Flexibility and team spirit in the face of challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic presented logistics and supply chain operations across the global with challenges in conducting their business. We recently sat down with BMMI’s General Manager of Logistics, Ramachandran Kandambeth, to learn more about how his team faced these challenges.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected our logistics and supply chain operations?
The current pandemic had an effect on the logistics and supply chain operations on a global level since the industry is involved in the movement and flow of goods, as well as in receiving and storage. At one point, initially, the B2B market almost came to a standstill.
However, since BMMI’s direct dependency on China for imports is minimal, the effect on our operations was initially nominal. Once the pandemic started spreading to other parts of the world, and especially to European countries, we started seeing more impact on our supply chain as the majority of our beverage products and many of our grocery ones are imported from that part of the world.
We also faced challenges when it came to some of our products we usually bring into Bahrain via the King Fahad Causeway from Saudi Arabia. With the closure of the causeway that restricted this movement, we had to divert to transport by sea. This also presented further challenges such as documentation delays. While this initially caused some out-of-stock situations, it only affected around 20-30% of shipments, and thankfully we were also able to manage the situation without too much of an impact on our services.
That was on the distribution side, but for the retail and e-commerce market when it came to online shopping and delivery, we saw a major boost. The market exploded in popularity as more people began ordering online. We saw up to a triple increase in demand in some cases. So, while we did experience a drop in B2B initially, we were dealing with a surge in demand in our operations that supported our retail businesses.
What measures were put in place to ensure minimum disruption to our operations?
At BMMI, we always do our best to strategize and have a contingency plan in place in case of any obstacles or challenges.
While the bigger part of our activities usually covers the B2B market, we also offer a ‘last mile’ service, which is the movement of good from a transportation hub to the final destination, and that is our B2C component.
We ensured flexibility of our operations and team to ensure there was a trade-off between the drop in the B2B market and the increase in the B2C demand. We utilised our team to maximise our services by relocating and reassigning drivers, for example, and used our resources to adapt to the changes in the industry.
As part of our warehouse operations, employees were assigned duties on a rotation basis to avoid or minimise direct contact. We used contract workers from multiple companies, with strict instructions for them to isolate their accommodation at different locations to avoid disruption to the business. Stringent measures were taken with these contracting companies; to the point where we denied access to any contracting employee companies until they complied with the safety measures required by BMMI.
We also ensured that we had backup stocks stored in multiple locations to avoid business disruptions. For example, 10 days’ worth of contingency stocks for Alosra were stored in a third-party location as a ‘plan b’ to avoid possible supply breakage. We also made sure that we have backup employees trained in critical roles, ensuring continuity of business if the need arises for quarantine of our employees.
Most importantly, we strictly follow all health and safety guidelines to ensure the wellbeing of our team, as well as all stakeholders we interact with.
And these measures worked – we had no major interruption in our logistics or supply chain and no incidents of failed deliveries. We are very proud that we are still going strong and that we are able to achieve all of BMMI’s and third-party requirements.
This was all thanks to the dedication and team spirit of our team. Despite restrictions and challenges, the team has truly risen to the occasion with renewed energy. They showed true flexibility, changing their shift times and days off or taking up extra hours when needed to cover for employees who had to quarantine, for example, or those who were stranded in another country without the ability to return to Bahrain. They untiredly and wholeheartedly took on the challenge and have shown their willingness to fight and overcome any obstacles.
I would like to thank the team for being truly exceptional and living and displaying our Winning Hearts values!
Can you tell us more about the safety measures put in place for the team and stakeholders across the supply chain?
We are very fortunate to be part of the larger BMMI Group and to have the support of various divisions – this has been very critical and important for us.
Our employees use PPE, including gloves and face masks, and are instructed to constantly sanitise the warehouse and offices. In coordination with BMMI divisions, our premises are full of awareness campaign material to help guide on the proper procedures when it comes to both internal instructions and governmental health authorities. These include social distancing, contact tracing and self-isolation or quarantine as needed.
We also made sure to communicate with our internal and external customers on our operational arrangements such as timings, and to plan and coordinate deliveries in a way that avoids a large number of people being present at the same time. Where possible, we ensure not to mix different teams together, and gatherings have been banned. Furthermore, where possible, we rotate our employees in different locations to minimise contact as much as we can. Employees who are in direct contact with others such as those handling collections, cash and orders, are provided with special protective equipment as well.
Finally, we also make sure to fully sanitise the warehouse and premises and disinfect them on a regular basis to ensure the safest environment possible.
What lessons has this experience taught you that we can benefit from moving forward?
In the logistics industry, we sometimes say our main focus is to ‘learn to change, change to learn’. The reality of our businesses is that we do not have two days that are similar, and we always have to adapt.
We always encourage our team to always find creative ways to improve our services, optimise every aspect of operation and to be cost effective. This has been every more crucial during this challenging period.
For example, when it comes to cost effectiveness, it was a challenge when we had a drop in activities of one of our main divisions due to the closure of the hospitality sector. Certainly, the nature of the cost in the logistics industry cannot be reduced proportionally to reflect the drop in business activity. However, resources have been reallocated across the division, which facilitated the surge in activity of B2C. This led to better utilisation of resources, and hence, more effective cost saving. We have to always keep an open mind and think outside of the box, as well as always support other BMMI’s division as much as possible where we can. At the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goal.
So, a big lesson for us was how to further optimise and re-cost the business while still meeting delivery goals and the requirements of customers, following safety protocols and transforming our approach to suit the market’s needs. And while we still continue to find ways to make changes along the way, we learned that this can only be done with flexibility, adaptability and true team spirit. I am truly proud of how our employees worked together as a team to try and exceed the expectations of our customer every day, despite the unexpected challenges thrown our way.