About Johnson Tiles
Johnson Tiles is the UK’s leading manufacturer of ceramic tiles, and part of the London Stock Exchange-listed Norcros Group.
Established in 1901 and headquartered in Stoke-on-Trent since its formation, Johnson Tiles has led the ceramic tile manufacturing sector for over 100 years. Since its acquisition by Norcros PLC in 1979, the company has consolidated its market leading position even further; with significant investment by the parent group, including the opening of a purpose built, £35m manufacturing facility in 2001.
Johnson Tiles currently manufactures around six million square metres of tiles each year, which are sold to clients ranging from major contractors and multiple retailers through to smaller trade stores and independents. Alongside its significant commercial success, the company is also widely acknowledged to be one of the most environmentally sustainable businesses in the UK – consistently ranking in the Sunday Times Top 50 Green Companies for its commitment to the use of recycled materials in its manufacturing process.
THE JOHNSON TILES CHALLENGE
The move to Johnson Tiles’ flagship Stoke manufacturing plant in 2001 completely changed the nature of the company’s logistics operation. On one hand, things were made much simpler; the consolidation of a number of manufacturing sites into one facility made the process of collecting finished goods much more streamlined. Conversely, the vast increase in manufacturing capacity that the new site provided meant an increased number of products, higher traffic flows, and added levels of complexity.
In the first few years after the move, Johnson Tiles continued using its existing logistics provider – a small local haulage firm. However, because the haulier didn’t have the capacity to handle the whole operation, much of the work was being subcontracted to other providers based around the UK. It was a system that worked for a time – but as Johnson Tiles continued to flourish and volumes and complexity increased, it became apparent that a more scalable, long term solution was required.
Downton had been working with Johnson Tiles for many years, but as a secondary provider working under the lead haulier. But in April 2013, after a competitive tender process, Downton won the contract to head up Johnson Tiles’ whole operation across the UK.
Adam Bellis, Logistics Director, Johnson Tiles, explained the reason Downton was chosen for the job:
“Producing millions of square metres of tiles each year, we needed a logistics partner that has the scale to meet the challenges that this volume creates, but wouldn’t just be another faceless corporate 3pl. We chose Downton – and we haven’t looked back since.”
THE B&Q FACTOR
One of Johnson Tiles’ biggest customers is B&Q, which stocks the tile manufacturer’s products at hundreds of its stores across the UK.
For Johnson Tiles’ to end up on the shelves of B&Q’s retail stores, they first need to be delivered to one of the DIY giant’s Regional Consolidation Centres (RCCs). Around 1,350 tonnes of tiles are delivered to the six RCCs each week, where they are collated with a vast array of other products and distributed to the retail estate by B&Q’s own fleet.
For B&Q, the management of traffic flows in and out of the RCCs is an incredibly complex task that requires absolute accuracy if it’s to run smoothly. Deliveries are strictly regimented, with significant repercussions to the supplier if unforeseen delays occur.
Adam Bellis explains:
“You’re given a half hour timeslot. If you miss that slot and don’t inform B&Q beforehand, you get a substantial fine. Not only that, you have to then set about rescheduling the delivery, which can be even more costly than the fine itself. As a result, we need to have our deliveries running with military precision.
“Over the past year that Downton has been our lead logistics provider, they have made over 3,000 deliveries to B&Q RCCs, and they’ve missed only two delivery slots. That’s more than 99.9 per cent accuracy – a vast improvement on what we were achieving before we moved the contract over.”
Downton has also worked with Johnson Tiles to introduce new initiatives across the B&Q operation – including trialling direct-to-store overnight deliveries.
During a five-month trial, instead of delivering to the RCCs, Downton delivered loads direct to B&Q’s biggest retail stores. To ensure minimal disruption to B&Q’s own staff, Downton made all deliveries at night, using specially trained drivers who were able to stock the shelves themselves.
“B&Q are now evaluating the success of the direct-to-store trial and deciding whether this is something that will be rolled out across the whole operation. This is something that B&Q has never tried before, so the fact that we were able to trial this with Downton shows the trust that our customer has in our operation – trust that is in no small part due to the success of the contract with Downton.”
Under the new contract, Downton also took over the handling of deliveries to Johnson Tiles’ independent and wholesale trade customers.
Previously, deliveries to Johnson Tiles’ independent customers were carried out twice weekly, on a ‘day one order for day three delivery’ basis. For Johnson Tiles, this meant smaller consignments being delivered more often – which ultimately required more vehicle movements, and led to additional transport costs.
Downton worked with Johnson Tiles to implement a single-day delivery schedule for independent customers, whereby all deliveries are made only on Wednesdays. Although customers now only have one delivery day, they have much shorter lead times – ordering as late as 4pm on the Tuesday evening to get products delivered the next morning.
“The change wasn’t well received at first,” said Adam, “but quickly our customers realised that this was a far more efficient way of doing things for all involved.
“For our customers, they get the benefits of shorter lead times and the guaranteed availability of trailers, no matter what time they order during the week. For us and for Downton, it means better forward planning and more efficient use of our trailer fleet, leading to significantly reduced costs. It’s a win-win situation.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Johnson Tiles is already recognised as one of the most environmentally sustainable manufacturers in the UK – but the Stoke-based company has its sights set on even further improvements in this respect.
Historically the company has bought most of the clay it uses to make its products from Devon, but going forward more of these materials will be sourced from much closer to home; using recycled waste products from counties like Derbyshire and Cheshire.
Downton has been working with Johnson Tiles to implement a new delivery system which will use walking floor trailers – trailers with a moveable ‘conveyor belt’ floor – to both collect recycled materials to feed into the manufacturing process, and also deliver finished products to Johnson Tiles’ customers. This will significantly reduce empty running, thus cutting the cost to Johnson Tiles and helping to further reduce the carbon footprint of the logistics operation.
Adam Bellis sums up why the Downton partnership has added so much value for Johnson Tiles:
“This latest initiative is a perfect example of why our relationship with Downton has been so beneficial to Johnson Tiles. If we want to try something new, I sit down with the directors, explain what it is I’m looking for, and twenty minutes later we have a plan in place to make it happen.
“With Downton, we get the flexibility and scale of a big 3pl, but with the agility and decision-making of a proactive, family-run business – and this combination is proving its worth to us time and time again.”