In a world without Covid-19, fashion is an increasingly fast-paced industry with all players in the industry is faced with the challenge of ever-shorter product life cycles.
Bleckmann, which serves multiple well-established and startup fashion and lifestyle brands, is a pioneer in e-commerce fulfilment solutions due to its in-depth expertise, experience and successful implementation of e-fulfilment operations. In January, outdoor apparel company Patagonia appointed Bleckmann as its logistics service provider commencing April 2020.
Key to Bleckmann’s business is its end-to-end supply chain and fulfilment services for leading international brands. While some of its clients use e-fulfilment as part of their omnichannel strategy, others rely purely on an e-commerce driven business model.
The combination of expertise in e-fulfilment, flexibility, robust IT platform and reliable services, makes it possible for Bleckmann to offer customers the proper set of solutions, supporting customers’ e-commerce strategies and long-term success. In short, it operates utilizing a business-to-customer (B2C) model.
The company has a strong base of facilities spanning the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. Recently, it has also expanded to the United States and Asia. Last year the company opened a new distribution centre in Oudenaarde, Belgium.
The distribution centre is well-connected to the ports of Antwerp and Ghent and convenient connections abroad, especially to France and the United Kingdom. The warehouse space offers more than 10,000 square metres of storage capacity with the highest flexibility required.
In June 2018, Bleckmann opened a 43,000 square-metre distribution centre in the T-Port Logistic Campus in Almelo, the Netherlands, to handle electronic learning products made by Hong Kong-based Vtech. The location, which is close to the Port of Rotterdam, offers highway access and with multimodal transport flows. The campus has a barge terminal on site.
Showcasing Bleckmann’s strength in the fashion industry is the company’s 16,700 square-metre distribution centre in Venlo, the Netherlands, directly next to the distribution centre for Tommy Hilfiger.
Venlo has long been regarded as a logistics hotspot for Europe. The location was chosen by corporate officials in 2017 because of its road, rail and waterway connections and proximity to the Port of Duisburg in Germany, the world’s largest inland port and the leading logistics hub in central Europe.
Jurrie-Jan Tap, chief business development officer at Bleckmann, explained during a site visit that upon selecting Venlo, Bleckmann had only six weeks to go live at the location.
“While the space was important, more important was good labour,” he said. With the location being home to large distribution centres for name brands, the labour market is both well-skilled and competitive.
During the site visit, which occurred prior ot the Covid-19 pandemic, Bleckmann shipped some 20,000 pieces of fashion and lifestyle merchandise per day from its Venlo location. Its main client was TechStyle Fashion Group and the brands JustFab and Fabetics.
“Most product comes from Asia and arrives via ocean to Rotterdam,” said Tap. “The shipments arrive here in Venlo by truck; some by barge.”
The fashion and lifestyle merchandise are stored in the Venlo warehouse that Tap explained is not automated. “The inventory is changing too fast,” he said. “We do not want to lock into a system, particularly with fast growing companies that may change their strategy. We are more flexible here than we would be with a fully automated environment.”
Customers order online and the product is sent directly to consumers via truck.
Bleckmann organizes the outbound shipments using track and trace software. The software “connects the dots,” Tap explained, to some 50 different local parcel carriers.
“The number of carriers we utilize is constantly changing,” he said. “And what’s most important is speed rather than cost per unit.”
The last mile transport is organized by Transport Solutions, a program offered through DHL that Tap refers to as Bleckmann’s “local hero.”
Transport Solutions helps maintain high levels of service and reliability, and gain full visibility into product movements, in addition to reducing transportation costs. T
The company operates three sites in the United States, where it is expanding and has operations in Shanghai and Singapore.
Bleckmann has also been expanding in the United Kingdom, where its greatest focus has been as of late. It has sites in Swindon, in southwest England. The UK’s decision to implement Brexit and leave the European Union have opened opportunities for the company, although Tap added that Brexit also requires having dual stocking.
A special feature of Bleckmann’s service is the customization of orders. For example, orders for clothing designed by Kate Hudson might include a small candle and gift card.
Tap also revealed that most orders encompass two to three items in a box. “We see very few returns,” he said. “When a product come to our distribution centre from Asia, we take a photo of it, then the product goes online. This reduces waste.”
Products not sold are shipped to an outlet channel, although Tap revealed these percentages are low. Generally, inventory turns around within two weeks. “Every month there are new styles,” he said. Consequently, Bleckmann’s stocking levels are minimal given the high turnover rate. “The product is constantly new,” he said.
Important to Bleckmann’s business model, Tap said, is the company’s desire to work with new companies. “We try to meet with a company before their product becomes a big brand,” he said. “And what helps us best is their conversion to e-commerce.”
Strong brands are also attractive, particularly during a recession. “In a recession, mid-market retail brands suffer first,” he said. “We avoid them. Strong brands can still grow fast.”
By Karen E. Thuermer
Correspondent | Washington