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Dutch fulfillment company Active Ants is growing fast. In October 2020, the company opened its second fulfillment center in the Netherlands, and the opening of two other sites are already planned. Ecommerce News Europe spoke with managing partner Jeroen Dekker about their ambitions.
In the Netherlands, Active Ants is widely known for its Autostore, a compact storage system for small goods, that consist of tens of thousands of bins that are arranged in a predefined grid. Small AutoStore robots automatically pick the right bins and take them to the operators in the ecommerce fulfillment center.
A world first for Active Ants
This innovation is used by Active Ants for five years now, and the company hasn’t sit still. When it opened its second fulfillment center in Roosendaal, a city in the southern part of the Netherlands, last fall, it even had a world first. “We are the first fulfillment company that makes use of the self-driving Rangers robots”, Dekker tells Ecommerce News Europe.
We are the first fulfillment company that makes use of the self-driving Rangers robots.
Some start-up problems, due to Covid-19
The second site is now running smoothly, but that wasn’t the case when it just opened. “There were some start-up problems with the robots. Normally, engineers from India would have solved this in a few days. But because of Covid-19 they couldn’t come over, so we had to fix it by continuously doing video calls for about three weeks.”
The opening of the site had also been delayed for a month. That was because there were delivery problems with machines and equipment, also due to corona. And last December, Active Ants decided to leave the onboarding of new partners for what it was. “The peak we encountered with our customers, carriers, and due to the internal measures, we needed some stability”, Dekker explains.
“But now the switch from MCS Fulfillment (a company, acquired by Active Ants in 2019) is almost complete. So, the 70 web shops that used their services now operate from our fulfillment center in Roosendaal.”
Looking for new online retailers to connect
The company is now actively looking for new ecommerce companies to connect. Dekker expects the new location to process between one million and one and a half million parcels this year. That number comes on top of the over three million parcels being processed in its first location, in Nieuwegein.
Active Ants expects to process up to 1.5 million parcels in Roosendaal this year.
So, Active Ants continues to grow happily. Dekker: “We have 20,000 square meters in Roosendaal and I expect to add another 30,000 to 50,000 extra Autostore bins there by the end of this summer, so that would mean it would also surpass our center in Nieuwegein, in terms of parcel volume.”
Cross-border ecommerce offers growth opportunities
But Active Ants isn’t focusing solely on the Netherlands. At the moment, it’s busy with planning to open locations in Belgium and Germany. In time, Active Ants wants to become a true European fulfillment company. “We have been optimizing cross-border ecommerce for several years now, and that’s also a trend we saw in the past year.”
The growth abroad is not only useful for its own expansion, current customers also benefit from this. “By bundling the volumes of our customers, we can make great efficiency gains and, for example, realize better deals with international carriers.”
Active Ants wants to become a true European fulfillment company.
And there’s a growing demand for this kind of deals. Partly due to ecommerce platforms, which not only have a lot of volume, but also many requirements. “To give you a concrete example, take Zalando. They expect online retailers to be able to ship through national parcel carriers. Germany or Belgium wouldn’t be a problem for most Dutch retailers, but the volume to Austria is limited for many parties. This makes it difficult to make a good deal there. But with our fulfillment center in Germany, we might be able to make a difference there.”
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