The Belgian municipality of Herstal near Liège is a paradise for all shoe lovers: The place is home to the European Distribution Center for the American shoe manufacturer Skechers. It is from this site, that the company is responsible for distributing its sports and casual shoes to the entire European market. Skechers has automated many operations in its 118.000 m2 facility to speed up processes. However, forklifts are still in demand. Some 75 UniCarriers warehouse trucks help to load and unload delivery trucks, ensure that the high-bay warehouse is restocked and assist in picking and preparing shipments for up to 3,500 customer orders a day.
Skechers and UniCarriers share a long history: UniCarriers original brand Atlet delivered the first six forklifts to this American footwear company in 2002 when it was setting up its European sales and distribution network. At 118,000 m2, the Skechers European Distribution Center (EDC) in the Liège area is today almost five times larger than it was in 2002 while the brand has also become the second largest sports shoe manufacturer in the US. The company has established itself in Europe, where it has achieved double digit growth rates in the last few years. To sustain its rapid growth, Skechers has not only extended its logistics centre to almost five times its original size, but has increasingly expanded its relationship with UniCarriers. Ranging from reach trucks through to versatile pallet trucks, 75 of the international manufacturer’s warehouse vehicles are in constant use in Liège today. “When we opened our distribution centre, we were looking for a reliable forklift supplier who could help us to set up our business activities in Europe. Atlet was exactly what we needed and we still maintain our excellent working relationship with UniCarriers, the successor brand, today,” declares Bart Geenen, Skechers Director of Operations EDC.
Skechers manages its multichannel sales operation for all Europe from Liège. It supplies large online retailers, small individual stores and end customers. Skechers operates the warehouse in two shifts to ensure efficient, on-schedule processing of orders, relying on a combination of automated and forklift-based processes. After arrival of the goods shipped from China, the UniCarriers PLP and PMR pallet trucks empty the receiving area, preventing bottlenecks in operations. Pallets are then transferred to the TERGO UMS heavyduty reach trucks. These take the pallets to the correct passageway in the narrow-aisle high-bay warehouse.
Multi-order picking enables Skechers to achieve a high picking rate. With the help of PPL low-level and OP medium- and high-level order pickers, the required goods are first pre-prepared for picking different customer orders. The order pickers climb grip heights up to 10 metres in the 60-aisle high-bay warehouse to pick. The boxes are then transferred to an automatic sorter, which assigns their contents to individual orders. A shuttle acts as buffer storage for larger orders until the whole shipment has been picked. The automated process ends in the shipment area, where TERGO UMS reach trucks are normally used to distribute the goods to the shipping doors, allowing intensive work with a transport capacity of up to 2 tonnes.
Skechers experiences peak operations in January to March and June to August when new collections arrive. “We handle 40 percent of our total annual volume in the first three months,” explains Bart Geenen. Capacity is assured with a flexible model consisting of leased, rented and purchased vehicles. Skechers obtains hired trucks for one to three months based on need. UniCarriers replaces leased vehicles with new models every five years, giving Skechers access to a modern, highperformance fleet. A service contract also ensures long operating times for the forklifts. A UniCarriers technician is permanently based at Skechers. He carries out repairs within a designated workshop in the EDC, where the most important spare parts are stocked, so Skechers does not need to allow for any downtimes while waiting for repairs.
Skechers also considers it essential to provide its drivers with a good workplace. That is why the company involves its employees in the new forklift selection process and attaches great importance to an ergonomic design and comprehensive safety features. All vehicles are limited to a maximum speed of 8 km/h and some feature additional safety belts to minimise the risk of accidents. The high-level order pickers are wire guided in the narrow aisles to allow the operator to fully concentrate on picking. When it comes to ergonomic design, Skechers employees benefit from the high degree of personalisation in UniCarriers vehicles.
For Skechers, UniCarriers is not only a vehicle supplier, but it has been a dependable partner for almost 15 years. UniCarriers is currently assisting in planning a new battery replacement system. Among other things, this seeks to centralise battery charging stations at strategically selected points. UniCarriers is one of the suppliers working on a new concept of where to integrate battery replacement stations most suitably in the warehouse. For this purpose, the forklift truck routes and usage data are analysed.