For over 60 years, Link 51 has specialised in the design, manufacture, supply and installation of pallet racking, shelving, lockers and other storage systems for organisations both large and small, and to local and international clients.
As the UK’s largest manufacturer and market leader for the supply of steel storage products, Link 51 offers customers everything from the supply of a few bays of stock room shelving to the design and installation of a fully integrated storage and materials handling warehouse facility.
Link 51 continues to enjoy strong demand for its products and solutions. 2012 was a successful year for the business and customer activity indicates further growth for 2013. In another major development, Link 51 is launching a new Shuttle racking system in a strategic partnership with AutoSat, which can be seen on their stand at IMHX in March this year.
Keith Evans, Sales Director, Link 51 spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – First of all, Keith, can you run through the different products and services that Link 51 provides?
As the market leader, Link 51 is the UK’s largest manufacturer of steel storage products – pallet racking, shelving and lockers. As such, we are able to offer a comprehensive range of storage solutions to suit all individual requirements, from design, manufacture and project management, to installation and after sales service.
WLN – As Sales Director, what is your role in the company day to day?
Having worked for Link 51 for more than 20 years, my role is to manage and support the pallet racking division’s 20-strong national account and territory sales team, and ensure they deliver a quality, professional service that exceeds customers’ expectations.
WLN – When was Link 51 founded? Where did the name come from?
Link 51 was founded in 1951, hence the name, and the word ‘Link’ represented the grouping of pallet racking and shelving into one company. This full storage proposition, in terms of British design, manufacture and installation of pallet racking, shelving and lockers by one company, remains unique today.
WLN – Who owns Link 51?
Link 51 is a subsidiary of the multinational group Whittan Storage Systems; a business focused exclusively on the storage and materials handling industry. Whittan is a leading player across Europe with manufacturing sites in the UK and Spain, supported by sales and administrative offices throughout Europe. Whittan is committed to continuous development and specialisation in design, manufacture and installation of a wide range of storage equipment.
WLN – How big is Link 51?
Link 51 is the UK’s largest manufacturer and supplier of steel pallet racking, shelving and lockers, with an annual turnover in excess of £80 million.
WLN – Do you trade outside the UK?
Yes we do. Link 51 provides storage solutions throughout the UK and Europe for our clients. In addition, our sister company, Link International, supports a worldwide distributor network.
WLN – Where do you manufacture your products?
We have three manufacturing operations in the UK. We manufacture pallet racking systems, personal locker and storage products from two sites in Telford, Shropshire, and Shelving is made at Brierley Hill in the West Midlands, on the site the business first occupied in 1951.
WLN – What sets Link 51 apart from other storage companies? Why buy a storage solution from you?
We are the only British company that can supply fully integrated racking, mezzanine floors, shelving and locker storage systems – this is a key differentiator for the company. It means customers can come to a single supplier for the whole of their racking and shelving needs.
As our manufacturing and project management resources are all based in the UK, we have a unique ability to respond to our customers swiftly and then provide long term support and maintenance.
Link 51 can also demonstrate a very clear track record of delivering projects on time in all sectors of the market. We have the resources and expertise to deliver. Please ask us for references and we will be pleased to show you recent projects.
WLN – Who are your customers? What industry sectors are they in?
We offer our products and services to organisations of all sizes that have a requirement for storage management solutions. Our clients cover a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, food and drink, distribution (client direct, via 3PL or developers), retail, e-commerce, healthcare and public sector. Link 51 has the ability to deliver major projects and at the same time is equally committed to the medium or smaller projects that receive the same care and attention from the business.
WLN – What is your proposition for the warehousing and logistics sector?
Our proposition for the blue chip customers involved in warehousing and distribution is that Link 51 is ideally placed in having the proven manufacturing capability here in the UK, together with significant experience in design and project management to ensure installations are completed on schedule to agreed deadlines.
Our combined capability and skills through our design, project and contract teams ensures our customers do not incur hidden costs, which is a significant factor in today’s marketplace.
WLN – How are you organised to serve customers?
Link 51 operates a customer focussed three-tier sales structure – a major projects team, a geographically focused national field sales team and an in-house telesales team. This is important because it ensures clients receive the best possible service; and benefit from a wealth of sector experience, regardless of the size of project.
WLN – One of your bestknown corporate lines is that you can ‘sleep safe with a Link 51 Racking System.’ How safe are your systems? What safety and inspection procedures do you ask customers to follow day to day?
As a founding member of SEMA, we have, and continue to be instrumental in setting the standards for the industry – safety and quality of service underpins everything we do at Link 51. “Sleep safe with a Link 51 Racking system” reflects this, and is a reason why we see so much repeat business. Our customers can ‘sleep safe’ in the knowledge that the scheme has been designed, planned, manufactured and installed in line with best practice and the highest safety standards – in effect we are providing an ‘insurance policy’.
To illustrate this, we’ve seen customers who have may have viewed storage materials as commodities and have not received a solution that meets their expectations. Link 51 does not operate like this; we offer a tried and tested solutions focussed approach, the full end-to-end product and service package. And yes, whilst customers are still quite rightly focusing on price, the need to deliver a solution on time and to a required standard is of equal importance.
WLN – Are you involved in any other warehouse safety initiatives?
As I mentioned, we are founding members of SEMA and actively work to improve safety standards. We were also instrumental in developing and enforcing the Storage Equipment Installers Registration Scheme (SEIRS) for installers.
WLN – How does your project team work? Do you handle the whole project in house from system design to installation? Do you use your own fitters for installations?
Every major installation is assigned a dedicated national account manager, who for the life of the project will work directly with the customer to ensure a smooth installation with minimum disruptions and within the time scales agreed. With the support of a select Link 51 team, the account manager will also be responsible for co-ordinating the design, manufacturing and installation processes.
In terms of installation, Link 51 has long historical partnerships with the best SEIRS approved contract installers in the industry, and will carefully select an installation team for each project based on experience and knowledge of a sector. Importantly, all our teams are trained and experienced in understanding our quality procedures, methods and standards.
WLN – What safety accreditations do you work to?
All of our designs meet the technical standards and codes of practice laid down by SEMA and we are fully committed to the SEIRS installation programme.
We work to the highest standards and are certified to ISO 9001 – Quality Management System, ISO14001 – Environmental Management System and BS OHSAS18001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management System. Our certification covers the design, manufacture, installation and service of storage solutions. The standards are externally assessed at our manufacturing sites by SGS over a 6 monthly cycle.
Link 51 is also very proactive after an installation is completed; customer surveys form a key part of our commitment to continuously improve our services.
WLN – Do you offer an advisory service for smaller businesses wanting to make informed decisions about buying storage systems and getting the best out of them?
Yes, we have a geographically focused national field sales team that represents each area of the business – pallet racking, shelving and lockers. They are all very experienced in their product field and advise customers every day on how to design and maximise the storage space they have for best value.
WLN – Looking at the wider picture, what do you see as the biggest pressures on users of storage systems?
There are a number of points here. Firstly we are seeing a lot of our customers consolidating operations either within existing facilities or into new premises. We are also seeing the procurement process shortened when companies see an opportunity that can offer competitive advantage and want to be up and running quickly in order to safeguard their ideas. This is where Link 51 excels, but it is proving very difficult for the smaller suppliers of pallet racking for example, because in order to fulfil these demands you must have a large and experienced design team to cope with the short timeframes and you must have scale to cope with large jobs as well as the smaller installations.
We’ve also recently produced a White Paper called ‘Making Space to Grow’, following a research initiative with major blue chip clients. This confirmed the need for companies to embrace technology in their warehousing operations and to develop flexibility in their supply chains, in order to respond quickly to uncertain or changing demands. This is where Link 51 can really help leverage value for a client.
WLN – How do your solutions help your customers achieve this flexibility and responsiveness?
Because we have a broad product portfolio we are able to offer customers the best solution for each storage requirement, be it traditional racking, shelving, mezzanines or a shuttle system. Link 51’s specialism is creating the best value solution for the customer. Also having the UK manufacturing capability, having a large design, technical and project management team means we can deliver to a set schedule and often against tight deadlines.
WLN – Can you name some of your leading blue chip clients, and tell us about the work you do for them? Do you publish customer case studies?
Because of our position and strength in the market we work with all the leading supermarket chains, 3PL operators, and major blue chip companies in e-commerce, the food processing industry and automotive markets. As an example we’ve just completed big installations for Regatta, Mann+Hummel and Tesco. All our case studies are downloadable from www.link51.co.uk
WLN – What new products and developments will you be showing at IMHX?
At IMHX, we will be launching a new automated Shuttle racking system, which offers customers looking for an alternative to drive-in and other ‘live’ storage systems, proven world-leading technology that can provide real cost savings over alternative Shuttle systems.
The Shuttle system is an important addition to our product range. Whilst we know not every customer will need a Shuttle, we equally recognise that we must have it in the range for those applications when it is the best option. Again it comes back to offering a solution focused approach, and for customers, as mentioned earlier, wanting to achieve ‘more’ from their existing building space and increase capacity for high density storage, a Shuttle could be the solution.
WLN – Have you installed any Shuttle racking systems yet?
To deliver the Shuttle, we’ve formed a strategic partnership with AutoSat combining the expertise of two market leaders – Link 51’s project management expertise in designing flexible supply chain solutions and AutoSat’s world leading technology experience of designing Shuttle systems, who have manufactured more than 800 shuttles.
Our expertise is also backed by Whittan, which has significant experience installing Autosat Shuttle systems across Europe for major manufacturers.
Here in the UK, we’ve recently just completed our first Shuttle installation at Toolbank in Kent, and many more are now being planned – plus we are looking forward to the official launch at IMHX and showing potential customers the benefits of a Shuttle system.
WLN – Who will benefit from Shuttle technology? What makes your Shuttle technology different?
Shuttle racking systems are well suited for warehouses that store a large number of pallets per SKU, and especially those with high value SKUs. Operators can stack pallets with a weight of up to 1500kg much more quickly and easily, and have greater accessibility to densely packed storage.
Compared with drive-in, operators can also switch from a first in, first out (FIFO) system to a last in, first out (FILO) system.
There are several unique features that make our Shuttle technology far superior. Whilst there are other systems on the market, what differentiates our technology is that the Shuttle features a number of patented elements, including the infra-red sensor that controls the shuttle run whilst in the lane. It also has an anti-collision function, and can store and retrieve pallets of different lengths within the same lane.
Uniquely it also comes with a lightweight lithium battery. As opposed to other systems which use heavy lead batteries, the benefits of lithium are cost – reduced charge times so you don’t need as many – and it will last up to 3 times longer.
WLN – Do you predict more customers will specify Shuttle systems once they realise the ROI benefits?
Yes, Shuttle systems are a great alternative to Drive-in systems, but we believe the market has not realised the full benefits of this automated technology yet. However, to understand the ROI benefits, each project must be considered individually and this is where Link 51’s design and project expertise adds significant weight to the technology. We will use our experience to study each project individually and then analyse the cost savings that can be achieved from using a Shuttle system – the reductions in operating costs for example will vary based on the size of the throughput, plus, if applicable, the cost savings on not having to purchase and operate another property will be factored in.
WLN – Finally, how important are shows like IMHX to your company and its strategy?
For 2013 IMHX is very important because it gives us the platform to launch the Shuttle. Shows like IMHX also provide us with a valuable opportunity to discuss the broader issues of the market with visitors to our stand.
Tel: 0800 169 5151