The name Ann Summers might raise a few saucy titters among some readers, but for the firm’s transport manager Mick O’Neill, it’s no laughing matter.
In charge of fleet for the chain of adult stores, it’s his job to ensure that nationwide deliveries are carried out in the most efficient way possible.
He runs a fleet of 130 vehicles, including 12 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans that deliver products to party organisers and mail order customers across the east and south – deliveries further afield from the company’s Surrey headquarters are outsourced.
The fleet makes between 40 and 50 deliveries a day.
Mick has been in the job for two years, having spent the
previous 10 years working for Sainsbury’s.
During his time with the supermarket chain, he was part of the team that introduced navigation and tracking systems to the firm’s delivery fleet.
On arrival at Ann Summers, he found that no such systems were used.
Deliveries were organised on an ad hoc basis, and drivers used maps to plan their routes each morning.
“We wanted more control over our delivery fleet,” he says.
“We believe we can be more efficient in our route planning, so we can develop achievable delivery routes.
"We wanted to maximise the potential of our fleet and also make sure we’re running it with a view to include all of our responsibilities around making sure that our drivers aren’t given unachievable targets.”
Mick looked at and trialled several different systems for around 18 months before settling on the Three X system from Masternaut, a track and trace system that uses trackers fitted in each of Ann Summers’ vans.
The system can record where the vehicle is, what speed it’s doing and where it’s heading, and upload the information back to the office in real-time.
Additionally, the system has contact details for Ann Summers stores and mail order customers loaded into it, so addresses can be correlated with dispatch information.
The company started using the system in January.
“Masternaut did the installation out of hours to minimise downtime,” he says.
“They also uploaded a bulk database of contracts, which makes the reports very easy to read.”
The major fleet management advantage seen so far is the ability to compare the planned routes and the time they’re expected to take, with the actual data for the journey of each van.
“This will help us develop achievable routes over time,” says Mick.
“Masternaut’s system will email every morning an accurate record of what my vans have done the day before.”
Additionally, when a collection is needed if a customer wants to return an order, the nearest vehicle can be located quickly and the driver instructed to make the pick-up.
As well as efficiency benefits, the system also helps with duty-of-care requirements.
“It enables me to ensure my drivers are taking rest breaks,” says Mick.
Since the system was brought in, the effects have been considerable.
“We’ve seen a change in driver behaviour.
"Some drivers have, in the past, been quite liberal with their overtime, but are now less likely to hang around on the doorstep,” he says.
“We’ve also established that we’re doing some deliveries too far away from others.
"Our drop density is not as good as it could be – it’s given us that visibility that we didn’t have before.”
With such data now available, the company is working on ways to use it to improve the service.
But there have been other benefits to the system that hadn’t been anticipated.
“One of the benefits we didn’t think about initially was the ability to substantiate our time at locations,” Mick says.
“It works in two ways – when a customer says they got a card through the door or didn’t get a delivery, we can say ‘the van was outside your house at 10.32am and left at 10.35am’.
“They might then realise they popped out for a pint of milk at about that time, or something like that.
“It also helps us if we appeal against over-zealous parking wardens. We can appeal and include the tracking report.”
While the introduction of the system has been good news for Ann Summers, Mick has no plans to rest on his laurels.
“It’s still being developed,” he says.
“We’ve got the first phase – the ability to see our vans, review our plans and substantiate what our drivers tell us.
“The next stage is to improve our planning.
“We’re looking at including navigation so we can upload a route to the vehicle, meaning the driver doesn’t have to look at a map.
“In the second phase we can have proof of delivery as well. The customer can sign a PDA that sends proof of delivery back to us.”
The whole point of the improvements to fleet strategy is to better service the customer, Mick says. “One of the reasons we’re so keen to work on our planning is that we’ll be in a better position to tell people when they’ll receive their order.
“We’re aiming for comparison to supermarkets where we can say we’ll deliver within an hour-long time slot.
“That’s our blue-sky theory and with the Masternaut system on board we’re confident that we’re going to achieve that.”