E-commerce has been given a significant boost by the pandemic, with figures from the Office for National Statistics showing that online sales as a percentage of total retail sales grew from 19% in February 2020 to a high of over 36% in November 2020. Although this figure had fallen back to just over 26% by July 2021, this is still a significant increase on the pre-Covid level. As a result, some structural change in the supply chain is underway, evidenced by unprecedented demand for warehouse space.
A clear solution to the rise in e-com for retailers, 3PLs and parcel couriers is to maximize space utilization in new and existing facilities through the use of mezzanine floors. One company benefiting from additional mezzanine space is Noatum Logistics, a leading global logistics provider and one of the top 50 freight forwarders worldwide. At the company's ePoint Medway distribution centre, strategically located to the east of London, Noatum provides storage, e-commerce fulfilment and returns-processing services for leading retailers, handling goods from their point of origin to the UK and then providing omni-channel distribution throughout the UK and Europe. Many of Noatum's clients have experienced a spike in online sales including the major women's fashion business, TFG London – owner of famous brands including Phase Eight, Hobbs and Whistles – which is relying on ePoint Medway. "Prior to the pandemic," explains Jay Mulcahey, Group Logistics, Procurement and Customer Service Manager for TFG London, "about 30 per cent of our business was online and we're looking to grow that to 50-60 per cent."
Early project involvement
Noatum's 378,000-sq-ft, 20m-tall ePoint Medway warehouse features a mezzanine solution with four floors, as well as 18 loading bays and 10 miles of racking and conveyors. Automation is helping the 3PL to handle five million parcels a year at the facility and it was the desire to integrate these systems in the best way possible that led Noatum to get MiTek on board early in the project's design. "Typically you fit a mezzanine after a building's been constructed," says Steve Hicks, Managing Director Contract Logistics for Noatum. "With this, I wanted to get Goodman, the developer, and MiTek to work together to actually get it integrated to the structure of the building and also get the piling done at the point of construction. It gives us 275,000 square feet of mezzanine space, which is critical for the e-commerce market going forward."
Integration with automated material handling systems tends to bring special requirements for mezzanines in terms of strength, vibration and electrostatic resistance. "It was very important that MiTek had integration experience," says Steve Hicks, "as the customer needed products moved swiftly and efficiently between each level." MiTek always advocates early involvement of its mezzanine specialists in a project. "It's really valuable for clients to tap into our expertise during the design and construction phase of a new warehouse," says Nathan Miller, Key Account Manager for MiTek. "It can definitely help to future-proof a facility." In the case of ePoint Medway, Noatum visited MiTek's Innovation Hub (its R&D centre) to experience the supplier's mezzanine systems and finishes at first hand. Discussions led Noatum to raise the building's roof slightly to be able to install the fourth floor, which is completed but not yet integrated, giving the company flexibility to meet future needs.
"This has been a large and complex project," says Nathan Miller, "although we also supply smaller mezzanine solutions – in fact, anything from a thousand sq ft to a million sq ft, from single-level floors for simple storage to multi-level structures with system integration."
MiTek Mezzanine Systems has delivered more than 10,000 mezzanine solutions worldwide, including recent installations in the UK for a major e-com player and for parcel distributors DHL, Fedex and DPD.