How was the winter for you? While we might not have had the prolonged cold snap that the aftermarket has been waiting for, it seems the temperature was low enough over a long enough period of time to keep sales healthy.
This is confirmed by Nigel Shires, Operations Manager of the UK sales concession of Japanese battery brand Yuasa. “We’ve just had our best ever January,” he says, pointing to the top results achieved over the winter season.
The Swindon building in which we meet Shires houses both stock and staff responsible for buying, selling, maintaining customer relationships and R&D engineers. In true Japanese management style, nobody is ever far away from the warehouse and the hum and clatter of the electric forklifts. Although the warehouse has 50 people beavering away with stock movement, it appears to be an oasis of zen-like calm compared to the bustle of the adjoining office where a dozen staff are all constantly on the phone, buying stock and taking orders and enquiries from clients.
The floor above is a little quieter with a team of engineers resolving customer enquiries (“It’s a real luxury to have these guys,” beams Shires) as well as a number of management types in suits. We note with interest that the boardroom table has a projector and a phone sitting on top of a teburukurosu – a type of ornamental Japanese tablecloth.
The warehouse itself is a sight to behold. Spanning 75,000 sqft it contains 10,000 pallets, each holding an average of 50 batteries. With this level of inventory it looks like it could never run low on stock. However, this is far from the case according to Shires who tells us that the 50 people who work there move £20m of stock each month. Deliveries arrive from Southampton daily and demands from a number of high-profile national accounts mean that stock turn in winter is especially high for light and commercial vehicles, necessitating daily meetings to work out what is on the shelf, what is being delivered, what is on the water and what has been, or needs to be ordered.
Of course, not every reference moves so quickly and motorcycle references in particular can sit on the shelf for a long time, especially through the warmer months. “If this is the case, then when the battery gets within six months of its ‘recharge by’ date we take it to our rework station,” Shires explained, adding that the rework bays comprised of stations to recharge batteries in bulk. While the majority of batteries charged here are ones that have been on the shelf, newly imported batteries are sometimes topped-up if a test reveals that they haven’t had a full charge prior to leaving the factory. A label reflecting the new ‘charge by’ date is also added on a sticker.
Stickers, private label contracts are very important to the firm. As the stock arrives without a brand label Shires explains that it is easy to image the product in the style required by the client. National accounts include large retail chains, motor factors and a breakdown organisation. However, once the stock has been labelled, it must of course go to that particular client. As this puts an extra layer of stock keeping on an already broad base of SKUs the firm has started using barcodes alongside the usual reference codes.
The trouble with being in batteries is that demand varies according to a number of uncontrollable factors – not least the weather. “It’s either feast or famine in this business,” notes Shires – but from what we’ve seen of the operation it looks like the feast will continue for a few courses yet.