Monday the seventh of August was the most important night of the year for Maurice Lee, the logistics mastermind behind the year’s largest FMCG product launch.
The product is the new Gillette Fusion range of razors, blades and associated products. The company expects to ship some £90 million worth of product in the first year. That would make it substantially bigger than the £70m launch of the Persil tablets in 1998 – the previous biggest FMCG product launch in the UK.
The Fusion is the latest product in the competitive wet-shaving market. It has a five blade shaving head. On the back is a special blade for trimming sideburns and it comes with its own range of shaving products.
Clearly, the company has a lot riding on such a major launch so it was vital that everything was thoroughly planned. The product had to reach all the major retail customers at the same moment so that no-one got an unfair advantage. Volumes had to be calculated and point of sale material had to be designed and built.
Altogether, says Lee, work started a year ago but really got going in the last six months. Lee is the value chain and logistics director for Proctor & Gamble UK and Ireland.
He points out that Gillette has substantial experience of this type of launch, for example with the Mach 3, and consequently is used to the meticulous planning required.
But this launch is bigger than anything in the past as it includes not only the razors and blades but also shaving cream and related products. In total, the launch encompassed 14 skus – double the typical requirement.
Key to Gillette’s approach is collaboration with the retailers to get realistic forecasts of demand. Orders were placed on the system earlier than normal so that there was time for each one to be checked and validated.
The company also worked with its customers on planning display space and calculating the number of units required for each outlet. In total, some 74,000 display units were built – some free standing and some on-shelf. “We have been manufacturing them by hand over the past three months,” says Lee.
This meticulous planning meant that the company knew exactly what it needed to ship on the launch night. The operation was based at the company’s distribution centre at Reading. In total, it called for 120 trucks – five times the normal requirement. The past five months have seen a steady flow of product into the distribution centre.
“We wanted the right level of inventory to meet the demand,” says Lee, pointing out that the company offers a 99.5 per cent service level to customers and had to be ready for any spikes in demand. In the event, all went off smoothly. The trucks rolled at one minute past midnight and some retailers had product on sale just after 7am. There were no reported delivery problems.
In the first month, the company expects to ship some £30m worth of product to customers. And Lee points out that there will be further challenges ahead. There are a series of phases – the next is Christmas when gift sets will be the order of the day. “That will be another huge challenge for us.”
And on top of that, there are the tie-ins to the sports sponsorships that Gillette is involved in which can also have a dramatic impact on demand. “We are hanging onto the tail of a tiger,” says Lee.
Maurice Lee studied economics at Portsmouth University and systems management at the Open University. He started his career in the petrochemical industry and spent three years working in the Middle East as an engineering projects manager.
He has held a number of positions with Proctor & Gamble including operations manager for the West Thurrock distribution centre, UK service centre project leader and market planning leader UK market development organisation.