Case Study

Conquering the summits, bridging the gaps

By Ruari McCallion

December 2019

Managing seasonal logistics

As if life wasn’t complicated enough, Christmas is coming – a season now extended by the Transatlantic transplant of Black Friday. Ruari McCallion has been asking palletised distribution organisations how they cope.

Christmas has always been a time of high demand for logistics operators, warehouse managers and materials handling professionals but the European adoption of the American Black Friday seems to have sent traffic into the stratosphere. How do operators cope with up to 60 per cent increases in demand, without unbalancing their forklift truck fleets, payroll and expensive real estate?

“Our peaks are August through to December, while the troughs tend to be January through to March,” said Richard Mallard, Senior Operations Manager at NX Group. “Black Friday and Christmas tend to be the ‘peakiest’; we see 40 to 60 per cent increase in order throughput during that period.”


Richard Mallard, Senior Operations Manager, NX Group

EV Cargo incorporates Allport Cargo Services, CM Downton and Palletforce, the UK-based and Europe-wide palletised distribution organisation, which is partnered with Heppner in France and covers 24 countries in Europe. An audit of its UK retail activities in the run-up to Christmas 2018 revealed that it delivered over 8 million bottles of tonic water, 16 million cans of lager, 3 million bottles of spirits and 1.5 million bottles of wine, each week in the peak season. It distributed over 7 million Christmas TV guides, 7 million bars of chocolate and 25,000 Christmas trees. The food delivery programme included 2 million ‘pigs in blankets’, 700,000 Yorkshire puddings and 800,000 pots of gravy during the final three days before Christmas Day itself. It also handled the import of 800,000 Christmas crackers and 800,000 LED lights.

The sheer volume of materials to be handled means that something has to give, even in the very best-run organisations.

“Distribution centres tend to be significantly slower in all aspects due to higher volumes, which can create longer-than-usual waiting times at some of the hubs,” Richard Mallard said. NX Group doesn’t see much of a change in the mix of goods it is handling – it’s a massive increase in quantity, rather than variety – and customers still expect their overnight deliveries to arrive the day after they have been dispatched.


The key to coping with the massive surge in demand is, he said, all about preparation.

“We plan our resources effectively, and well in advance.” Those resources will include personnel but not overwhelmingly so: “We hire temporary staff but we try to keep additional headcount to a minimum. Consistency and stability are key to effective planning.” Strangely enough, the company doesn’t hire or acquire additional trucks and materials handling equipment; instead, it seeks to maximise the effective use of the equipment it has.

The message that needs to be hammered home is: planning and preparation. And that advice applies to customers as much as to distribution and delivery companies. There are a few things that businesses can do to ensure that their valuable freight isn’t held up on the way or turned back at what may soon once again become customs-controlled borders.


Eliminating failed deliveries

The last thing producers, suppliers and their customers need is failed deliveries, especially at the busiest time of the year, when reputations are on the line. Most problems can be avoided, with proper planning and preparation.


Top reasons for failed deliveries

Incorrect details for delivery address / recipient

Occasionally, the end customer is not aware of a delivery. They can refuse to accept it, or they may not be available to receive the goods.

Pallet type

If the goods are not on the right pallets, retailers and warehouses may refuse to accept them, as they will not be able to use their equipment on the pallets.

Height of pallet load

There may be restrictions on the height of stacking on a pallet, depending on the goods and where they are being delivered.


If goods arrive which are damaged or have damaged packaging, they are less likely to be accepted. Damage to goods and packaging can be a big problem for distribution companies, as this can happen prior to delivery and result in the stock being refused.


How to prevent failed deliveries

Ensure all information regarding the delivery is correct, such as the address, recipient and paperwork required for the delivery – and ensure the addressee is expecting the delivery.

Pack goods on the right type of pallet, and within the right height restrictions.

Call the recipient before delivering, to ensure they are in and ready to accept the delivery, and make sure there is information on who the named recipient is.

Check if there are any restrictions in place which might lead to a delivery not being successful.

With acknowledgement and thanks to NX Group

Investing for efficiency

In August 2019, EV Cargo’s Palletforce implemented a £2 million (€2.3 million) upgrade to its electronic proof of delivery system, ePOD, in time for this year’s seasonal peak.

ePOD2 features real-time vehicle tracking and improved notification facilities, triggered on tracking events, with the ability to send updates to consignees via SMS, email and Twitter as pallets move through the delivery process.

The system will also allow drivers to report whether a delivery point is residential or commercial, enabling Palletforce to build up a comprehensive database to highlight home deliveries and improve future manifesting and routing.

Deployment of the new Honeywell devices was completed in September 2019. Pallet Selfie software will automatically photograph every pallet as it passes through the Palletforce SuperHub in Burton-on-Trent, England, and the technology upgrade is completed with the roll-out of Alliance Sense, which uses artificial intelligence to identify potential problems before they occur.”

See for confirmation.

With acknowledgement and thanks to EV Cargo/Palletforce