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Planning for Peak with Shears' Colin Hawkins

Planning for peak times of year, as well as ensuring resources are allocated appropriately in times with less business, can be a tricky undertaking.

We’ve chatted to a couple of our expert team members, Colin Hawkins, General Manager at Shears Bros (Transport) Ltd, a long-standing member and one of Pall-Ex’s owned operations.

How do you plan for peak periods?

Colin answers, “Experience can often tell you when busier times will occur, but you’re your customers and discuss with them too, as they might peak at different times of the year.

It’s also important to plan at every level of the business – Communicate with key staff on all elements and come up with a robust plan, make sure your team are aware of the plan and how and when it will roll out, take measures to plan workloads around staff holidays. It’s important to pre-advise staff members that you might need their flexibility or look at additional resources, such as vehicles, operations staff, customer service advisers and forklift truck drivers.”

How do you manage the busy periods?

“During the busy period itself, it’s imperative to keep a close eye on the numbers coming through Pall-Ex at any one time. Luckily, this is really easy and efficient to do with the MyNexus software.

Controlling staff holidays is important through the peak periods, your key drivers of the plan need to be present to ensure all goes as smoothly as possible. Have a Plan A, B and C for every possibility and communicate it.

If you’ve had a spike in volumes, clearing your bay is a necessity. Spikes are often unpredictable, but the aftermath can be managed if you have well-drilled, repeatable processes in place.

You could also allocate additional General Haulage (GH) vehicles and drivers if the work warrants it, there will be additional opportunities that crop up in busy periods.”

How do you cope with quieter periods?

“Handling 700 pallets a day is never really that quiet! However, general haulage is much harder when it goes quiet and you need to generate work for the drivers.

There is a need to be more creative with where you look for work and how you utilise the fleet. Networking and relationship building is key in your local area.

In terms of the larger network, it is about running as lean as possible every day, and not running a truck if you don’t need to.”

How do you choose what to prioritise?

“Operationally, I have a built-in timeline that is driven by Internal business reports that we have in place and aided by the great Pall-Ex reporting tools, such as Bay volumes and these come through fully automated, every day.

The network team keep their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in mind at all times we have a visual KPI board that is updated every day. When an area drops off, we interrogate that area as a priority. We have someone pro-actively asking our drivers for ETAs on their timed or morning deliveries, this is a must to keep up our service levels.

The team know to treat every pallet like it is the most important pallet in the warehouse.

From an overall business perspective, it is like spinning plates. I try to focus on a particular aspect of the business at a time so as not to spread myself too thin. The business is driven by 68 KPIs and this allows me to react to a need in the business, as soon as it is identified as underperforming."

Is it possible to plan for best and worst case scenarios?

“Most definitely, see the best as an opportunity and the worst as a go-to contingency if needed.

I think the best and worst case scenarios go hand in hand. It is easier to plan for the worst and forget that actually there is an opportunity in there somewhere. It is also easy to just throw in additional resources but if the volumes do not materialise, there is a cost to the business.

There is a fine line between service level excellence and losing money. Additional volumes, if accurately predicted and efficiently delivered, can be beneficial to a lot of businesses, as they may be over-resourced due to their coverage area and the additional volumes are welcomed.”

What are the benefits of having a good plan in place?

“It is not so much a case of the benefits of planning, but more the results of failing to plan.

Not considering the outcomes of peak or low revenue periods can have a detrimental effect on finances, the morale of your team, your customers and yourself.

The logistics industry has a habit of throwing a curveball now and again, but you learn to roll with it and deal with the spikes as they happen, sometimes completely unpredictably.

If you have good business practices in place that are well drilled-in, it doesn’t take long to get back on an even keel.”

What have you learned from previous years and does that influence your plans today?

“I draw down from all previous experiences, good and bad. You must be brave enough to take a few risks and be prepared to make mistakes.

We continue to learn more from our mistakes than our successes but this only pushes us to be better and achieve more success.

I have learned not to take the knocks to heart, you must bounce back quickly, the industry is so fast paced you can get left behind if you dwell on something. Learn your lesson and move on.”

Have you done anything different this year?

“I really enjoy seeing the business evolving, and to do this we must do different things each year.

I like to bring new ideas to the table, whether it be strategic, process, staffing. I enjoy challenging the members of my management team to grow, develop and think differently. There is rarely a day that goes by that I do not ask questions of them.

The business needs to be flexible and the team needs to reflect the business, this sometimes means freshening up the team, by bringing someone in with new ideas, or changing the structures in the teams to empower people and get them thinking differently.”

How do you communicate with everyone involved in the planning process?

“Having a company structure is key. People need to know where they are in a business, what they are accountable for and who or what they are responsible for.

I have built a management team that I have confidence in, and communication is so important, as they need to understand my vision for Shears, as I have to trust them to drive it forward.

Our depot is too fast paced and multifaceted to regularly take all managers out of the operation at once, so one to ones become a more regular mode of communication.

It is important to get the team talking about their current focus areas, so that all understand that the others are doing.

Any actions decided upon are then tasked to each departmental manager to roll out to their teams.

I then ask for updates as to where we are and spend time in and around these departments in the business, speaking to relevant team members to see if the process has been rolled out effectively and getting feedback.”

Do you have any tips for others with a business with such changing needs?

1. Have a vision

If you can see it, you can believe it and if you cannot, how can you expect others to? Let it drive you and don’t lose that belief. Bring a passion to the business and it will make it real.

2. Ensure your team understands your vision

Talk to your team and ensure they understand your vision, how important it is to you, what your end goal is, what your expectations are and how important the people in your business are in achieving this.

3. Surround yourself with the right people

You cannot be everywhere all the time so you need to empower and support your team. Even when they make the wrong decisions, let them learn and grow. If they are the right people you will see the long-term benefits, if they are not, well at least you have found out.

4. Embrace change

Be brave enough to change your team, outlook, vision and plans as your business grows and adapts to new opportunities, be wise enough to know when to make the next leap or when to stop, rethink and go again.

Do you have any other tips or thoughts about planning for peak periods and managing lows?

“Busy periods are felt from the bottom up and quiet periods are felt from the top down.

Quiet periods are more likely than not what causes the leader of the business to stress and worry over the financial implications to the business, while the staff are having a well-deserved breather.

It is important for me to have time to focus on how the business moves forward and look for new opportunities, keeping an eye on the sales pipeline is never far from my mind.

Understanding your own business needs is the most important aspect of planning - peaks should be embraced as opportunities to make some money but they are all too often considered as hindrances within a network.

You need to understand your trip point, what your capacity threshold number is and what you do if it is exceeded or in the case of a low period, underachieved.

You must have a plan A, B and C that kicks in if this number is X. Set your thresholds and empower members of the team to make decisions when these thresholds are reached.

Managing a low point is much harder. It is easier to react to a peak period because resource and process are usually what is needed. In a low point, it is normally additional business that is needed, and this is not easy to switch on at short notice.”

If you need a reliable palletised freight solution in Bournemouth and the surrounding areas, please contact Shears on 01202 593555 or visit


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