Why Flexibility Is So Important In The Logistics Industry

Logistics services are widely affected by seasonal volumes which sees the demand for different products surge at different times of the year. One of the most obvious and relatable examples of this that personally impacts the public would be the demand for food and drink over the festive period. To cope with the peaks and troughs in supply and demand, and to ensure you get your turkey and mince pies on time, means that a flexible supply chain model is fundamental.

Calum Arnison, Contract Manager (Nippon), Suttons Tankers

The food and drinks industry is just one of the many sectors that hauliers serve – there are plenty of other products which affect us in our everyday lives that we often don’t think about which require a flexible logistics solution, particularly in bulk transport.

As the UK’s largest bulk chemical logistics provider, Suttons Tankers are part of a huge eco-system, transporting products on a flexible basis to ensure there is no disruption to everyday life. This includes the transportation of fuel to ensure our emergency services can continue operating, combined with the bitumen we deliver which is used to maintain our nation’s roads. We can’t forget the various gases supplied to the pharmaceutical industry such as oxygen to keep hospital patients breathing, as well as chemical treatment products to provide clean water for us to drink.

The definition of flexibility can differ from customer to sector, however, the ability to have a flexible supply chain model can be a deal breaker when choosing a logistics provider. For some contract customers it may be an extra shift here or there, while to others it may mean a completely different operational model at a specific time in the year. The last thing a supplier wants is their product standing still due to a haulier being unable to support, potentially leading to a plant shut down which can have devastating effects on businesses and its customers. Similarly, retaining a high cost base outside of peak periods is also unattractive to suppliers.

Being able to operate on a flexible basis requires experience, innovation, and a proactive nature from the logistics provider. Having a talented pool of committed drivers who are trained to work on multiple contracts and products is crucial. Suttons are privileged to have an innovative and proactive planning team who can redeploy multi-disciplined drivers where they are required, supporting its customers when they need it most.


Suttons benefit from having a vast fleet of over 500 tractor units and 850 tanks. Having a large number of operations gives them the flexibility to support its customers at short notice or amend plans where needed.


Adaptability is key – a haulier who is flexible and able to consider a diversion from the original plan will serve its customers well. Increasingly, customers who consider their transport movements as an integrated part of their overall supply chain will be able to work synonymously with the logistics provider and benefit from the efficiencies that can be accessed.


Having multiple, strategically located depots makes being adaptable much easier, which is a key strength of Suttons’. Strong inter-depot communication allows planners to liaise as a team and come up with the most efficient solution to serve the customer.


Shift patterns can make a huge difference to a customer when it comes to providing them with an optimal and efficient supply chain model. There are a wide variety of different shift patterns available to us which include: the four-on four-off shift pattern which allows working hours to be maximised during the working week, creating further coverage and flexibility, if and when required. A five-on-three-off pattern gives the driver a rolling shift pattern, providing weekend coverage but also gives the driver a good rest period. The key benefit of continuous rotating shift patterns is the ability to provide committed resource at weekends which is particularly important for contracts that don’t just operate Monday to Friday, but also allows the driver a proper amount of rest and contributes to the work-life balance. These shift patterns also give a known cost which supports customers in calculating the total cost to serve and clarity over cost per tonne.

Opposite to this, it provides scope for that additional working shift if there is an appetite for it. Having staggered start times means that a haulier can have a 24/7 operation, causing no down time for the customer. This is possibly the most efficient way to operate.


A trunking operation can also be very useful, maximising efficiencies for the logistics provider as well as fulfilling their promise and commitment to its customers. Suttons can utilise its strategic depot locations to apply a night trunking operation for one contract, which in turn, frees up other skilled drivers to work in other parts of the business. Where there are activities that require specially trained drivers, often there is a restriction on the level of flexibility that can be provided. Trunking can be used to overcome this by concentrating the specially trained drivers at the loading or delivery areas, allowing for other drivers to trunk between strategic depots as a means of increasing resource levels on the operation.


It must not be overlooked that while having the correct equipment and being placed in the right locations is crucial, if this was all logistics providers had they would only get so far. Without the commitment and versatility of a talented driver workforce, customers would be somewhat limited to the degree in which hauliers can flex up when required.


In summary, it is clear that a flexible logistics model is crucial in providing customers with the best service possible, avoiding any disruption to the eco-system of life’s essentials. This can be achieved through a commitment to providing the highest level of training to a large workforce of drivers, having a vast fleet with strategic depot locations and investing in a cohort of forward-thinking planners who put the customers’ needs at the forefront of their job.

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