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It’s a Cool Result!

02 December 2010

Sean Hurley and Stefan Searle agree: ‘Glaxo SmithKline and Cool Assist have agreed a deal that just didn’t exist in the marketplace until we invented it.’ To appreciate the puzzle Stefan Searle had been challenged to solve in his role as Glaxo SmithKline’s (GSK’s) Equipment Team Manager, picture a Rubik’s Cube, as viewed through a kaleidoscope.

Confusing? There are no fewer than 35,000 assorted cold drinks display units dotted far and wide throughout the UK estate of GSK. They encompass a variety of manufacturers and, before he got his hands on the job and took his first tentative ‘twists’, an uncoordinated posse of suppliers.

‘Efficiency’ had been identified as the key to solving the puzzle. ‘The drinks business had seen an explosion in equipment’, Stefan says, ‘but the support infrastructure wasn’t aligned to the sheer volume of equipment. ‘Support’ was always lagging behind.’

Cool Assist was launched in April 2010, and is a new arm of business for GVS Assist, the national maintainer and supplier of vending solutions. Cool Assist is focused specifically on commercial cooler servicing and repair requirements.

An opportunity for change soon presented itself: existing contracts covering the vending side of the business throughout the GSK estate were drawing to a close. Stefan took the opportunity to conduct a typically thorough assessment of the vending services marketplace.

It was a search that ended twelve months down the line, when GSK announced its partnership with GVS Assist. ‘I sat down with Sean (Hurley,
GVS’ Account Manager) and a blank sheet of paper’, Stefan says, ‘and I said, ‘ok, instead of always playing catch up, how we can we align?’

Under the new arrangement, GSK virtually outsourced the entire management of its vending services to GVS Assist, who, in return, offered a fixed-cost payment solution. It meant that, come what may, Stefan was never going to
be faced with unexpected, and therefore unbudgeted, capital expenditure. In short, if things went wrong, it was for GVS Assist to put them right.

It sounds almost like an insurance policy? ‘That’s exactly the way I see it’, Stefan agrees.

The transition from ‘old’ to ‘new’ was delivered with GVS’ customary aplomb; the inevitable creases in service delivery were ironed out with pressing urgency and so, with vending heading towards the comfort zone, Stefan turned his team’s attention to the issue of the cold drinks display units. ‘I floated the suggestion that we should consider a similar solution in respect of display coolers to the one we’d developed for vending’ Stefan said. ‘Obviously, GVS Assist were the incumbent in a vending capacity and we were used to working with the company at close quarters; but I’m in touch with colleagues in other businesses and you get to know who all the players are and you hear stories… I didn’t hear a bad word about GVS Assist.

‘We were able to whittle it down to three very quickly’, Stefan says. ‘We were offering a big contract and there were few companies out there with a central procurement function for the pre-tender agreement or for managing the process going forward. The infield customer support capacity of each contender was scrutinised. ‘I can’t over stress the importance of that’ Stefan says, ‘it’s very important. It’s your key operational focus.’

The tender process began with a series of those ‘blank piece of paper’ meetings that had culminated in the unique vending deal. ‘I was looking to create a model for the management of our cold drinks display units estate that was completely different from the one we’d been using which was, frankly, yet another ‘sticking plaster’.

Was there a moment when Sean paused for thought and questioned GVS Assist’s ability to deliver – particularly in respect of the handover? ‘I never doubted, no’, Sean insists, ‘but neither did I doubt that we’d need to deploy all of our resources if we were going to be successful. The handover had to be conducted in the height of summer, when cool drinks dispensers – and engineers - are in constant demand, and that made the job all the more difficult. We’d done big projects before, but nothing this big and in this case, we didn’t have any staff coming to us through TUPE to help out, either.’

‘Clockwork, though’, Stefan acknowledges.

Once again, the deal that emerged bears all the hallmarks of an insurance policy. Stefan believes that ‘95% of ‘variables’ have been eliminated from the equation’. ‘Between us, we’ve rewritten the book on how organisations such as ours can manage the provision of cold drink display units’, Stefan says. ‘Now it’s in the supplier’s interests to unlock the efficiencies incumbent in the new model and we have a level of structured pricing that just didn’t exist in
the marketplace until we invented it.’

GVS Assist has built a reputation for leading the industry through innovation and the contract with GSK is another example of the company’s willingness to be flexible. ‘There’s no such thing as an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution’, Sean Hurley said. ‘It’s more a matter of finding solutions that successfully deliver the outcomes our clients are working towards.’

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