Discovering BLA’s supply roots
Take a look inside the enormous BLA Distribution warehouse facility in Brisbane.
If Aladdin had been a boater then the chances are his cave would have looked something like the BLA Distribution facility in Brisbane. The 10,000m2 warehouse is packed to the rafters with a vast assortment of fishing, boating and sailing equipment, ranging from tiny shackles to sophisticated motors and electronics. Along the rows of shelving that stretch into the distance can be found pretty much everything needed to maintain, fit out, repair or rebuild a boat. Everything except the boats themselves (although there are some demo boats stored here as well).
While it is possible to calculate how much gear is stored here (a full stocktake takes two days), with so many products and lines being added all the time, it is a constantly changing figure. In round numbers though, there are approximately 20,000 products in stock from 60 worldwide brands covering a vast range of on-water activities.
Of course, the accumulation and maintenance of so many products and individual items is not the end goal in itself. While the company has facilities in other regional cities such as Melbourne, Perth and Auckland, the Brisbane distribution centre is the central hub for its distribution business through which thousands of marine products pass every year. The items kept here are not so much stored as just resting, en route from the manufacturer to the end user in an endless stream. BLA is the key supplier in the region to around 3,500 marine businesses, and the 400-600 consignments of parts and accessories which are dispatched each day from the warehouse play a huge role in keeping the marine industry working.
While the amount of products which go in and out of the warehouse fluctuates throughout the year, this time of year – now that the footy finals are out of the way – is when volumes really start to pick up as boaters begin their preparations for the summer ahead. Ultimately the reason for having such a comprehensive stock holding is to ensure that, as far as possible, when demand for a product spikes, orders can be fulfilled promptly without the need to back order items. While that may not be possible in every case, the sheer scale of the distribution centre gives BLA a definite advantage when it comes to meeting the needs of its customers.
More than distribution
The facility is not just about distribution though. Just off to the side of the main warehouse, there is a small suite of offices which look like a marine geek’s playroom. This is the service and repair centre for BLA’s products and where new electronic products from the likes of Humminbird, Minn Kota, Clarion and Mastervolt undergo pre-testing before being released on the market. It’s a section that provides important support for the BLA product range, enabling items to be repaired under warranty and for repairs to be carried out which can’t be done by the dealers.
The collective expertise here is invaluable; product knowledge and technical back-up are vital aspects of the industry these days as electronic componentry becomes more and more sophisticated. Being able to offer this service is an critical part of the BLA offering and something which distinguishes it from other supply channels.
Today BLA Distribution is a part of the biggest boating company in the world, Brunswick Corporation, having been taken over in 2015. Although the company is free to operate independently, the backing of Brunswick has also given it greater stability and the means to invest where necessary. A distribution centre on this scale is no small undertaking, given the outlay on stock and the logistics required to support it, but it is also an important element in driving growth in the company and securing its long-term future.
The company has come a long way since the mid-70s when it began life as Bob Littler Agencies (the original BLA), being run out of a traditional Queenslander house. While the current operation is far removed from those beginnings, it is still very much a Queensland business. It is noticeable how many staff have a long association with the company, maintaining that link with its local roots. The company may now operate as part of a global marine network but the heart that beats here is still undeniably an Australian one.
This article was first published in the October-November 2017 issue of Marine Business magazine.