In recent years, brands and retailers have been dealing with a lot of logistic changes, from being confronted with customs and transportation difficulties due to Brexit, leading to serious delivery delays, to the increased pressures on online shopping due to the pandemic. To assist with its development in Europe, Theory has partnered with Modexpress to relocate its wholesale/retail fulfilment services from the UK, to enhance its B2B and B2C supply chain.
To find out more about Theory’s logistics and fulfilment needs overseas, why it selected Modexpress as its EU partner, and its aspirations for the brand in the region, we spoke to Nick Fox, head of logistics – Europe at Theory.
What made you select Modexpress as your EU partner?
We had been using Modexpress as a return’s hub for a few years, (before I joined Theory), and everything flowed pretty smoothly with them, so that is almost to say we hardly even noticed them. However, when Brexit struck, we had to get organised pretty quickly. We had been planning for a few months for this eventuality, but even so, if you remember the deadline for December 31 was made with not a lot of notice. In the event, we looked at six providers in a variety of locations from Spain (due to a good recommendation) to the Netherlands, France and a provider in Central Europe.
The decision was down to myself and the Logistics Manager, Corinna Elsaesser, and whatever we decided had to be sold internally. There were a lot of factors and geography is a big one, (which knocked Spain out), plus we needed access to a good freight airport hub and easy access to the UK. This made the Netherlands the obvious choice, followed by France. What then swung the decision were things like the fiscal regime considerations, which is an area where the Netherlands always wins.
The choice for the Theory Logistics Team was then between 3 NL providers, and this is where the attention to detail by the 3PL comes to the fore. To start with, for me anyway, it is in the small things where you can make a big impression. Firstly, I like to look for someone who is genuinely interested and asks the right questions. Secondly, they have to have the biggest management asset, which to me is the ability to listen to a client’s requirements, and not to lecture us on how great they potentially are. One provider, in particular, kept telling us how wonderful they were and we didn’t get a word in edgeways.
So, we got to the bottom of the funnel, and Modexpress’ portfolio of fashion customers, their facilities and ability to understand the situation we were in won the day. We also noted that they already dealt with a lot of our larger customers for their other clients, so being a fashion specialist was useful once again. Remember this as well was all done over Google Hangouts, Zoom and other meeting applications, so we couldn’t visit any of these places. To me, this was where a 3PL had to work hard and we felt that Modexpress had done.
How did Modexpress meet your logistics requirements?
We had 2 phases for the project. Primarily, we needed Modexpress to act as our import station for onward shipping to customers, so we very quickly worked out a procedure to do this, while we spent the time getting the IT in place. This was a tough time as the procedures were bureaucratic but necessary and needed a lot of patience from both sides. However, we did it and for a good number of months, we had no option but to work in this way. This then meant the IT development in the background had to have priority and develop a quality and robust integration in the background. There were obviously ups and downs but for the most part, it went very well and now we are importing directly into the EU and have good turnaround times.
We always knew that Modexpress would be able to do the physical side of the job, despite the complex way of working to start with, but we needed them to deliver on the IT side which they did.
What are your EU aspirations and how will Modexpress help facilitate these?
We have plans in Europe and we are developing our supply chain for all delivery types. Being a higher-end brand, our volumes are not like Zara or H&M, but the products need to be looked after carefully as some of them can be delicate, which is a challenge when they are moved around a global supply chain. It, therefore, makes sense to have Modexpress as our EU hub as they have facilities and processes like steaming, which is occasionally required. What is impressive here, is that it is all very well having a steam tunnel, but the difficult bit is knowing how to manage the stock when orders are coming in all the time and products have to be taken in and out of their locations.
We also have all the usual added value requirements from large department store customers, our own retail and B2C. There are always ways to improve the way we look after these channels to market and Modexpress have been constantly helpful in developing this crucial area of the business. The B2C and Retail are especially exciting areas for us, and we have several projects here with Mode where we can improve lead times, accuracy and reduce costs.
How has Modexpress helped Theory overcome the challenges faced by Brexit and the pandemic?
Brexit was the number 1 issue when we started. It is fair to say that without Brexit, we probably would not have moved to a European DC so quickly but our hand was forced. Also, Modexpress was very understanding about the difficulties of not being able to visit and the Customer Service team were always very helpful. What was probably the most difficult issue was trying to overcome the misunderstandings that arise out of anything from how to receipt in the correct Purchase Order, to how to prepare items for certain customers. This is hard for the workforce when you have to train over Zoom, but despite hiccups, we got there and we know that Modexpress is now an expert on our processes. I would like to stress that the input of the guys in the warehouse and the supervisors and operational managers was vital here and they worked hard for us.
How important is seamless logistics and fulfilment to the success of Theory?
It is the number one priority to develop the B2B and B2C supply chain for Theory, and despite the operation now running as we would have wished, we have a lot to do as well. There is pressure on us both internally and externally to go to the next level on service and value, to compete in what is a very competitive consumer market. We are a fashion brand, but it is the supply chain that competes as much as the product. We may have the best cashmere sweaters (of course we do!), but it’s no good if it is still on a container while the competition has it already on their website or in their store. For this, we always need to develop the IT, the processes and the way of handling internally, while we continue to project more choice and more exciting delivery methods to the end consumer.
We will always have these new projects to do, which is why Modexpress is so vital to our future.
“Having worked with Theory behind the scenes in the run-up to Brexit, we got to know Nick’s team much better during the rollout of the fulfilment and distribution services from the Netherlands. The logistics team of Theory not only proved to be knowledgeable but also very pleasant to work with. Modexpress is proud to assist Theory with its further expansion,” – Cor Noorlander – CCO Modexpress