MTA 2019 - 0033

Colin Ferguson, CEO of sponsor The Algorithm People, presents the trophy to Lee Holmes, head of transport operations (centre), Richard Walker, marketing director (far left), and the Wren Kitchens team

Wren Kitchens insists on maintaining the very highest of operational standards in its transport operation – and it shows.

Lee Holmes, head of transport operations at Wren Kitchens, said of winning the Operational Excellence Award, sponsored by The Algorithm People, at the Motor Transport Awards 2019: “It means everything to us. We are a private family owned business and our mission is to be the best at everything we do.”

First and foremost, Wren Kitchens is a retailer and manufacturer of high-class kitchens at affordable prices and the transport is a means to an end to move goods for the customer. But when you’re in a business where the mantra is ‘Only the Best is Good Enough’ that means the transport operation has to operate to the highest standards in the industry.

“We put the resource into what is required to be the best – where others might scrimp and save we don’t do that,” says Holmes. “We have the best team around and we aim for the best standards. It is just what we do.”

It’s easy enough to say you are at the top of the game, but Wren Kitchens can back it up with facts. Its delivery on-time, in-full success rate is 99.95%; it has introduced a triple-trunking concept (more of that later) that has delivered a 33% annual cut in road miles and £1.6m of annual efficiency savings; it has a consistent drivers’ hours infringement rate of less than 3%, green OCRS and a 95.25% first-time pass rate for MoTs… the list goes on.

Wren Kitchens – which has a head office and main manufacturing facility in Barton-upon-Humber as well as sites in Howden and Scunthorpe – celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and has seen an average of 20% growth in turnover year on year. And while the rest of the retail sector is suffering, Wren Kitchens is expanding, which places a special kind of pressure on maintaining the very highest standards in the transport operation.

Manufactured in-house

“Other suppliers supply the flat-pack kitchen – probably from Italy at a guess. We manufacture it all here in the UK, build it and full-pack it all for your house. We don’t double-handle anything. That is a key part of the supply chain,” says Holmes.

“We could take the easy option and contract our transport out to whoever, but we do it in-house as it gives us the flexibility to do what we want to do; to train the guys how we want to train them, as that training will ensure we give the best service. Everyone takes pride in what we do.”

Instilling pride in all members of staff at Wren Kitchens, which employs more than 4,200 people across all aspects of the business, begins during the three-week company induction. “I believe it is the very best around,” says Holmes, who has been with the business for four years. “It is very intense. Nobody has any qualms about what we do and how we do it. The management team gets the full backing for what they require. We have monthly meetings with the drivers, where we have committee members who we go over problems with, we sit down as a business around the table and talk about all sorts of issues and what fixes we can put in place to avoid them happening again. This is on a continual improvement basis. So if a driver tells us a delivery route is difficult, we’ll block the postcode so we don’t go that way again.”

For each home delivery there is a driver and a porter lifting the heavy goods into customers’ homes; the installation team arrives separately.

Here the staff induction is a vital part of the customer-facing process: “After a three-week induction everyone gets buddied up for a month. When they have just come in they don’t really understand the bigger picture and how they fit in. But they are part of a team to us, they are not just the driver. Every year at Christmas we shut down and there is a two-week refresher,” Holmes says.

Wren Kitchens

Wren Kitchens' ‘triple trunking’ operation uses one 18-tonner to pull a demountable drawbar with two box bodies on the chassis, allowing it to carry six kitchens at once

In terms of the fleet, Wren Kitchens runs 75 7.5-tonners and 90 18-tonners – and has bucked the trend in recent years by shying away from vans and making serious efficiency gains by running more 7.5-tonners. With 60% of its business coming from southern England, but its manufacturing base being in the North, it makes very little sense to run vans up and down the M1 full of kitchens. This has led to ‘triple trunking’ – which Wren introduced in 2018. One 18-tonner pulls a demountable drawbar with two box bodies on the chassis. By having three boxes each combination can carry six kitchens, which means it takes three vans off the road. Not only does this save money, it is also more environmentally friendly.

Environmental impact

Thinking ahead of the environmental impact its transport operation has is part of the overall approach to business at Wren Kitchens. Holmes says the operation is set up to transition to alternative fuels as soon as they are viable, trunking with gas and final mile with electric. Through triple trunking it has already reduced road miles. “We were using three or four vehicles where we are now using one,” says Holmes. When alternative fuels are ready then Wren Kitchens will be ready too.

“This year we have placed orders for 55 new trucks, all Euro-6 to comply with low emission zones, and when we come to replace them in five or six years we believe it will be time for electric,” Holmes adds.

“We have been speaking to manufacturers and we believe that by then they will have the range we need. Each kitchen is roughly 1,200kg and we need at least two on each 7.5-tonner. Once these two are loaded you are left with approximately 300kg payload, so if we lose any more with the batteries we can’t do it, but as soon as it is there then we will.”

It’s not just forward thinking that saw Wren Kitchens pick up the award in July, it is the attention to detail right now. Holmes says that Wren Kitchens is on track to achieve Earned Recognition status.

“We believe we meet all the criteria, it is just a case of us lining up our ducks in a row on that one. We have no problems with compliance. We have a new fleet and the highest level of training in the industry, so we have a low infringement rate and a low accident rate,” he says.

“We are never pushing the drivers to do maximum hours, there is room for a break, so if they need a break they take a break. There is a full debrief for drivers to run through what they have done. We run through driving scores daily, so there is competition between the guys, they can see their name on the walls. And although we’ve been changing the fleet from Renault to Mercedes-Benz, we’re still competitive with the drivers on MPG.”

Using the very best technology on the market is also integral to the success of the operation. “Even though it is a kitchen being delivered, we have still got to offer the goods to the customer in the way a DPD or a Hermes would. If those guys are leading the marketplace, then we are with them,” says Holmes.

“Customer expectations are changing and becoming more demanding. We want to be the best in the kitchen market. It is really complex to bring the full kitchen together, with all the different components, on time. But all the training, the best uniforms with the shoe covers and floor covers, everything goes into making the best experience for the customer.”

Wren Kitchens developed its own in-house single point of contact for customers called FrontEnd, handling everything from the initial order to finance to design and manufacture and the end-delivery process.

All its other technologies feed into FrontEnd, giving the customer real transparency. So if there is traffic, bad weather or road traffic accidents, the planned delivery window can be changed.

Wren Kitchens lorries

Investment in technology

“We invest heavily in the latest technology. We want the best, so we provide the best. Paragon is the market leader at route planning, we believe, so we use Paragon. We also use Paragon HDX and Flexipod, which notifies the customer of a two-hour window with a text message,” he says. Wren also uses Advanced TomTom for navigation and route-planning, Brigade for dash-cams and R2C for fleet management.

“Historically in the transport industry there have been paper defects, and you’d have to file that away… it really is the Stone Age way of doing things,” Holmes says.

“The driver now gets the R2C app and can notify of a defect on the app, and that gets seen by the office and the garage, so there is no paper trail and anyone can look at it no matter where they are in the country. It’s the 21st century; why are people still using paper? It’s bizarre. Why would you have someone in the transport office sifting through defects?”

This attention to detail ensures Wren Kitchens lives up to the mantra: “Only the Best is Good Enough”.