Crew’s best friend

Almost midway through the four-year strategy Garrets International launched in the spring of 2018, the leading provision and stores management partner to the global shipping community can be more than pleased with the progress it has made in all of the strategy’s focus areas. Looking to continuously explore market drivers and respond to customer needs, Garrets has identified five topics for the strategy to revolve around. These include constant strive for operational excellence, further exploration of scale benefits in procurement via data-driven insights; embrace of the potential for enhanced digital solutions; establishment of even closer relationships with customers and the application of improved methods of collecting feedback; and, finally, utilisation of the company’s rich source of data to drive customer and operational insights.

The successful delivery of Garrets’ strategy has just recently received a major boost, following the implementation of an ERP system across all of the company’s departments in its UK, Denmark, and Singapore offices. “This has undoubtedly been the largest change management programme for the company, since it was established in 1991,” says Chief Operating Officer, Richard Page. “The investment will allow us to further expand and enhance our range of service offerings, with our new ERP platform enabling better control of operations and new customer solutions. Our ambition is to continue to build an operating model, which will constantly enable lower unit cost, fast and accurate deliveries, and ease of customer ordering and paying – all based on a scalable system platform capable of leading the industry.”

Another benefit of the ERP system in question is that it has also provided a rich vein of business data, previously inaccessible by Garrets. This being said, Richard hastens to make an important clarification: “Data can paralyse a business if it is not used properly. We are fortunate to have an extremely capable team of business analysts who can turn raw data into genuine business intelligence and reports, which is both enriching and speeding up our decision-making process.

“To complement our own internal digitalisation journey, we have also enhanced the tools used by the vessels in our care to more efficiently place orders with us and to complete the necessary reporting requirements,” he adds. “Furthermore, we have introduced the lean philosophy across our business, with a view to significantly reduce waste within our internal processes by focusing on growing a ‘right first time’ mentality. All of our staff have been trained in the lean principles and are now at least Lean White Belt-certified.”

Garrets’ investment in IT has also addressed the requirements of cost optimisation and increased value. “The data we are gathering, helps us to better guide our customers to create the optimum product mix and better order patterns. We work carefully to ensure storings are maximised in ports that are cost-effective and to minimise storings where the port or region is more expensive. This is significant when you consider that the cost of basic provisions items can vary as much as 300 per cent from one region to another,” Richard explains.

While market dynamics have driven the company’s growth of circa nine per cent year-on-year since 2016, for Richard, Garrets’ investment in its own IT solutions, in the level of service and reliability, and, most importantly, in its people, has also been instrumental to the excellent results the company continues to record. “We may operate in a business-to-business environment, but the industry is still essentially a people-to-people model and we need to continuously balance our own desire to drive our journey towards digitalisation with the need to retain both the personal touch and the flexibility that our broad customer base wants.

“Throughout the last two years, we have continued to invest in our staff,” he adds. “We focus on developing our people not only to effectively carry out their duties and tasks that are required from them today, but also with an eye to the future by ensuring that they are ready for any career growth before the opportunities become available. As a result, we train them in courses such as Supplier Relationship Management, Customer Service, Emotional Intelligence, Sales Training, and Change Management, to mention just a few.”

What has been observed for a number of years now, is an ever-increasing awareness of the importance of crew welfare on board, as well as of the importance of healthy living. With changes in demography, it is becoming harder for ship owners and managers to recruit capable and experienced crew, which has led employers to pay more attention to staff retention, with the latter being impacted by employees’ living conditions at sea.

“We put the seafarers and their welfare at the heart of everything we do,” comments Richard. “For example, we enhance crew welfare through healthy menu planning, whilst also addressing the varied needs of multi-ethnic crews. By improving the service standards on board, we emphasise the importance of managing and monitoring health, hygiene, nutrition, allergen awareness, and special diets, as well as ways to facilitate, plan, and prepare attractive menus. This is why the company provides training programmes for cooks both ashore and online, also conducting on-board galley audits via our highly-qualified catering superintendents, so that we can help to raise the standard of living at sea.”

He continues: “Training can be conducted during a visit to the vessel, or has up to now been offered via land-based courses delivered either at our customers’ own premises or via our partnership training schools in China, India, and the Philippines. Courses range from a two-day ‘Theory of nutrition and healthy eating’ up to a 12-day NC3 Ships Catering course, which is accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). This year alone, we have conducted over 850 ‘man days’ of land-based training.

“We have also acknowledged, however, that land-based training is not always convenient for cooks to attend, as it can interrupt their shore leave and reduce the precious time they get to spend with their families. This is why we – in partnership with Highfield Group – have launched The Garrets Academy, which provides e-learning, distance learning, workshop seminars, and classroom-based theoretical and practical skills training,” Richard reveals.

Using the latest award-winning Learning Management System, the Academy tracks every hour of training and student progress along the latter’s development journey. In addition, the training superintendent personally follows up on all skills-based training once the student has been assigned to his or her vessel, with courses including allergens, food safety at sea, communication skills, team working, customer service, emergency first aid at work, manual handling, health and safety, and even bespoke courses designed to meet customer needs.

It is precisely listening to customers and working closely with them that forms the recipe for Garrets’ future success, as many of its clients are now in a situation where they need to adapt to tougher market conditions. “We invest a lot of time and effort in conducting detailed customer satisfaction surveys with the ship owners or managers, the captains, and the cooks of the vessels under our care. Digitalisation also touches this space and we are willing to continue to develop smarter and simpler methods of capturing this vital feedback,” Richard states.

“One of our other future objectives, following the completion of the ERP implementation internally, is to turn to external stakeholders, in order to enhance how we interact within the entire purchase to pay process,” he remarks. “We are trialling a vendor portal, which will allow our suppliers to quote more quickly and efficiently, together with EDI solutions for those suppliers who have the capability to trade electronically. At the other end of the chain, we have launched the first phase of our customer portal, which will ultimately provide access to fully transparent live data and reporting on a 24/7 basis to our customers.”

Finally, Garrets, alongside its suppliers and customers, is planning to place stronger emphasis on reducing its environmental impact, concentrating specifically on the health of the seas. “Much of our focus is on the reduction in the use of plastics within our supply chain. Equally, we are very focused on Internationalreducing the level of food wastage in our industry. Our research suggests that up to a 20 per cent of a vessel’s food budget each month is lost through wastage, due to a combination of different factors, and we will continue to develop our policies to tackle that.

“Whatever we do, however, would not be possible without our people who are our biggest asset,” Richard praises his staff in conclusion. “We will continue to place great focus on our ability to attract, hire, develop, and retain a team of motivated people who live by our company values of hard working, customer orientation, and a winning attitude.”

Garrets International
• Serves more than 1900 ships around the world
• Launched the Garrets Academy to train galley crews to the highest standards
• Has recently completed the implementation of an ERP system