Marathon Warehouse Distribution and EuroFlo Emissions are like two sides of the same coin – or to be more precise, like two sides of the same yard as they share the same sprawling 15m high warehouse site in Redditch.
Exhausts are famously difficult to stock and store and are considered the original ‘ugly’ product. To complicate matters further, EuroFlo bring the product in from the Fabriscape factory in Portugal (echoed by the stylised ‘F’ in the EuroFlo logo), meaning the fragile and air-filled components have to be transported across Europe.
Fortunately, the UK warehouse has been designed specifically for racking and storing thousands of the odd-shaped products as efficiently as possible. Arranged over four levels, the storage is highly effective despite, or perhaps because of the items that most factor branches consider to be difficult to hold and stock.
On the other side of the yard it is a similar story in the Marathon warehouse. While you will find the usual brake pad and oil filter references in there, they are not the fastest moving items. Indeed, the shelves are filled with window regulators, air suspension modules and leaf springs among many other items that are not commonly stocked by factors. “It isn’t the usual parts that are our biggest success” explained Colin Fisher, Sales and Marketing Director. “Well, they are usual for MWD, but they are the slow moving part numbers everywhere else! If you look at the percentage of business a regular factor would do in terms of items like oil filters and brake pads, ours would be completely different”.
Air suspension is a case in point. “When I look at the types of vehicles that are equipped with it, I wasn’t sure that stocking the replacement parts would be a winner” explained Fisher. “But no factor was going to stock it, so if I have the part and the price is right I’ve got a 100 percent opportunity to sell to whoever has had the enquiry, whereas on a common part like a filter or brake pads I might have 20-30 percent”.
Marathon and EuroFlo are not the only warehouse distributors of esoteric and ugly products of course, but Fisher suggests that this model of business will rise in a consolidating market. “In tough times the factor branches will destock” he explained, adding that using a regional warehouse distributor takes away the risk of tying up cash in slow moving inventory for factor branches.
Brands, or at least names that customers know and are comfortable with are also a selling point. Names such as Ashika and Dunlop (for air suspension) are joined by relative newcomers such as WAI, Kilen and Banner Batteries. In total, around 40 brands are routinely stocked by Marathon. “Fitting them all on a wall card is getting tricky” said Fisher.
“If you take products like clutch or timing belt kits, it is all about brands. So many have tried private labels etc, but just couldn’t sell it. We know of one supplier that has come out of belting altogether” he added. “Private labelling just doesn’t work. If you’re not Gates, Dayco or INA, the garage just doesn’t want to know”.
Private labelling has other problems for warehouse distributors. “It’s a huge restraint on time” said Fisher. “Everything has to be catalogued yourself. If I had ten private labels in the Marathon programme that I need to update every month… Well that would be challenging and it isn’t really our job, so we focus on the brand that we do control, EuroFlo, is extremely well catalogued”.
Keeping good stock levels and offering an efficient service are fundamental to any good firm in the business of supplying. But at this company, there’s one extra thing point that is its defining characteristic. “The more difficult the product group, the more we like it” concluded Fisher.