Date: November 2018
SNOWS TIMBER has evolved in many ways since its humble beginnings in the late 19th century. Starting as a small coal and wood merchant in Glastonbury, the company now imports more than 150,000 cubic metres of sawn softwood yearly and processes and distributes more than 1000 timber products. The organisation’s core customer base now includes independent timber and builders’ merchants, DIY stores, fencing manufacturers, garden building manufacturers, joinery shops, shopfitters and construction companies.
A great deal of Snows’ evolution has been natural, but there comes a time to review, implement change and find ways to improve. Just because you’ve been doing things a certain way for years does not mean that is the right way.
Our aims are quite simple, getting the right products to the people who want them as quickly and as cost effectively as we can. These are the same aims we had as that small coal and wood merchant, but on a much larger scale.
The challenge is combining all methods of stock buying, production, ordering and delivery. We have moved on a little since our business started with horses and carts. We’ve been busy examining every part of the business from buying raw timber, through production to customer delivery to ensure we were using the best and most efficient methods at every stage.
Starting with our sales team, this year we consolidated our regional sales offices and brought them all together in a new, national office to help promote best practice and to give our clients a single contact point with every part of the company. Our aim is to provide a tailored, personalised service with a national sales network. We know that sales in the timber industry should involve a two-way conversation. The stereotype of the pushy sales person telling the buyer what they need does not work with the businesses we work with. They are very knowledgable and we can learn from them, just as they can learn from us. To put this simply (and obviously), if our clients’ needs do not inform our buying and production patterns, we’re going to be stuck with a lot of timber products we cannot sell.
Another benefit of a single sales office is the sharing of knowledge. Our staff can learn from and teach each other, using their combined knowledge to continually strive to improve their customer service. Ultimately, their focus is to offer a consistent, informed and reliable customer experience. We opened our new sales office in Towcester, Northants, in May this year and each day our team is already handling around 400 calls, processing an average of 150 orders and receiving an average of 75 customer emails.
To keep up with demand, we have also investigated how we can increase our production capabilities. We have introduced double shifts at our Glastonbury distribution centre to increase our capacity for the picking and milling of products. This has been a great success and the programme will be rolled out to our other distribution centres. We no longer have expensive and sophisticated machinery sitting idle for large chunks of the day and our staff appreciate the increased flexibility in working hours. Alongside this, our customers benefit from our operational hours increasing by 30 per cent, meaning we can pick, pack and fulfil more orders.
We are also refurbishing and redesigning our Mansfield Distribution Centre to increase our stock holding and milling capacity. This will give us the ability to hold more stock on the ground which has improved availability, resulting in a better service for our customers.
Our drive for efficiency has also been good for the environment. Something which every future facing company must put at the centre of every decision it takes. In January we introduced a new routing and scheduling system named Routyn. We are the first company in the country to use this system and it has already allowed us to deliver the same volume of products as before with 25 per cent fewer vehicles covering 10 per cent fewer miles. This has resulted in savings in fuel costs and a considerable reduction in vehicle emissions. The system has also reduced human error resulting in more accurate delivery and increased ability to meet customers bespoke needs. This increased efficiency hasn’t just saved us money. It has allowed us to refocus resources in our distribution centres and given us increased capacity to pick and mill product.
Ian Church, Managing Director of Snows Timber explained: “We’ve engaged with a very clever piece of software which allows us to schedule the routes of our entire vehicle fleet in less than two minutes, creating huge differences in transport efficiencies. It used to take anywhere from one to two hours at each location when we did it manually. It saves us up to six hours each day.”
Alongside this, ensuring we have a fleet fit for the job is an important aspect of our business. We perform daily walk-around defect checks to ensure all our vehicles are safe for road use and we are currently introducing newer lower-emission vehicles to the fleet.
We have installed a bio-mass boiler at our Glastonbury distribution centre. It runs at 90 per cent efficiency on offcuts from our sawmills, causing significantly less waste than conventional boilers. It provides power and lighting at the site and it also qualifies for a £12,000 government payback scheme which we will invest to further improve the sites energy efficiency. Over time, the savings in energy costs will easily cover the initial £40,000 investment in the boiler. These improvements, along with our commitment to FSC/PFC certified products – 99 per cent of our wood is certified – are all part of our dedication to reducing our environmental impact.
It has been a busy year for Snows Timber. Change can sometimes bring disruption, but we have aimed to put our customers first because we know that is the way to keep them, and the improvements we have made have had twin positive effects. We have become more efficient for our clients AND our staff. The time and money we have saved allows us to refocus. We have more man hours to spend both serving our clients and looking for even more ways to improve the running of the business.
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