As one of Ireland's leading storage and logistics providers, WS Dennison has taken steps to safeguard its customers' operations ahead of the arrival of Brexit. Furniture News speaks to Pamela Dennison about what the future of Ireland's furniture delivery industry might look like, and what WS Dennison can do to help …
Founded in 1979, WS Dennison now operates from two facilities – Antrim in Northern Ireland, and Limerick in the Republic of Ireland – and works with many of Europe's best-known furniture manufacturers, retailers and importers.
The company handles 3700 pieces of furniture on average, says Pamela, and is responsible for more than 500 home deliveries each week (which accounts for more than half of its business).
WS Dennison operates an all-Ireland transport business that relies on unrestricted movement across the (currently invisible) border between Northern Ireland and the republic.
With Brexit negotiations at a critical phase, the business is preparing for every eventuality, including a no-deal outcome. Pamela has been heavily involved in the company's preparations – both as part of the business, and in her roles as national officer for the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) in Northern Ireland, and vice-chair of the Northern Ireland Freight Transport Association (FTA).
“We want to ensure that we can continue to support our customers to deliver the service level that their customers have come to expect," she explains. "Because of that, we do not think it is viable to wait until March to see what is going to happen. We want to be proactive in our preparations for Brexit so that our customers’ Irish marketplace business activity is not affected, whatever the outcome of the negotiations.
"We are confident that import customs formalities can, largely, be divorced from the physical movement of goods, and that we can maintain supply chains similar to today.
"Should the UK exit the EU on 29th March 2019 without a formal agreement, there would be an immediate change to the way businesses like ours trade with the EU. Customs formalities would be required, and tariffs may apply. In addition, potential delays at the Irish border could affect journey time reliability, and there is a real threat of increased administration for haulage businesses such as ours."
According to Pamela, retailers and consumers have become accustomed to receiving deliveries within an expected timeframe – either directly to their home via online purchases or from manufacturers to retail stores – but, without putting provisions in place, consumers could soon have to get used to a very different scenario.
WS Dennison took the initiative to ensure this does not happen, starting with the development of a Brexit strategy in conjunction with external specialists. This strategy is now being implemented, and is preparing the business for a no-deal situation as the most extreme – but increasingly possible – outcome.
The Brexit consultants engaged to assist the company include advisors to key Government agencies in the UK and Ireland, whio have actively helped WS Dennison design processes that will enable it to secure its distribution supply chain and maintain service levels for customers – no matter what shape Brexit eventually takes, WS Dennison is working proactively to streamline its procedures so that it can guarantee service levels post-Brexit, regardless of a hard or soft border, and any other newly introduced customs procedures.
Pamela says that key to its strategy is the secondary depot in Limerick, on the west coast of Ireland. Currently, the majority of furniture brought into Ireland by WS Dennison is routed via its Antrim facility initially, where loads are re-consolidated into more viable consignments for onward movement. The Limerick depot – which will still be located within an EU country when/if the UK departs from the EU – offers an option to ship and re-consolidate via the Republic of Ireland where necessary, and allows the company to complete its all-Ireland delivery process without deviating from its own well-established resources.
Preparations at Limerick are under way to ensure that the facility is ready to shoulder the responsibilities that have traditionally been undertaken at Antrim.
Likewise, the company’s all-Ireland delivery process is a major benefit, because the business has full control throughout the supply chain. The fact that WS Dennison uses only its own in-house team of warehouse operatives and drivers means it can offer full traceability, accountability and consistency of service, from manufacturer/retailer collection to end-user delivery.
Today, this is a huge benefit to WS Dennison’s customers – but in the context of Brexit this puts it in a much more powerful position than its competitors, because the contained nature of its supply chain will be favourable to HMRC from a supply chain security and traceability perspective.
In contrast, says Pamela, other delivery companies in the sector are known to frequently sub-contract three or even four times throughout the supply chain – the security that her company can offer is unrivalled.
WS Dennison is also proactively communicating with customers to identify specific requirements for individual contracts post-Brexit, including establishing any foreseen changes to their processes. It is supporting its customers to prepare for changes – for example, encouraging them to apply for Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) numbers where they are not already required, as these are necessary for customs entry declarations clearance procedures for import and/or export shipments travelling to or from the EU.
It has also approved extension plans for an additional floorspace warehouse of some 40,000 sqft, should it be required in the near future.
MD William Dennison explains: “We have built our business on flexibility, and have years of experience in tailoring each account to the needs of both our client and their end customer. In terms of the quality of service required, there is very little that we can’t or aren’t willing to do, even if it means training staff to provide a new skill. This means making changes to satisfy the requirements of Brexit won’t come as such a shock to our staff as it might to others, because we have that flexibility in our business culture already and our team is constantly adapting to customer requirements.
"As a company, we have introduced a range of measures aimed at combating the possible effects of a hard border. These include a Simplified Customs Procedures and Trusted Trader status, which will speed up and simplify customs procedures, ensuring our customers have an unrestricted service offering. These accreditations have taken some time and involved a heavy financial investment, but we feel they are important and necessary.”
Pamela concludes: “We believe that we are further ahead on Brexit preparations than even some of the biggest names in the industry, so we are confident that we will continue to be best placed to deal with furniture logistics into Ireland, whatever Brexit brings. Like most of the business community in Ireland we are cautious, but because we are doing everything we can to prepare, we hope that our efforts will be rewarded.”