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Schuh: fast feet, growing European ambition

The business has always been at the cutting-edge operationally, and its German operations now give it a foothold in mainland Europe

In the summer of 2017 the footwear retailer Schuh took its biggest step yet to grow its operations substantially beyond the UK and Ireland. It launched a German website to sit alongside three German stores – and launched next-day delivery in Germany, with the promise of expanding the service into neighbouring countries. A German distribution hub has also come on-stream.

Beyond Germany, for now, many countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) are still being fulfilled via standard two-to-five day free delivery, for orders over €75 – which is far removed from the company’s UK offer of in-store click-and-collect within an hour. But Schuh has always done things on its own terms. In the UK and Ireland, the retailer now boasts 100-plus stores, backed up by a pair of distribution centres – in Bathgate and Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland – from which the shoes are stored, packaged and dispatched for delivery to the retail outlets.

“We oversee distribution of 10,000 items every week from our centres to our shops across the country, and overseas to Ireland and now Germany, so it’s absolutely essential for the business that we run an efficient and streamlined operation,” explains Donald Hutchison, Schuh’s logistics manager.

Rob Bridle, head of logistics for Schuh, adds that the behind the scenes we’ve always aspired to run its operations as efficiently as possible, and to look for continuous improvements to its buying, merchandising, stock handling, retail operations, marketing and administrative processes.

Among the operational improvements it has introduced are:

  • Installing touch-screen kiosks in stores, with a real-time stock look-up function
  • Fitting stores with footfall counters and aligned staff planning and forecasting models to more efficiently match staff numbers with the visitor count
  • Installing automated sorting and packing equipment in the distribution centres to speed up and increase the efficiency of stock handling
  • Developing internal inventory and warehouse management systems to improve accuracy and efficiency
  • Developing an IT platform with a range of tools to help the merchandise team ensure the best products are always on sale in the best locations.

Next to this, the accelerated growth in the business has led to some economies of scale in respect of the central overhead and operating costs. Enhanced scale has also boosted its spending power and brought down some per-unit costs.

Schuh’s boardroom has said the future of retail logistics is all about being in the right place at the right time and trying to predict what customers want, as well as ensuring supply chains are as short and cost effective as possible. The company reckons its use of real-time systems that work to within ten seconds keeps it up to date with stock numbers – and it is these real-time systems that enable the business to manage customer expectations and sort out any issues that arise.

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