VIP Computers, based in Warrington, is one of Britain’s largest independent distributors of computer hardware.
An award-winning authorised distributor for some of the biggest names in electronics, the company began in 1990 when husband and wife team, Jatti and Avneet Sahni, moved to the area from Kuwait.
Building the company from the ground up, the Sahnis now oversee a group with over £225m in sales, supplying PC components and peripherals in the UK and beyond.
Consistent growth and strategic acquisitions and mergers helped it to expand considerably, with businesses in the US, Europe, plus the Far and Middle East; its own ‘Zoostorm’ brand and a strong reputation in education and the public sector. In addition to its distribution ties with Microsoft, Asus, AMD and Nvidia, the company also owns system builders CMS and Ergo.
The Warrington site is the group head office and 72,000 sq ft distribution and picking centre. With numerous local and national business awards, recognition in the Sunday Times Top Track 250 list and a strong, stable workforce, the reputation as a leading employer is clearly deserved.
Mike Taylor, VIP group finance director is responsible for all logistics and fulfilment activities. “The strategic decisions we take and ongoing investments are focused to achieve growth plans for the long term,” says Mike. Another mainstay of the business is Rob Buchan, operations manager and the man charged with keeping the distribution side ticking over.
Maximising the Cube
“My aim is twofold,” says Rob, “maximise the pallet storage and save money for the company.” Responsiveness is clearly important too. As Rob explains, most work is completed on a 24hr cycle. “When we start at 6am, our order book is empty. We receive orders within the day and those are typically picked and dispatched by the same evening. We have some longer-term orders, where PCs are being built to order, but generally we are starting from scratch each day.”
Computer components also come in all shapes and sizes, which makes a variety of storage options a necessity. “Monitors are getting larger, but thinner, but PCs are getting much smaller. The latest are not much bigger than a mobile phone. We have areas where we need full pallet storage, but also where fast moving small items are picked. We need the flexibility to rotate products quickly, as anything over 90 days is considered aged stock.”
Strong seasonal demands meant VIP needed external 3PL support from October to January each year. With 2,500 pallet locations in the main building, the decision was taken to expand (‘next door’ as Rob puts it), with a brand new £1.6 million warehouse adding another 5,000 locations. The new extension allowed Rob to also extend the ethos of mixed storage and picking, adding 10m high racking, enough to stack five high pallet loads, served by four Magaziner Kombi very narrow aisle turret trucks, otherwise known as man-up order pickers. Carrylift’s Geoff Pearson believes the equipment provides the best option, as well as a high degree of reliability.
Says Geoff: “The Magaziners are a very well-engineered piece of kit. Since the operator rides up with the load to the storage location, he gets a great view of the load and its rack destination. The operators are safe within the machine and the height allows the bottom section of the aisles to have live storage or part-pallets for faster item picking.”
“It is a technical type of kit,” adds Rob. “It’s been upgraded but our operators are familiar with it, and the equipment we’ve had from Carrylift has always been up to the job. We get a great service and the occasional pastry from Geoff, and the technical support from Steve Topping is excellent.”
Delivered on time and on budget, the bespoke equipment is now busily replenishing those ground level mixed picking areas.
Two TCM four-wheel electric counterbalance and seven powered pallet trucks, all in company colours, make up the rest of the fleet, which in turn is complemented by an unusual piece of equipment to add fast flexibility.
“We purchased a batch of shopping trolleys,” says Rob. “We are not afraid to spend thousands on the big equipment if it does the job, but these also do a great job for us!”
A special storage section contains higher value items whilst a wider aisle provides a flow lane and is used by resident pickers from Amazon.
We are a flagship partner with Amazon, and work very closely with them. They have staff here which pick directly from our shelves, and have their own packing and dispatch area,” adds Rob. “It changed our landscape overnight. It’s a great collaboration as it cuts down massively on double handling and the result is a faster and more efficient service for the customer.” As the only Amazon Flex distributor with the facility on-site, VIP benefit from a cut in lead time by about ten days, whilst Amazon only take the stock when they need it, rather than hold it for two weeks or longer.
“Our business with Amazon is growing,” commented Mike Taylor, “not just because of this, but a big part of this is the relationship.”
In addition to the online giant, VIP also count Argos, Tesco, John Lewis and of course direct buyers, amongst their customers.
Keeping control of the operation, from containers arriving from Asia, through to storing and sorting, with replenishment, picking and finally dispatching, gives Rob a close connection with all aspects of the business.
Despite the need for flexibility, the pressures to get product out the door and the variety of work taking place under one roof, he manages to maintain an air of calm. “We see positives everywhere. The pace of change is fast, and you would not recognise it here just five years ago, which is a sign of our fantastic progress. It is great to be part of a successful team, and to have support from Carrylift that can be always relied upon.”