Somerfield is a more positive retailer nowadays and this confidence stretches to logistics where it aims to move so far forward it sets standards for other retailers. A tall order, perhaps, but one which group logistics director Martin Oakes believes is achievable. Since he joined the company in May 2000, there's been a sea change in what the logistics group provides to the rest of the company.
Since the dark days and low morale of two years ago, the group has undergone a reversal of fortunes by stabilising and reducing costs. Oakes says he's delighted: "We've managed to deliver the best two Christmases the company has seen and the availability has improved from 85% to 97%."
They've already managed to make savings of £10m in distribution and reduced inventory by £30m. New systems are being brought in to allow consolidated demand ordering and picking by line, and the company now operates one single warehouse management system.
However, the work has only just begun and Oakes is keen to keep pushing for improvements: "The number one priority for the year ahead is to deliver 24-hour lead time in fresh. At the moment some are as long as 72 hours. We want to achieve inventory reduction of £50m by October as well as a further £20m savings in distribution." And those savings are being ploughed back into the business.
The group is also working on instore logistics. At the moment, the last 50 yards costs the same as it does to run all its depots and employ 5,000 people at them.
Somerfield will continue rolling out its Focus store replenishment system which has been under trial for the past few months; it's hoped to get it in place on all ambient and frozen lines by October.
The new system has allowed it to reduce the number of store ordering systems from six to three and gives Somerfield much better consistency in ordering.
One of the biggest projects ­ Olympus ­ involved the outsourcing of all depot operations to Wincanton and Exel in a move which distribution operation director Neil Rixon describes as groundbreaking. "We decided to make it a partnership which was unusual because the two companies are both big competitors, but now they're sitting down together to work with us."
The group's now using the strengths of both operators to improve its service and heavily incentivise the two organisations through profit sharing.
Supply chain collaboration is also a big issue for Somerfield, and Oakes says it is now forging excellent relationships with suppliers, having established a supply chain collaboration team in April this year: "Collaboration is about creating an environment for people to share information and expertise to deliver improved availability, effectiveness, consistency, and more value for the end customer."
At the moment Oakes is focusing on collaboration and improving the company's lead times, but says once they are in hand he will then turn the attention to factory gate pricing: "Once all the other things are in place, then we can start looking at that.
"Meanwhile, if we can keep up this rate of change over the next 18 months we'll have closed the gap on our competitors. We'll be competing rather than chasing."