Demand for warehouse space continues to outstrip supply which is driving up rents, according to industrial and logistics property experts Colliers. The situation is particularly acute in certain hotspots such as London, the home counties and locations in the midlands near major motorway networks, and this is having an effect on manufacturers who may be looking for additional storage capacity.

“Improving not moving” could therefore be the answer to warehouse woes – assuming you know where to start with what can be a daunting task. This is all in a day’s work for materials handling specialist Combilift, which has over two decades of experience in helping companies of all sizes and from varied industries maximise the capacity, safety and efficiency of their warehouse and storage facilities. A team of 10 design engineers work on this very popular, free of charge service, and provide diagrams showing how warehouse space can be configured according to the capabilities of Combilift’s products – which can in some cases enable a doubling of available space.

The classic before and after diagrams readily illustrate the storage gains Farrell's have achieved following Combilift's input

Combilift developed the world’s first IC powered three-wheel, all-wheel drive, multidirectional forklift in 1998 and has since grown to become the largest worldwide supplier of customised and specialist handling solutions, exporting to 85 countries. But as CEO and Co-founder Martin McVicar points out: “We have always seen Combilift as much more than a designer and manufacturer of forklifts and other handling solutions. Space is one of the most valuable assets our customers possess, and if our trucks can make it work better for them in terms of storage density then everyone benefits. The ongoing demand for warehouse space coupled with ever rising business costs means that space optimisation is now more important than ever. Additional benefits of course also include avoiding the operational headache for management and the workforce of relocating to new premises, the lack of bureaucracy associated with new builds or extensions and the expense of leasing extra offsite storage.”

Farrell’s Joint CEO Brendan Farrell

One company that let Combilift do the hard work for them was Farrell Furniture, which designs and manufactures quality contract office and residential furniture from its base in Ardee, Co. Louth, Ireland, and prides itself on its highly customised products built to individual requirements. Just a few years after Combilift was established, Farrell’s Joint CEO Brendan Farrell started to investigate how they could improve storage and access to various products in the 150 x 60ft warehouse.

“We were using a 3t conventional counterbalance truck which wasn’t overly efficient and when I got talking to Combilift they took a wholly different approach from other companies that want to sell you something, I’d call it more solution based. We gave them the plans of the warehouse, the dimensions of the sheet materials, the sizes of the crates of veneer and aluminium that we use in production. They came back with detailed plans that showed us how using one of their trucks could make a massive difference to the management of our space. So, before we had even decided to go with their products, they had proved to us that we could generate over 30% more valuable storage in our warehouse – which was a pretty persuasive argument and a refreshing attitude as to how to get customers on side!”

Reconfiguring Farrell’s warehouse layout also enabled efficient and easy access to stock, which had been a bit of a slow process with the old system. Brendan reckons they now stock over 50 different colours and finishes compared to around just four or five 20 years ago, so as a rule he aims for a quick turnaround. As a major supplier of furniture for student accommodation there is also the need to be very flexible as 75% of annual company turnover is generated in just five or six months. “Ideally a truck comes in, its load is taken to the warehouse and it’s cut next day. The less time we have the product in store the better value it represents. Our premises are around 100,000ft², with as little as possible - just 15,000ft²  - being given over to storage.

"The warehouse is the same size as it was when we got our first Combilift, but over the last few years we have quadrupled in growth. This is testimony to how Combilift’s original layouts future-proofed us. Due to the lift height of 6m of our C4000 model we have been able to go up not out. The truck’s ability to travel sideways as well as block stack, plus its inherent stability means that even our largest loads – 3.6 x 2m for example - can be very safely moved around and easily accommodated in the space available.

“For any company experiencing growth or increased volumes of stock, I’d recommend talking to Combilift first before they even think of moving or building new facilities – they could potentially save themselves a lot of money and hassle,” said Brendan. “Getting help from the experts to improve the performance of our warehouse was an absolute eye opener. There’s a bit of a communality between us and Combilift too. Alongside our ‘making furniture work better’ slogan we have another one - ‘making spaces work better’ – and that’s definitely what Combilift have done for us. And we like to think employees in the offices in Monaghan appreciate the quality of the desks we provided them too!