Why it pays to have a Plan B

Companies need to be prepared for all eventualities to ensure a smooth running operation even when the worst happens.  With this is mind I recently visited Sony’s new distribution warehouse in Enfield on a Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) organised tour.   Sony’s warehouse was burnt down during the summer 2011 riots and the warehouse destroyed.  On the tour I learned of the contingency plans Sony had in place at the time of the riots –  a plan B that enabled them to maintain business as usual even whilst their Enfield warehouse was out of action.

Sony were able to implement their Plan B on the night of the riots and had alternative warehouse space  up and running within a few days of the fire allowing them to carry on delivering to customers.  They did this alongside rebuilding their warehouse so that it would be fully functioning in time for the busy Christmas period in 2012.

And it was not only business continuity that was achieved.  Sony’s warehouse in Enfield is used to distribute CD’s and DVD’s and the company was able to use this disaster to re-examine their warehouse operations and consider opportunities for potential efficiency gains with the rebuild.  They achieved this by optimising on space and height, creating two mezzanine floors, which enabled Sony to store their new products, fast moving products and slow moving products in three separate locations on the ground, first and second mezzanine respectively thus ensuring products can be replenished and delivered to customers quickly and efficiently.

Sony also uses the warehouse to process returned items, something they had done before the fire.   Dealing with returned products can be a time consuming and complex process for companies.  Sony established a very simple process that they added to their system after the fire – categorising products and batching them together.  This allows an employee to put multiple products back into the system that are located close together rather than an individual product one at a time.  Thus speeding up the process of getting a returned item back into the system.

My time in Enfield, was time well spent.  Sony’s experience immediately post-crisis is a test case in contingency planning.  It also shows that, far from leading to compromise, Plan B’s can in fact have potential operational upsides and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of real estate solutions.  Perhaps a case of ‘Keep calm and power (rather than carry) on’.