The Problem: British fashion retailer River Island faced the classic growth challenge—at least where its distribution operations were concerned. After 60-plus years of operating brick-and-mortar stores, the company had jumped into international e-commerce. While the venture was proving successful, the added volume was straining the capacity of its 466,000-square-foot DC in Milton Keynes, northwest of London. The company did not want to enlarge the facility, nor did management want to add a DC elsewhere in the country. Rather, it wanted to find a way to expand the existing building's capacity.
Customer: River Island
Primary business: Mass-market fashion retail, with more than 300 stores in the U.K. and Ireland and throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The company also runs a growing international e-commerce business that ships to more than 100 countries, including the United States.
Headquarters: Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK
Supplier: Holland Storage Systems BV and distributor Apex Linvar
Solution: SpeedCell Storage Solution
What the retailer mainly needed was a storage system that would allow it to make better use of available space. But it had another requirement as well: The system would have to provide easy access to SKUs to allow for swift order picking. Like most fashion retailers, the company turns product rapidly. Arif Ahmed, director of logistics for River Island, says orders for stores and express shipments must leave the facility within 24 hours, or within 48 hours for standard delivery.
The Solution: For help with the problem, River Island turned to Apex Linvar, a manufacturer and distributor of DC storage systems that is also based in Milton Keynes. Apex Linvar recommended that the retailer retrofit a number of its floor-level pallet racking bays with a mobile storage and picking system called SpeedCell.
Manufactured by Zeeland, Mich.-based Holland Storage Systems LLC, the SpeedCell system is designed to convert traditional racking bays into high-density storage modules, eliminating dead space at the rear of a pallet bay while allowing easy access to the items inside. It consists of vertical shelving columns made from industrial textiles. The columns are suspended from tracks installed in the racks, allowing the columns to slide sideways to provide access to additional columns deeper in the rack. In the River Island installation, the columns run three deep.
Each column can bear loads of up to 240 pounds, and each slot in the columns can hold up to 30 pounds. The columns are custom designed for each installation and can be installed in any new or existing pallet rack.
At the River Island facility, Apex Linvar, which is the European distributor of SpeedCell, installed a total of 24 SpeedCell bay sets. Those provided an additional 5,000 SKU locations in a single aisle that had previously accommodated 742 SKUs. Doing so freed up 12 aisles for higher-volume products, says Doug Buma, president of the Holland Awning Group of Companies, the parent of Holland Storage Systems and its European division, Holland Storage Systems BV.
The installation took two men about five days, according to a SpeedCell spokesman. (The company notes that installation times have dropped as the company has gained experience—the standard now is 45 minutes per bay with two trained installers.) Ahmed reports that the system required effectively no training for his staff. "Intuitive is the word that comes to mind," he says.
"It was a natural progression of an idea that has been used in logistics for a while; simple but effective slot matrix shelving," Ahmed adds. He lauds the system for its flexibility and excellent cube utilization.