The warehousing and signage category is a broad church, with a diverse selection of products gathered under these umbrella terms. It includes everything from pallet trucks and mobile trolleys, through shelving, racking and safety equipment, to high-tech labelling and barcoding devices. Essentially, it’s an eclectic mix of products needed to fit out and maintain operational efficiency in modern-day warehouses and other similar industrial facilities.
A promising future
Feedback from those operating in this field reveals it is an ever-expanding category. At Beaverswood – a manufacturer of warehouse labels, floor markers and visual management solutions – Managing Director Steph Gentle says the company has been experiencing year-on-year growth for some time, with 2023 proving to be no exception. “Safety and visual management for businesses represents a growing priority and this is reflected in the requirement for these items in our product range. We are increasingly working with workplace supplies resellers and dealers, as they recognise this is a flourishing area.”
Durable UK also notes a growing appetite from the warehousing sector for its signage, labelling and scanning products. Drawing on a strong manufacturing background in items for the workplace environment, the vendor realised its expert knowledge could be applied to the warehousing industry.
As such, states Durable UK Head of Marketing Sam Rylands, there is now a dedicated sales resource for this channel. “Our aim for this year is to build partnerships with industrial resellers and specialists in the UK to highlight our expanding offering to this target audience.”
Despite the rise in warehouses and storage space, fluctuating commodity prices for materials such as steel and wood have presented many challenges over the past few years. This appears to be stabilising, notes Rapid Racking Head of Product and Services Tom Ellis. With growth across the majority of its key areas, he believes 2023 is set to be another good year for the business.
The company – part of the Manutan Group – is a specialist in warehouse and storage design and has recently launched a new rental service, which, says Ellis, is generating a lot of interest. With a proliferation of warehouses being built across the country, he believes plenty of opportunities lie down the road and while many may focus on the top tier, there is still a lot of activity happening at the lower end too.
Elaborating further, he explains businesses that were merely start-ups during the pandemic are now investing in line with their successes – moving into larger premises or broadening into other areas.
“The industry as a whole is growing and, alongside it, so is the variety of goods that customers are looking to store. The rise in online transactions means the distribution and logistics world is having to vary what it stocks and ships – in some cases shifting away from conventional boxed products.
“Combine this with the increased costs from energy and inflationary pressures and companies are seeking more efficient ways of utilising their storage space, rather than simply expanding. This is where our expert design service can help, as we can guide clients to the most effective way of reaching their goals at an affordable price,” states Ellis.
Other operators in this arena agree with this sentiment. When it comes to the current best-selling product areas, Beaverswood’s labelling for racking continues to be in high demand as warehouses are reconfigured to get more from the available space. Consequently, there’s a constant requirement for these types of items, along with ticket and label holders which are critical to operational efficiency.
Rylands confirms Durable’s labelling range is also currently the company’s best-seller in this field, with sales up +145% compared to 2022: “We see this as a testament to the quality of our products and the breadth of clever solutions we can provide from magnetic c-profiles to pallet signage,” she adds.
Manufacturers are constantly introducing innovative solutions for warehouses and storage facilities too. A top seller for Beaverswood, for example, is the racksack. Says Gentle: “It hangs on the end of racking and provides a brilliantly simple recycling solution in the warehouse, which can otherwise be a tricky discipline in busy industrial environments.
“We’ve just launched the racksack Nano – the smallest member of the family. It is designed to affix to forklift/pallet trucks and other vehicles to help drivers ensure their stations remain tidy.”
As companies look to keep the entire warehouse environment safer and cleaner, visual management in this sector is growing in importance, she notes. As a result, systems employing shadow boards and floor signage are equally gaining in popularity.
Rylands states that while the signage sub-category in general is expanding, it is being received more slowly by this industry. In response, Durable has continued to innovate and adapt to provide tailored solutions to meet the unique needs of industrial customers. The company typically releases around 50 new products every year and an increasing proportion of these are geared towards this channel.
Says Rylands: “Our most recent range development has been the launch of nine new corner, surface, pipe and edge protectors, which are used widely in warehouse settings where a strong emphasis is placed on health and safety.
“Looking to the future, we predict there will be marked growth in intelligent systems for automating processes which are already changing the logistics marketplace. A focus on the products accompanying this shift will be rewarded down the line.”
Ellis confirms the drive for automation is a noticeable theme, with the consistent escalation in online purchasing leading to increased cost pressures for processing orders: “Consequently, warehouses are trying to keep operations as efficient as possible. This can be as extreme as installing fully automated pick-and-pack lines or as easy as just automating a few of the simpler processes.
“For example, at our own premises, we have invested in the automation of our pallet wrapping operation. Not only has this helped to speed up our daily processes, but it has also allowed us to switch to using a type of plastic wrap that employs a higher recycled content than we could previously.”
Gaining a foothold
If you choose the right products to sell, it can be relatively straightforward for new dealers looking to get into this category, according to Gentle. She states the warehouse is just another work environment, albeit with some unique requirements that differ from the conventional office space.
Her advice would be to avoid very technical products – in particular robotics, automation or digital items – which require a lot of expertise in a fiercely competitive landscape. While many other items don’t require any specific knowledge, dealers should get familiar with their customers’ warehouse environment and needs.
She adds: “Ask to visit and question them about what they do, how they operate and what their primary challenges are. Dealers should also initiate relationships with key decision-makers. For multisite outfits, this is often the procurement manager, but for SMBs, it’s typically the facilities/operations manager or possibly the safety, health, environment & quality officer.”
Ellis also strikes a note of caution, explaining that for new entrants, some product categories can be more complex than others. When installing a drive-in pallet racking solution, for instance, there are significantly more points to consider than when selling a few bays of shelving. Such complexities can include the kinds of pallets to be used, the structure of the floor and how suitable it will be for the size and weight of the goods to be stored.
Invariably, he adds, this sort of sale necessitates more of a consultative approach, requiring expertise to ensure the end solution is fit for purpose. “We already work with several trade customers to support them with these types of enquiries and would be happy to help any newcomers.”
As with most adjacent sectors, warehousing is competitive, and resellers and dealers need a clear USP. Once this is established, it then comes down to being aware of which sales require more technical input.
Overall, Ellis feels the industry is moving towards providing solutions rather than just selling specific products. “Frequently, our clients will start with an empty warehouse and ask for everything from racking to manual handling equipment, safety signs and safety barriers. Therefore, dealers can increase their margins and the value they provide by combining it all under one complete offer as a single solutions provider.”
Nevertheless, Rylands warns that those determined to enter the category need to go in with eyes wide open as the traditional and industrial channel markets are vastly different to one another, with industrial customers’ expectations around delivery times and commercial stipulations often quite onerous. “However, you can still achieve success by networking with the right dealers, spending time understanding your end users’ requirements and focusing on a solution-orientated approach.”
A sustainable solution
With environmental concerns now high on everyone’s agenda and the drive towards net zero becoming ever more pressing, it’s not surprising to find sustainability within this sector is seen as a priority topic.
All those Workplace360 spoke to agreed sustainability is an essential focus, not least because warehouses and associated manufacturing plants produce a lot of waste. Gentle also points out they are time-poor as they work to tight service level agreements. Therefore, being able to provide customers with durable ranges designed to withstand the rigours of an industrial setting is a major selling point for resellers.
“Supplying smart solutions to address waste management issues represents a great opportunity for dealers. It removes a headache for their customer while supporting them in their efforts to become more sustainable. All of Beaverswood’s products, for instance, are made with sustainability in mind. We use a range of recycled or recyclable materials but, most importantly, products are built to last, which helps warehouses achieve sustainable practices.”
With clients increasingly requesting CO2 emission reports, working with vendors serious about net zero targets is becoming imperative. Durable, says Rylands, has implemented many measures as a manufacturer to be compliant and sustainable at all levels, including sourcing local materials, generating its own energy for production and reducing the environmental impact of its manufacturing processes.
“All these actions then help to support the eco ambitions of our customers, knowing their supply chain is as green as possible,” she adds.
There are clear signs purchasers in this category are taking these issues seriously. Ellis says Rapid Racking is presently receiving far more questions about the carbon footprint of its merchandise and how the materials made to produce them are sourced than ever before. “Companies, in general, are adopting a more responsible view to their purchasing – especially those targeting zero carbon projects,” he notes.
“This is an area Rapid Racking has been spending a lot of time looking at, as most of our products involve a large amount of steel. We’re not quite ready to reveal what the solutions are yet, but we have some interesting developments in the pipeline.”
The warehousing and signage sector is expanding and appears to be in good health. Manufacturers are undeniably courting the workplace supplies channel, recognising the benefits of another route to market. Undoubtedly, there will be challenges for dealers wanting to be part of this industry, but there are also significant rewards for those willing to take the plunge.