Big W distribution centre packed with success
WARWICK might not be the North Pole and the man in charge doesn't wear a red suit but with Christmas fast approaching the Big W Distribution Centre is looking a lot like Santa's workshop.
On the ground workers clad in hi-vis vests zip around on forklifts moving cartons of toys and goodies to the dispatch area.
Shelves that appear never-ending in length are stacked ceiling high with an array of products.
A hi-tech system uses barcodes to keep track of which package is on what shelf and where it needs to go next.
Overhead thousands of packages are swiftly sorted and made ready for packing using the nine kilometre conveyor belt system.
The items are then taken from the conveyor belt by the workers, placed on a pallet, wrapped in plastic and loaded into a truck ready to make their way to one of 53 stores across Queensland and New South Wales.
Being a distribution centre for a major retail outlet means the stock stored in the warehouse is quite varied.
Distribution Centre manager Steve Gray said around the festive season there could be up to 8500 different products at any given time.
From furniture, dog food, toys, plastic storage containers, toothbrushes and gym sets.
"The lines change to suit the season," Mr Gray said.
So being Christmas there are plenty of toys and gift ideas around the warehouse floor.
The confectionery room is stocked with chocolate Christmas stockings and other sweet treats.
But Mr Gray said it was not as full as the room had been.
"The confectionery room is temperature controlled but not refrigerated," he said.
"It is also a very seasonal room and come Easter this place is very full."
At peak times space can be an issue.
Mr Gray said the aim was to move the stock in and out as quickly as possible.
"Basically the stock should come in, get sorted and then be distributed," he said.
"Timing is absolutely everything."
A close working relationship with Wickham Freight Lines helps keep the distribution side of things running to schedule.
"A large portion of what we deliver goes out on Wickham's trucks," Mr Gray said.
"They have a number of trailers that they make available to us.
"So we can line them up at the dock, load them and then drop them off at their depot.
"It means we don't have to wait for drivers trying to get through traffic before we can get the load out.
"They have been with us from the start and grew as we grew."
Considering in an average week the DC deal with 5000 pallets, not having to deal with late trucks is definitely a bonus.
"If we continue like we are, we are looking at 16 million cartons this year which is $600 million worth of stock," Mr Gray said.
DC human resources manager Ian Jamieson said the festive season was one of the busiest times of the year.
"At the moment we have 250 staff on to cope with the peak demand of Christmas," he said.
"We have 15 to 16 different roles and we try to rotate all the staff through all of the roles."
Operating from 6am-6pm every day there are seven different shift options for the full-time and part-time employees.
Mr Jamieson said the various shift concept was introduced close to two years ago and had proved popular, especially among working parents.
Mr Jamieson joined the DC in 1997, a year after it first opened.
"I started as a trainee on the floor doing my certificate two in warehousing," he said.
"Many of the people who started when it first opened are still working here today.
"In fact many of the managers started out on the floor and worked their way up."
When the DC first opened its doors it had 10 acres under roof.
"It was built with extension in mind though but they weren't meant to happen until eight or nine years down the track," Mr Jamieson said.
"But we had severe growing pains and the plans for expansion went ahead in 2001, we went to 15 acres under roof.
"We then had a further expansion of the back dock to bring us to 16 acres under roof."
However the DC does a lot more than distribution.
The company hold several fundraising events every year to raise money for charities including the local women's shelter, CareFlight, Royal Children's Hospital and numerous local sporting teams.