Sink or swim

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The difficulties being faced on the UK high street have triggered aftershocks up and down the supply chain. Yet despite the casualty pile-up the news for retail supply chain professionals is by no means bad. The dynamics of the retail market are changing fast, and employers will look to their logistics and supply chain professionals to help ease any transitions.

The UK retail sector is worth some £200 billion in annual sales and around seven to eight per cent of this revenue is spent by retailers on logistics activities. Retailers will focus hard on streamlining their logistics and supply chain operations, cutting costs and waste wherever they can.

Zoe Houghton, principal consultant at MVP Supply Chain Recruitment, says: “There will always be a demand for high calibre retail logistics managers, although the competition for these vacancies has become intense.”

Sian Morris, resourcing manager at Kuehne + Nagel, reckons there will be demand for managers who can display strong strategic skills rather than tactical. “We’re not just looking at good operational professionals but those who have foresight, demanding a stronger, more strategic skill set and broader experience base to cope with the peaks and troughs. In the current climate, dynamic, forward-thinking, results-driven, proven logistics professionals will be in great demand.”


Having a thorough understanding of supply chain processes will be key for retail professionals. “There are retail logistics managers who are surviving in the current economic climate because they have a proven track record in managing lean logistics operations or in the development of logistical innovations,” says Houghton.

However, there’s no escaping the fact that, although many jobs will either be secured or created by forward-thinking retailers, others won’t be so lucky. There will still be an influx of retail logistics experts onto the market. And they may need to look for opportunities, outside of retail, to progress their careers.

Houghton reckons that retail logistics managers will get the chance to develop retail careers outside of the UK market, particularly those within the food and grocery sectors. “Many UK retailers have been a source of innovation in logistics and talented logistics managers have been able to offer their skills to international retailers looking to develop a similar level of tight supply chain control as the UK.”

Wayne Brophy, managing director of recruitment consultancy Cast UK, which counts L’Oreal, DHL, and Blacks Leisure among its customers, says: “A lot of major high street brands are starting to realise they’re not going to get their profits through sales any more, so are starting to look more at tightening up their international supply chain.”

This will increase the demand for high calibre international supply chain managers. He also reckons there will be opportunities from companies which have a strong e-commerce presence, as they will be on the lookout to increase their managerial staff to support its growth.

There are alternatives to retail logistics careers to be found in other sectors such as third party logistics – a market Houghton refers to as “buoyant” – since many retailers are outsourcing their distribution operations to reduce cost. “Third party logistics is a thriving sector that also requires highly skilled logistics managers, skilled in cost reduction and service delivery.

“Many retail logistics managers adapt to careers in third party logistics as they will have developed the necessary skills, such as communication and decision making.”

Retail skills are transferable since they incorporate a different mix of capabilities. Morris points to accurate planning and forecasting, execution to objectives, tight deadlines and budget constraints in a constantly changing market, as valued skills.

She says systems knowledge is also key. “Retail professionals should have the capability to understand and interpret data/metrics that are then used to formulate future strategies. Quick-thinking, adaptable competencies in retail logistics professionals differentiate the sinkers from the swimmers in today’s market.”

Brophy reckons the logistics sector is an easy one to move about in, more so than in others, because the raw skills are the same. “A box is a box, regardless of what it contains,” he says.

Morris says: “The retail market is still pivotal to our economy and is always going to be there; whether consumer goods or food retail. Logistics professionals could look across the sector into such areas as FMCG, food or furniture, to broaden their all-round management experience. The logistics needs are essentially the same.”

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