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Oak Furniture Land focused on efficiencies and personalisation

Furniture retailer Oak Furniture Land is on a growth journey as it looks to establish its presence across the UK with new stores and digital offerings, but much of the business's focus of late has been on improving supply chain efficiency as its bricks and mortar portfolio has developed.

At the start of 2013 the company had planned to open one store every month but the reality was actually one every two weeks, bringing the total estate up to 50 stores by the end of the year.

Jason Bannister, managing director of the retailer, describes Oak Furniture Land's development as "a reverse multichannel story", having started life as an eBay reseller before establishing an autonomous online presence ahead of opening stores.

The pace of store openings has slowed since the start of 2014, although three stores were unveiled over the recent bank holiday period and the plan is for 8-12 new stores per year for the foreseeable future. As Oak Furniture Land has grown, this has naturally meant the business's IT infrastructure needed to evolve.

"This has been achieved organically and across all areas of the business, including customer services, logistics, transport and warehouse," said Bannister.

"It also helps that we control the majority of our IT development in-house, which means that we can have ultimate control when project managing and prioritising workload. Our most recent issue has been the systems we use for warehouse management because we'd outgrown our old paper-based system with the sheer volumes of stock we are dealing with."

Back in March, the business revealed that it experienced improvements in its warehouse management productivity since it introduced the Snapfulfil SaaS WMS system to its Swindon headquarters, which opened 13 months ago. The tool has also more than halved handling damage due to the fact the warehouse can now make consolidated picks and group product types as they are loaded onto a lorry going to a depot.

Oak Furniture Land was outgrowing its old paper-based system, and the retailer says the new solution has streamlined processes, reduced picking turnaround times and increased the speed at which stock is leaving headquarters for delivery. The electronic system uses RF scanners, allowing staff to locate an order anywhere in the picking process, which means changes to customer orders can be made more easily.

"Improving the efficiencies in the warehouse by implementing the Snap system has been a big focus and investment for us recently, but we are also working on a number of projects across other parts of the business which look at the way we engage with the customer across all our channels," Bannister explained.

According to the managing director, the retailer's next major project will be around personalisation – a strategy in line with that of a number of the larger retailers in the UK, such as Tesco and Asos.

"We've seen some really great change in this field that means our marketing teams can deliver some clever real-time marketing solutions," Bannister noted.

"We're also looking at some very clever location-based advertising that we think will be a real game changer for ensuring we are able to deliver the right message at the right time – an area that can be challenging with longer buying cycles."

New in-store technology could be on the agenda further down the line, although this is not yet something the major players in the furniture sector have felt the need to embrace across their businesses.

"The furniture retail industry is really starting to find its feet with how it uses technology in stores, although we still have some way to catch up with other retail sectors such as fashion," Bannister acknowledged.

"We are concentrating on finding smart solutions to messaging and product ranges using the likes of touch screen and motion detect technology."  

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Snap Fulfil

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