Any company worth its salt knows that the best reference is a repeat customer, particularly when it’s a customer known for setting the highest standards for its suppliers.

When a major supermarket chain recently upgraded its Gauteng distribution centre, their decision to involve long-time forklift partner, Toyota Forklifts, speaks volumes about the relationship. “Supply Chain Today” spoke to Gerhard Greyling, Regional Sales Manager.

“The company literally doubled the floorspace of its existing facility,” Gerhard explains. “The new warehouse is 600 metres long. There’s also a new reclamation centre. We’d previously supplied their materials handling equipment and they kept us on board for the upgrade. We assessed the existing fleet and upgraded or replaced where necessary, supplying additional vehicles to cover the expansion.

“The order includes 265 machines,” he tells us. “These range from hand pallet trucks, shuttles and low level order pickers to counterbalance forklifts and 12.5 metre reach trucks.” Both diesel and electric models were specified, and the project includes an on-going maintenance contract to maintain all equipment.

On-site ops

“Some years back, Toyota Forklift introduced a one-stop solution to clients to ensure optimal operation at all times,” he elaborates. “This has gained increasing support as companies realised the value of outsourcing the maintenance of vehicles to a specialist. We take it a step further by keeping a full service centre at their premises.”

Gerhard elaborates, giving a description of the operation. “Managing a fleet this size with a promise of 98% uptime, 24/7, 365 days a year, is quite a challenge,” he smiles. “We’re permanently on-site to drive the process. We provide our own brand of batteries, which are maintained in our battery bays. Batteries can be difficult to manage because the charging cycle is not always adhered to, limiting lifespan. This can add up to vast expense for the company.

“Our qualified mechanics keep the fleet in full time operation, and we provide training so that drivers are up to scratch in terms of handling. Since they’re often provided by outsourced companies, it’s necessary to make sure they have the relevant skills,” Gerhard emphasises.

Successful launch

The new fleet was unveiled at an impressive launch featuring winding trains of shiny new vehicles. “We included price details so that drivers would understand the value of the equipment they’re using,” adds Gerhard. “It makes a difference to know that you’ve been trusted with such an important asset.”

This sense of pride extends beyond the drivers, to the Toyota team itself. “We realise how important we are to the efficiency of this business,” he finishes. “Maintaining a two million pallet pick a week is a big operation. We take it very seriously.”