How AutoStore helped sportswear supplier Direct Soccer adapt to rising demand in changing markets.
A shifting customer base left sportswear supplier Direct Soccer struggling to meet demand. That’s why they turned to warehouse automation for the tools to stay competitive in a post-pandemic marketplace.
Based in Dundee, Scotland, Direct Soccer, one of the UK’s leading football teamwear suppliers, has a history of firsts. Combining sales of sportswear with in-house printing and embroidery services helped the company establish a loyal customer base among professional and amateur football clubs as well as individual shoppers.
Until recently, the company’s ability to adapt to new technological trends and changing customer needs gave them a significant competitive edge. Besides the convenience of all-in-one service, Direct Soccer was the first UK sportswear supplier to take personalized online orders.
But when COVID-19 undercut demand among their biggest customers, the company knew it needed to adapt in order to stay competitive. As they began to search for a solution, one option seemed to offer everything they were looking for: an automated warehouse system.
Direct Soccer’s successful business model led husband-and-wife team Bryce and Joyce Gibson to triple their existing warehouse floor space in 2019 — a sound move, but at an unfortunate time.
“Our online business caters for both clubs and individuals, so when the taps got turned off on the club side during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, we shifted our marketing focus to the individual,” remembers Bryce Gibson. “Using the mantra ‘stay safe, stay home, keep training’, we started supplying more leisurewear to this market through Express Football Kits, the sister site of Direct Soccer. The site offers next-day delivery with limited personalization and grew quickly.”
The new tactic helped Direct Soccer weather the economic uncertainty that came with the pandemic, but their existing warehouse system wasn’t up to the task of handling rapid order fulfillment and individual purchasing preferences.
While searching for warehouse automation solutions on YouTube, the Gibsons discovered AutoStore. It didn’t take long to determine that they’d found what they needed to pivot and maintain their connection to their changing customer base.
The Direct Soccer team quickly recognized that the warehouse automation technology AutoStore offered would meet and exceed their most urgent requirements.
For one, because AutoStore is based on a Grid system, with storage Bins stacked vertically, it would make much more efficient use of their available warehouse space than other options. In fact, the AutoStore system offers up to 4 times the storage capacity and 10 times the performance compared to traditional warehousing technology.
Furthermore, the AutoStore system’s modular design makes it possible to scale order fulfillment operations up or down as needed — a critically important quality for e-commerce businesses responding to peak demand periods. Finally, by reducing errors and increasing system response times, AutoStore was able to meet the company’s objectives of reducing lead times and increasing throughput.
Direct Soccer was also satisfied with the promptness of delivery. Just 16 weeks after signing an agreement, their new automated warehouse system had been fully installed and made ready just in time for Christmas in 2020.
The new system quickly proved its worth. “We no longer have to put several people on orders. One operator can set up the entire process. And now we’re fulfilling 100% of fulfillment of in-stock orders for next day delivery,” explained Joyce. In fact, the AutoStore system increased order fulfillment capacity to an average of 40 order dispatches per hour, compared to a previous target of 10 per hour.
What’s more, in its first year of operation, Direct Soccer saved over €235,000 on floorspace, manpower, and energy. On top of that, the streamlined AutoStore solution saved Direct Soccer from having to hire two additional staff members, helping them keep costs down as they scaled up to the post-COVID marketplace.
The AutoStore system is built around a modular, highly customizable Grid of aluminum rails, along which Robots move to retrieve, sort, and track items from Bins stacked in vertical columns.
The Grid can be customized to accommodate facilities of any size and layout using 17 standardized, interchangeable components. These qualities are among the main reasons why this automated warehouse solution is a leading option for companies with limited or challenging warehouse floor space.
Direct Soccer’s new system is made up of 7 Robots and 8,000 Bins, occupying roughly 210 m2 (2,260 ft2) — less than a quarter of the available floor space, and less than a fifth of the 1,133 m2 (12,196 ft2) a manual-only system would require. Also included are two ConveyorPorts and one CarouselPort, where much of the picking takes place. In the future, the company plans to expand the system to accommodate 16,000 Bins.
The fully-automated Direct Soccer warehouse is capable of 24/7 operation, with Robots regularly recharging to keep processing orders after regular business hours. “Every evening around five or six, I get excited when I hear the Robots getting jobs ready to go out the next morning,” says Bryce. “It’s tremendously reassuring to know the operation keeps running while everyone else goes home.”
Installation type: Brownfield (existing site)
Entire project lenght including installation: 4 months
Ports: 1 CarouselPort, 2 ConveyorPorts
Other: 2 pack-out stations
Partner: Element Logic
"We contacted the UK sales team, who came through the very next day. They assessed our needs and setup, and a week or two later, we went to Norway to see the AutoStore solution they specialize in, in action. We were thoroughly impressed with how straightforward the system was and how it could integrate with our current warehouse management system."
"The AutoStore system increased order fulfillment capacity to an average of 40 order dispatches per hour, compared to a previous target of 10 per hour"
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