South African retail group, Retailability has described the reconstruction of its 13 000m² apparel distribution centre at the Cornubia Ridge Logistics Park north of Durban as a “massive collaboration” and a “good news story” for the regional economy.
The retail brand which includes Edgars, Legit, Swagga Style and Keedo was just one of the hundreds of businesses that suffered considerable losses during the July 2021 violent unrest in the country. It is estimated at least R50 billion was wiped from the economy, two million people lost their jobs and 350 people were killed during the rioting and looting which lasted more than a week mainly in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal. Steve Pearson, Retailability’ s Head of Supply Chain, said the opening of the re-constructed distribution centre this month was not only ahead of schedule but was key to allow the business to prepare for peak season trading.
“In May 2021 we moved into our newly built distribution centre at the Cornubia Ridge Logistics Park. On July 12, 2021, the DC was compromised due to the fires that took place in the area, resulting in another unforeseen relocation outside of the Cornubia area. And now, almost two years later, we are back and geared for growth. That speaks to our resilience and extraordinary teamwork by our landlord and the stakeholders,” he said.
Pearson likened business operations since the disaster to “open heart surgery while keeping the blood supply flowing”. “In a situation such as this there are two choices: you either roll over and give up, or you get up, dust yourself off and put your shoulder to the wheel. We managed to supply our 600 stores across Southern Africa during the unexpected relocation to temporary premises that we occupied for the two years since the unrest. For a retailer of our size to move and set up a distribution centre while at the same time guaranteeing stock flows without disruption takes a significant team effort and a relentless commitment,” he said.
Pearson listed landlords, Fortress Real Estate Investments Ltd and contractors such as construction firm Abbydale; Conveyor and Racking provider, Conveyall and transport firm, City Logistics, as those who had made it possible to complete and deliver the new premises ahead of schedule.
Jason Cooper, Head of Developments for Fortress said coordination between eThekwini city officials, their professional team, and the contractor, Abbydale, was instrumental in completing the project on very tight timelines. “All parties worked together very closely with Retailability to ensure early occupation of the property,” Cooper said. Pearson also acknowledged the commitment by sub-contractors such as Chimera Fire Protection Consultants, Specifire Protection Systems, Alltel, cabling, and Polo Electrical, electrical contractors.
Brian Venter, Managing Director at City Logistics said the goal from the start was to make sure that Retailability could continue trading through a very difficult time. “We made sure we had the required resources available to move equipment and stock over to the temporary facility. We view our clients as our business partners which means we see it as our responsibility to pull out all the stops when it is needed the most,” Venter said.
Conveyall was commissioned in 2021 to design, manufacture, install and commission the material handling system for the new distribution centre. However, during the riots many of the new conveyors, electrical supply and control systems were destroyed. Bruce Jamieson, owner of Conveyall said they managed to get the temporary distribution centre up and running within weeks with some of the salvaged equipment and receiving conveyors.
“Retailability were at least getting product in and out to their stores,” he said. Jamieson said what followed was late nights and seven-day working weeks for the crews and factory staff. “Within a record-breaking three months we were able to hand over another completed turnkey distribution warehouse facility to Retailability so they could continue their distribution operations from the temporary premises,” he added.
Conveyall designed a brand-new layout for the newly opened premises at the Cornubia business park which was all manufactured at the company’s Jacob’s factory. “All these companies would have signed contracts for the work, but their teams went way above and beyond what was on a piece of paper. They worked long hours and over weekends and were so proactive to make sure that we could move in ahead of schedule. What we have now is fully automated, state-of-the art apparel distribution facility that will serve our needs and more for the next ten years. We are very grateful to our team and partners,” Pearson said.