Warehouse logistics account for roughly a quarter of our services and have become an indispensable part of our business activities. Almost 35 years ago, Bruno Planzer took the leap of entering a new field of business – with success.

Bruno Planzer laid the foundation for our warehouse logistics in the mid-1980s.

Our warehouse logistics history began in the 1980s. At the time, American economist Alfred Rappaport published a book titled ‘Creating Shareholder Value’. In it, he described how companies could significantly increase their profits: they should jettison or outsource all areas that have nothing to do with their core business and therefore do not generate any direct added value.

This ‘new business theory’ also fundamentally changed the road transport sector as transport companies suddenly became total service providers, as it would later turn out.

A new business field takes shape

Based on the new ‘bible’ by Rappaport, many manufacturers began to outsource their warehouse logistics activities such as picking and packing as well as transport to logistics providers (or ‘transporter’ in our case). The upshot was that, in the mid-1980s, the management of our customer Airwick – a subsidiary of Ciba-Geigy that produced and distributed personal care product lines such as Bianca toothpaste and Gesal garden products – became one of the first Swiss companies to call Bruno Planzer and ask him whether we could manage their warehouse and provide special offers (e.g. 3 for the price of 2 campaigns). Airwick bought into the new business theory and wanted to focus on its core business (administration, purchasing and sales) from then on.

After some consideration, Bruno Planzer agreed despite the lingering uncertainties. It was a big step for him and his company. At the time, we had no experience in this line of work, and yet we were suddenly supposed to take over full responsibility within our customer’s production process and sign a long-term contract to boot. Both aspects were unusual for the transport industry at the time. The supporting evidence for Bruno Planzer’s decision was a look at the situation abroad. Outsourcing was unquestionably an emerging trend, and companies were gradually beginning to take a closer look at it. For us, the business was new territory, and the first job from Airwick represented the advent of our new service: warehouse logistics.

A new job and a lot of new territory

The first purchase we made was a shrink tunnel for CHF 10,000, with which several individual parts could be packed into new sales units. We also needed a label printer to the tune of CHF 12,000. To accommodate these expensive machines for the new business field, space was freed up at the existing location in Dietikon and, in one case, in Schlieren. There was no dedicated infrastructure in place yet. The process for this job proceeded as follows: we picked up the finished Airwick products from the manufacturer’s plant and transported them to our warehouse. There, we carried out the incoming goods inspection, extracted a sufficient quantity of the individual articles for orders, produced special offers with the shrink tunnel, affixed labels, picked the orders and delivered them to Airwick customers throughout Switzerland.

Planzer Villmergen

The outsourcing trend began to take off around the year 1993 when the European Single Market was established on 1 January 1993. This created a unified European economic area that made many international trade restrictions and customs agreements in force until then obsolete. This enabled large companies to do more business internationally and they had to reorient themselves to do so. Bruno Planzer sensed further opportunities in the warehouse logistics sector and decided to build a large logistics centre of his own. After a long search for a potential site, he finally found what he was looking for in Villmergen. With a clever plan in place and after various negotiations and numerous construction stages, we move into our first logistics centre in Villmergen in 1992. The opening was celebrated with a big party including a Ferris wheel and guided tours of the plant. Incidentally: with 18,000 pallet spaces, the logistics centre in Villmergen was the largest and most modern infrastructure in 1992 and the second in Switzerland after the Jacobs-Suchard logistics centre.

Birth of the warehouse logistics system (PLS)

In 1994, we won the distribution contract from EPA – a Swiss discount department store – and started building its central warehouse in Villmergen. With this customer, we had the opportunity to build a warehouse logistics system that met their requirements and the standards of the time and facilitated the development opportunities of retail trade.

This was the birth our warehouse logistics software – PLS (Planzer Logistics System) – that we developed under our own steam and is still in use today. Through the experience gained from this collaboration, we were able to create further essential foundations for the current structures of the IT system.

Planzer Härkingen

Unilever also wanted to profit from outsourcing and sell its warehouse in Härkingen in order to outsource the logistics it contained for the detergents and personal care products sectors, including personnel. After long negotiations we were ultimately able to take over our second logistics centre in Härkingen incl. 25 employees from Unilever on 1 January 1995. This step was also extremely courageous on the part of Bruno Planzer due to the high investment costs. But success would prove him right, as the growth in sales and number of employees demonstrated: after eight years, the number of employees had risen from 25 to 168. The logistics sector was booming in the 1990s in general, and further smaller logistics centres would soon follow in Geneva, Ticino, Kaiseraugst, Lyss and Basel.

Planzer Pratteln

The third major logistics centre is located in Basel, or more precisely in Pratteln. We first came to the region with our location in Münchenstein in 1979. Birsfelden was added later with an office building and a transshipment point. By that time, we had multiple smaller locations in the Basel region, which made it difficult to achieve efficient transshipment and distribution of goods. So we were on the lookout for a new location to consolidate all the other locations in one place and thus unify and make our logistics more efficient as a means of staying competitive on the market.

After viewing various sites, Bruno Planzer decided to buy land in Pratteln. Here again, he undertook a major risk as this land was among the most expensive plots in the region. But with Basel’s industries, and in particular the pharmaceutical industry, in full bloom, Bruno Planzer ultimately decided to buy the land. He built our third large logistics centre in Pratteln, which would go into operation in 2006. Meanwhile, two expansions have taken place in order to be able to handle significantly higher volumes. The location in Pratteln also stands out architecturally. Another special feature of the infrastructure is the ability to load and unload the trucks on two levels depending on the product specifications.

At this location, we mainly serve pharmaceutical customers with very high quality standards, which results in the need for high-level and sophisticated quality management. For example, we are certified by Swissmedic in order to store, pick and transport goods in an appropriate and professional manner.

The full range

Today, the breadth of our logistics services is exceptionally wide. It ranges from the simple handling of uncomplicated goods to the complex sampling of chemical substances in cleanrooms with subsequent delivery to the pharmaceutical customer’s production facility. Networking with our customers plays a very important role: today, it has reached such an extent that a supply disruption on our part can result in a production standstill for the customer as we deliver the required goods ‘just in time’.

Efficiency gains through the goods-to-person system

With the fully automatic small parts warehouse (ASPW), we pick the production components for coffee machines, for example.

The internet has made everything faster-paced today. We saw this in our own operations in 2010 with the procurement of a semi-automatic picking system (a GTP system – goods-to-person system) in Villmergen, with which we were able to pick a customer’s entire food assortment on a daily basis and thus boost efficiency by 40% overall.

In 2014, we commissioned our first fully automated small parts warehouse (ASPW) – also a goods-to-man system – that we then expanded two years later and is now well utilised. We use it primarily for picking conventional small parts such as production parts for Franke coffee machines.

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