional electricians by creating a service dedicated to them and restricting access to our low prices to contractors committed to high standards. We’re confident this will make an important contribution to electrical safety in UK homes.”

Let’s hope so. The market out there is tough enough even without sub-standard, unqualified traders taking work for ridiculously low prices, so any attempt to increase the benefits for being competent and legitimate should be welcomed.

Have you got any other ideas on how to improve services on offer to electrical professionals? Are there still too many ways unscrupulous traders can operate with uncompetitive rates? What do you look for from a wholesaler? Send an email to richard.scott@imlgroup.co.uk with your views.


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