Urgent demand for international standard warehousing capacities for Africa’s booming consumer goods sector has importers teaming with logistics specialists.
The swift emergence of a vast African middle class is radically altering the volume and composition of the continent’s import/export flows, and requiring corresponding adaptation of its supply chains. As a result, consumer-facing industries at the forefront of this blossoming commerce are turning to contract logistic specialists to upgrade or re-construct faster, highly efficient storage distribution systems in Africa. Improved facilities, meanwhile, must also meet international safety, legal, administrative and environmental standards.
African supply chains have been used for years to outbound commodities like coffee, cocoa, lumber and minerals, and to inbounds largely composed of industrial machinery and full container loads delivered straight to their final destinations. That scenario began to change a few years ago with sophisticated telecom systems also flowing into Africa for new mobile networks – and requiring more careful treatment in transport but also in storage.
More recently, growing volumes of increasingly varied consumer and retail goods have surged into African markets. That additional and more diverse layer of activity has heightened the need for bigger, better-organized warehousing and dispatching capacities to enhance speed and efficiency. It’s those demands that importing companies are asking contract logistics specialists to fulfill.
“The increased diversity of goods and the evolution of distribution networks have naturally driven us to expand capacities and services to match more advanced requirements from industrials in terms of contract logistics,” says Thierry Retourné, head of supply chain and logistics in Africa for Bolloré Logistics in Paris.
“Clients are asking specialists to upgrade African supply chains so they reflect the value and demands of the expanding consumer goods market,” he adds. “So in contrast to earlier periods, we’re now by breaking containers down in warehouses, preparing goods there, proposing a wide range of value added services and organizing delivery to avoid retailing shelves from ever being empty.”
Central to that is deployment of efficient and adapted warehouses or renovation of warehousing facilities that were often conceived with the basic needs of bulk shipments in mind. Warehouses must be adapted to the faster flows and more sophisticated handling of fast-moving consumer goods and retail activities. Some spaces are regularly revamped to facilitate multiple doors and docks to permit continuous off- and on-loading of freight to trucks, and smooth, clean floors to allow fast shifting of pallets. Internal storage space is often increased by moving walls or raising ceilings to permit horizontal stacking of freight.
That all occurs within a completely optimized reconfiguration of facilities; reorganization of improved, at times mechanized handling and storage schemes; and use of computerized warehouse management systems.
But maximal efficiency of those warehousing services can’t be attained without experienced and savvy local staffs who know the optimal ways to effectively use the improved tools -- and how make them work best within their region’s supply chain.
“Even the best equipment and facilities only do so much without extremely capable, adaptable and reactive people ensuring maximum performance,” Mr. Retourné says. “They must know each individual clients’ activities and needs and respond to those constantly. Improving structures and systems is imperative, but having the best people to maximize those is the key to success.”
Offering clients the same efficiencies in African supply chains they demand elsewhere also involves weighing current restraints with newer potentials – and future growth. Local teams must gauge decision based on many criteria. Occasionally fully modernizing an older facility may cost more than building a new warehouse. And even when renovation of existing structures may appear to be the best option, longer-term use and efficiencies must be weighed. For example, storage spaces located in congested urban centers may make erecting new structures at peripheries more cost effective in the longer run by slashing transport time currently lost to inner-city bottlenecks.
“Selecting the right options available requires you take into account each client’s particular activity, types of goods and volumes involved, and how their business is likely to evolve in future,” explains Mr. Retourné.
Structural upgrading allows for new added value service for clients on shipments broken out of containers. Those can range from partial assembly and labeling of goods to pre-delivery preparations permitting products to arrive in retail outlets ready for shelves.
Overall, the wider effort seeks adapting African warehouses to global standards – including environmental norms reflecting clients’ own biodiversity obligations. “The objective is providing the same quality of facilities and service clients demand and expect across the globe,” Mr. Retourné says.