Dierk Hochgesang, General Manager of the Federal Association of Furniture Forwarding and Logistics, explains in our interview what cooperation means for furniture logistics and how digitalisation has changed the industry.
The Federal Association of Furniture Forwarding and Logistics is the voice and mouthpiece of furniture logistics in Germany. Mr. Hochgesang, how has the industry changed in recent years due to progressive digitisation? How high is the degree of automation in German furniture logistics today?
Digitisation has significantly changed processes in furniture logistics, in particular. Load compilations, route planning, communication with shippers and consignees, notifications were in the (not so distant) past mental work in dispatching. Today, these processes run mostly computer-controlled in the background.
Since even today the systems cannot automatically help out in the event of problems or control deviations, "brainwork" in the control centres remains indispensable. However, transport as such, loading and unloading, labelling, etc., are still normal, analogue work, even though the equipment has become more modern and more powerful. But this also applies to the goods in question, the furniture.
Digitisation is also driving the desire of the customer to buy more furniture online. It’s not uncommon for the new logistics requirements of e-commerce to conflict with old familiar challenges such as the general shortage of personnel. How is the industry tackling this problem?
We see the shortage of personnel at logistics service providers as the lower problem in questions of logistics requirements through e-commerce. If the market shifts, it won’t automatically become larger, but in the long term it’s possible that less personnel will be needed for furniture delivery in stationary trade, but more personnel for distribution by logistics providers in the regions.
In other words, in the long term, more well-trained fitters than drivers will be needed. Experience shows that this challenge can be solved. What is needed, however, are strategies that enable the marketing of furniture via the Internet and make it attractive for customers. And to the customer then has to be offered the transparent information about his order and the status of processing or delivery, like he’s used to other product groups.
In addition to the usual, well-organised web shop, this requires above all exact data and precise data communication via standardised interfaces with logistics. There is certainly still potential for improvement in this field for many of those involved.
The Federal Association of Furniture Forwarding and Logistics (AMÖ) and the Data Competence Center e.V. (DCC) have recently agreed on a cross-membership. What does this mean for furniture logistics?
With the enhanced cooperation across industries, we want to achieve collectively developed standards in the definition of data and interfaces. As the DCC already has extensive experience in this field, the DCC is the ideal organisation for this. As a consequence, it should be possible to enhance the existing digital processes and, above all, to implement the processes still to be digitised more quickly and cooperatively.
This would also make it possible to deal better and more efficiently with the problems of the analogue interfaces, especially on the ramp. We expect this to result in integrated and thus significantly faster processes, lower complaint rates, better vehicle and more even personnel utilisation, more precise notification options, more precise control options in goods acceptance and better opportunities for cross-docking processes with a reduction in storage capacity in the retail sector.
The Corona crisis has hit many sectors and industries hard. What impact does the pandemic have on furniture logistics?
Furniture logistics were also affected by the corona pandemic. Freight forwarders in particular had to cope with complex problems due to the uncoordinated closure of shippers and unloading points, the temporary closure of borders, the temporary slump in volumes in stationary trade, occupational health and safety regulations and the general uncertainty among employees.
The partial introduction of short-time working has helped to keep employees in the factories employed. However, significantly lower consignment volumes per unloading point, longer transport routes and the implementation of the numerous regulations have had a massive negative impact on the companies' profitability.
Distribution logistics, on the other hand, had to cope with considerable growth. As a result of the unanticipated growth, logistics areas in particular, but also employees, have reached and exceeded their capacity limits.
As a result, we expect a stabilisation of the stationary retail sector and thus also of the utilisation of industrial and logistics capacities, at least in the short term, due to the limited inclinations and opportunities for holiday travel this year. In the medium and long term, however, we expect a further increase in online business and thus a further shift in logistics as well.
Dierk Hochgesang, managing director of the branch organisation, wants to achieve jointly developed standards for the definition of data and interfaces through the closely interlocked cooperation.