Supporting Major Events: Challenges for Transport Operators

Managing deliveries to major events presents a unique set of challenges to transport and distribution companies. Their day-to-day operations generally involve handling regular loads between warehouses and factories to schedules and volumes that are reasonably predictable. But supporting customers who are involved as sponsors and suppliers to high-profile sporting and cultural events requires robust supply chains to meet often massive demands over just a few days where there are no second chances and failure to deliver is definitely not an option.

The numbers of people attending these type of events can be mind-boggling and for their duration they are among the busiest sites in the country. There were almost half a million visitors to Wimbledon during the fortnight of the Championships in July 2017 while later that month almost a quarter of a million spectators saw the British Open Golf at Royal Birkdale. Similar numbers will have attended Derby Week at Epsom, Glastonbury Festival, and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone to mention just a few of the summer’s other big events. Major drinks and food companies supplying these events need to move large volumes of product and equipment onto the sites to meet the fleeting but colossal demand.

This is where the challenges really start. No two venues will be the same but generally they have limited access for larger vehicles and little or no permanent on-site infrastructure for delivering and storing items. Planning has to start early and the events have to be treated as discrete operations in their own right rather than as extensions of everyday business. This planning will cover not just the amount of product required over the duration of the event but how and when it will be delivered.

Some events will require products to be delivered under what amounts to just-in-time conditions to ensure on-site availability without using up too much valuable space for storage. Deliveries for these will tend to be made at quiet times, often during the evening or overnight, to avoid disruption. Other venues will take the view that congestion in and around the site make daily deliveries too risky and will instead require all or most products to be on site from the start. Despite this, event organisers and suppliers will almost certainly want to be able to deliver additional stock quickly to meet unforeseen demand on the day.

All of this requires adaptability, flexibility and responsiveness. Attention to detail is critical. Suppliers, the transport operator, event organisers and site managers will start their discussions many months in advance to ensure every detail and eventuality is considered and addressed. Once all of the basic operational restrictions and the customer’s requirements have been assessed the transport company can begin planning how it will meet the demand.

The majority of venues hosting major annual events – think race courses, motor racing circuits, tennis clubs, rugby clubs, cricket grounds and so on – will have some permanent infrastructure geared towards their ongoing requirements for normal events. This is likely to be inadequate for a major annual event which means additional on-site storage or frequent deliveries will be required to maintain stock levels. Many of these venues will also be in historic settings in large cities where deliveries using conventional trailers can be problematic. Finally, to maintain the right ambience for participants and spectators, events generally want to minimise disruption during their peak opening hours which means deliveries will be required during quieter periods such as late evening or overnight.

Downton was faced with many of these constraints when working with Jigsaw Transport to support a major annual sporting event in London during 2017. Limited storage space at the historic venue meant daily replenishment was required to make sure there was always enough stock on site. Downton established a temporary operation hosted at Dunstable. Products were transferred from the client’s production facility to Downton’s warehouse in Dunstable. This meant loads could be picked and delivered quickly with reduced risk of disruption because of the Bedfordshire site’s relative proximity to the venue. Deliveries were made each evening using specialist vehicles chosen to meet height, width and weight restrictions and minimise disruption at the venue. The company ensured deliveries of products as well as ancillary equipment and sundries each evening in response to orders placed by the event’s hospitality team earlier the same afternoon. The company also managed returns of items such as empty packaging and pallets to remove clutter and ensure space for new items.

Events which are hosted at a different venue year including many sporting events and music festivals will face similar challenges but with some significant additional burdens. The venues are likely to have little or no permanent infrastructure which means additional facilities must be provided for the duration of the event. They also tend to be held in more remote, often rural, settings which can mean traditional supply chain locations are further away.

These operations are typical of the sort of solution that transport operators must devise and implement to support the suppliers they work with. Operations like these must be designed to work alongside existing contractual obligations without either affecting the other. This is why planning is so important but it also helps explain why transport operators must have a highly flexible, adaptable and scalable approach to their operations.