With the country in a state of trepidation, business uncertainty and personal anxiety, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has been, and still is for many, a challenging time for everyone.
As the impact of COVID-19 continued to spread, our normal business development and sales activities were parked as the Commercial Team focused on understanding how this pandemic was affecting our customers and how we could support them through this crisis.
Watching the daily media briefings was a sobering experience, and within these we heard repeated warnings about potential hand sanitizer shortages in the NHS and the urgent need to protect hospital staff and patients.
Suttons has had a strong relationship with its customers in the Solvents Sector for decades and this included the distribution of industrial alcohols and ethanol's for the hygiene sector. When speaking with these customers it was clear that demand was materially outstripping supply. Nearly all of us were all buying hand sanitizer for our homes to protect our families and businesses were stocking up to protect their workforce.
In early March I’d started to receive calls from hand sanitizer manufacturers we delivered into, desperate for help in finding additional supplies or alternative products they could use in their hand gels and sanitizer wipes before manufacturing was halted. That weekend I stumbled across a BBC Radio programme which announced a major Scottish distillery was redirecting 5 million litres of grain alcohol from whiskey production to the hand sanitizer market instead.
Sharing this information with customers, along with talking to the distillery direct, it was clear there was an opportunity to support with the distribution of this product at pace and alleviate the shortage. Suttons were going to have to be agile and flexible in order to step up and support the fight against coronavirus.
Having worked with Suttons for over 22 years, I’ve seen the business grow and evolve into a very significant logistics carrier, so reacting quickly to new challenges and creating new operational solutions was not something we were unfamiliar with. This, however, had more significance. We were contributing to the fight against a deadly disease that ultimately, we knew little about. Supporting the medical supply chain and keeping the nation as well protected as we could was a key priority for us. This also had a personal, more visceral, element for me as my younger son was very ill with coronavirus symptoms and my family were all self-isolating at the time, making this reactive work all the more raw.
Working closely with my colleagues in our Operations Team we redeployed drivers, trucks and specialist tankers into our Scottish and North East sites. We created a new distribution solution at pace to move this critical product from Scotland to gel manufacturers all over the UK, as far as Northern Ireland and Cornwall. If it weren’t for the scale of the business and the flexibility of our workforce, there is no doubt that we wouldn’t have been as successful in our approach.
After four intensive months, working through extraordinary times, the business has settled down, hygiene stocks have stabilised and our customers have kept the NHS and Care Home sector supplied. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the Suttons team, especially the operations staff and drivers, for their hard work and dedication through this unprecedented period.