Look in any food and drink warehouse around the world and it’s a fair bet you would find goods stacked on blue pallets – the tell-tale signature of equipment pooling firm Chep – ready to be shipped across the global supply chain. Yet, the company is about so much more than just wooden platforms for the transport of goods, says its head of customer partnership operations in the UK, Matthew Quinn.
Founded in 1946 by the Australian Government, Chep has operations in 45 countries, employs around 7,500 people and has a pool of up to 300 million blue pallets (wooden and plastic) and containers – including reusable plastic crates and steel folding boxes.
Quinn, who arrived in the UK last year, following 15 years in various management roles within Chep’s South African and Indian businesses, has spent his working career within the supply chain and logistics industry since leaving university in the year 2000.
During his time with the company, he has witnessed its transformation from a simple pallet organisation to a ‘go-to’ supplier of resources for the supply chain industry. Beyond simply sourcing the right equipment for the job, Quinn works with manufacturers to ensure their supply chains are cost-effective and sustainable.
‘Efficiency and agility’
“On the one hand, there is efficiency and agility. How do you manage costs in the most efficient way, how do you drive your revenue, and remain as agile as possible to satisfy customer demand?” says Quinn. “But at the same time, how do you do that in the most sustainable manner, so that you make the best use of the increasingly limited resources available in the world?”
To this end, Chep now focuses on what it calls platforms – the different products and analytical tools used to satisfy its customers’ demands. “A pallet would be one of those platforms,” Quinn explains. “Diversifying the range of platforms we offer to customers allows us to help [them] in every tier of their supply chain.
“The standard blue pallet has worked pretty effectively from manufacturer to retail distribution centre, so we’ve looked into solutions to help our customers now move product through the last mile of the supply chain – from retail distribution centres all the way into store – and actually merchandising on the shop floor.”
Chep has also looked at the products required in the first mile of the supply chain and has even started developing systems to help businesses run their pallet yards. It assists suppliers in securing the right mode of transportation for their goods, including for liquid and viscous ingredients.
“We’ve got a unique perspective on the supply chain. We look at the space in between two trading entities, as opposed to within the four walls of a [single] manufacturing or a retail operation,” says Quinn.
“From the data in our systems as our pallets move through the supply chain, we are able to get visibility of less-than-full truck-loads. So, we can partner up different manufacturers to see if they can collaborate, reduce the number of trucks and improve the efficiency of transportation within the network.”
Quinn believes working this closely with customers means Chep has its finger on the pulse of the sector. And with so much talk of delay at the borders if or when Brexit finally happens, the buzzword is currently uncertainty.
Chep’s pallets are in even greater demand as manufacturers stockpile goods, and Quinn has had his hands full, understanding just how prepared his food and drink industry clients are and what steps they need to take to navigate their way through the challenges.
“We have to be able to support our customers, knowing the sort of inventory they are likely to carry, what the risk factors are and how we make sure we’ve got equipment in the right place at the right time to support their needs,” he says.
Whatever the aftermath of the UK’s exit from the EU for its customers, Chep is still looking ahead to a prosperous future. Quinn highlights the key focal points in the company’s plans to expand its business in the years ahead.
Need for diversity
“There’s an increasing need for diversity of thought and awareness within the supply chain, so that different minds are really contributing to solving the challenges within the business,” he explains. “Even me being here in the UK is one example of that diversity, and I would expect that sort of trend to continue in the years ahead.
“Linked to that is the diversification of our products and services to help customers solve their problems. Chep will be able to play a greater role in demonstrating the share and reuse model, where we recycle broken and damaged pallets rather than sending them to landfill – a critical enabler in driving a more sustainable supply chain.”
Through this system of repair and reuse, Chep claimed to have helped save 1.7m trees, 2.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and 1.4m tonnes of solid waste in its 2019 report on its progress toward its 2020 sustainability goals.
Finally, Chep will be doing more work to “illuminate” the supply chain and offer a greater range of analytics, he says. “There is a need for greater supply chain visibility and how intelligent assets within the chain can provide us with that data, using clever analytic tools.
“This can provide insight to drive even greater efficiencies, responding in an even more agile manner to customers – all the time [seeking] to do that in a more sustainable way,” adds Quinn.
- Job title: Senior director of customer partnerships for the UK & Ireland since April 2018. Age: 39
- CV: Previously held the role of country general manager for Chep in India. Prior to that, he had various management roles in Chep’s Indian and South African businesses. Has worked in the supply chain and logistics industry since 2000.
- Domestics: Married with two children.
- Likes: “I like to run and I’m a big fan of Formula One. It’s probably worth mentioning that I’m a rubbish golfer, but a professional golf watcher, so I do enjoy the game. “Having moved to the UK, the Sunday roast is definitely something our family has really enjoyed, especially through the winter months.”