Managing logistics in Europe and Asia, while working remotely

John Carlisle, our Head of European Logistics Operations, talked to us about the challenges and changes of managing logistics for Specsavers during the pandemic.

Tell us about your role at Specsavers and how this has been affected by Covid 19? 

My role manages imports from Asia and Europe into our UK and European manufacturing & distribution sites.  I have 2 teams, they are based in Southampton and Guernsey and between them are responsible for the general management of UK & ROI frame distribution, demand planning and sales order fulfilment of unitary and optical equipment.

At the start of 2020 our focus was solely business to business (B2B) transactions – supply chain sites distributing directly to high street stores. Pre Covid, my diary involved frequent trips across Europe and Channel Islands.

Today the business doesn’t look as it did back at the start of 2020, there’s much more emphasis on what we call Business to Customer (B2C) transactions – a completely different way of structuring Supply Chain Operations.

Historically each M&D site would have around 900 places of delivery, primarily to our UK and European stores. Now, with our online ordering option and home delivery service, there can be an unlimited number of places to deliver our goods. We’ve needed to adapt – delivering changes daily, enabled by restructuring relationships and improved ways of working with our suppliers, all without many hours commuting for face to face meetings.


What is the biggest difference selling B2B rather than B2C?  

The B2B model is when Supply Chain distribute frames to a store. Store then service lots of customers who collect product from the store before another large order is placed.

Making a positive difference to the lives of our customers remains key, and each journey starts with the expertise of one of our store teams.

Once a patient has chosen their product, some prefer ‘home delivery,’ or ordering their product online. We now have many deliveries going direct to customers home, from both the store and from M&D sites, this is the B2C model.

We’ve been working very hard to get a solution that works for everyone across all our stores, ensuring that we provide the best customer and colleague experience possible.

What has been your biggest challenge?  

Trying to implement the positive operational changes whilst balancing difficult personnel changes and conversations. Managing both remotely has been a challenge.

We wouldn’t have been able to do it without Microsoft Teams, but ultimately you do lose ‘a little bit of something’ when you aren’t able to connect in person – especially at a time when you need people to trust and have confidence in you.  Until now, I never truly understood the value of that ‘idle chit chat’ over the kettle!  Social interaction between team members is key to a team’s success.

What have you enjoyed the most about the last 10 months?  

The thing that I’ve enjoyed the most is being part of some of the innovative thinking our business has demonstrated.

I’m certainly not claiming credit for the end-to-end deployment, but we now have a portal online where people across Europe can go to and buy glasses, and have them delivered to their home!

We’ve also been able to adopt a carrier management solution which means in the future we can offer customers different types of delivery.

Everyone is aware of everybody’s function and individual strengths. We’re probably working closer than ever as an organisation, which is surprising considering that we don’t really see each other. When we do get back to the office, those newly formed and strong working bonds can only make us stronger.

How have you found working from home?  

I put a lot of effort and time into reading situations and behaviours, it helps me adapt and change my management style, tone and approach to ensure I get the best out of people and meetings. That’s difficult to do online.

I’ve had to try and be more ‘matter of fact’ in the way that I articulate things. I’m also conscious that this can come across slightly draconian, a bit more ‘forward’ than usual. As mentioned before, you do lose a little bit of something in terms of that human interaction when communicating virtually.

Completing the mental health first aid training really helped me – the skills, approach and process of thinking things through has really helped me to get my team, and some colleagues, through the past ten months.

What have you done to look after your own well-being over the last 10 months?  

I struggled with this at the beginning but have since realised that we shouldn’t feel guilty for not sitting in front of the laptop from 8:45 until 5:00 o’clock.

When in the office, it was never usual to sit in front of the laptop every minute of each day. You might take a walk to the café or stretch your legs and go for a walk around the lake, attend meetings in different rooms and support breakout sessions. We shouldn’t be apologetic for doing the same just because we are working from home.

I’m certainly feeling more comfortable stepping away from the home office at different points of the day.  I’m encouraging the team to do the same.

Today? Instead of walking with a colleague at lunch, I walk my bichon frisé. I might walk past my daughters’ school at lunchtime and give her a little wave through the railings.

What have you learnt about yourself?  

I found that without ‘usual’ structure, it’s difficult for me to get into the routine of work. I still get dressed in my Specsavers polo shirt every morning, every now and again I’ll rock up in a suit (admittedly I get some very strange looks from people when I switch my camera on).

Routine helps me focus, I can’t do this in jeans and a T-shirt – even if the day consists of sending emails. Routine also helps me to switch off at the end of the day. When the Specsavers polo shirt hits the wash basket, that’s my trigger to switch off.

I really appreciate the value of getting up and going to work, whether that be working from the Head Office, going seeing one of our M&D sites, store or a supplier.”

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