Raja UK – Delivering for Today’s Logistics

At a time when the supply chain is facing unprecedented challenges, we learn how Raja UK is still making next-day-delivery its standard.

RAJA UK is part of the RAJA Group, a packaging distributor spanning 19 countries across Europe. The name “RAJA” is typically associated with the royal title used for Indian monarchs , certainly that’s what you get if you put it in Google, but it was actually coined by two women named Rachel and Janine when they founded the company in 1954. The two founders took the first two letters of each of their names, Rachel and Janine and combined them to make “RA JA”. The current CEO and president, Danièle Kapel-Marcovici is the daughter of Rachel.

“What’s relatively unique about a company this size is we’re 100% privately owned,” says Tom Rodda, Managing Director of RAJA UK. “This means the culture of the business is quite different to private equity owned companies.”

The RAJA Group bought a company in Kent called Aid-Pack in 1998, moving the business to Milton Keynes in 2004. Back then Aid-Pack had a turnover of just over £3 million. RAJA UK expects to finish this year with a turnover somewhere around £45 million. And it doesn’t stop there, RAJA Group continues to expand and acquire new businesses to improve their service offering.

“The Group just finished the acquisition of a company called Viking Office Supplies taking us to 1.6 billion euros as a Group,” Rodda says.

In its role as a packaging distributor, Raja UK has relationships with 200 suppliers, primarily within the UK. The company buys packaging, and stocks it in a 244,000 square foot warehouse in Milton Keynes. To put that in perspective, the warehouse is the size of three and a half football pitches and is 15 metres high.

“We stock the packaging there and ship it on a next day delivery basis,” Rodda says. “Our customers typically have a wide portfolio of products they need to pack. They often have a lack of space and don’t want to keep pallets of packaging in their valuable real estate. They are however often fast paced businesses, so we enable them to order the quantity they need as and when they need it.”

Gone Today, Here Tomorrow

Next day delivery is actually an increasingly rare phenomenon in the logistics sector, particularly in packaging distribution, but RAJA UK has established the infrastructure to act not just as an on-demand supplier, but an extension of their customers’ own storage.

“Our warehouse is full of bulky products such as cartons, boxes and bubble wrap, which can take up valuable floor space, so our customers in the main use us as an extension of their own packaging warehouse,” Rodda explains. “If you sell widgets, you want a warehouse full of widgets, not packaging. One of our USP’s is enabling our customers to get rid of the headaches around packaging and focus on their core business. We help them to ascertain if they want packaging for protection, marketing, cost or for efficiency of packing. We then deliver to them at the frequency that suits them.”

That speed of delivery is made more challenging, in that it is not reflected further up the supply chain. When it comes to the biggest challenges RAJA UK faces in the sector, Rodda is in no doubt that the main challenges are purely practical.

“Physically getting products onto our shelves is a bigger challenge than it used to be. Lead times on corrugated boxes used to be five working days, now it’s ten to eleven weeks, and sometimes as much as 14 weeks,” he says. “We have a 244,000-foot warehouse that is 15 metres high so we can stock up to anticipate these challenges. We are currently carrying £1.45 million extra stock to counter that lack of supply.”

Of course, one resource that there is a real shortage of now is good people.

Stocking Talent

Finding good talent is a challenge across the industry at the moment.

“Getting good people, especially in high volume, high repeat areas, is a challenge,” Rodda acknowledges. “That is not because we have high turnover of staff, we actually have a low turnover of staff, but we’ve grown a lot in the last few years, we needed to employ 70 new people in the last year alone.”

Recruitment is a challenge, but RAJA UK’s robust selection, interview and screening processes ensure that it is a challenge the company can overcome. More critical than bringing new talent on board, however, is the company’s ability to retain that talent once it’s here.

“Retaining and developing staff is critical. It costs a lot more to get a new person than it does trying to retain someone, not only in terms of the recruitment process, but also in the time it takes to get a new employee up to speed.” Rodda tells us. “So, we’re big on retention of staff.”

It is a philosophy that comes from the very top of the business.

“Danièle, our owner, is all about the people,” Rodda says. “All of our employees, bar-none, get permanent contracts, 25 days’ holiday a year and up to 30 depending on length of service. They all get free car parking, they all get complimentary tea and coffee and access to a state-of-the-art on-site Gym. We have a dedicated indoor canteen and outdoor picnic area complete with table tennis table for our staff, and we have the my Staff Shop scheme where employees get hundreds of discounts on everyday shopping with the major supermarket chains as well as restaurants and the cinema.”

RAJA UK benchmarks the salaries of its employees every month to ensure its pay rates are competitive. It also keeps appealing hours for its workers. The warehouse is operational from Monday to Friday, 7am to 7pm with no night shifts or late evenings.

However, RAJA UK also offers benefits that are more intangible, but just as important. The company’s philosophy, built around five pillars, informs every aspect of the company culture.

“The first is the customer is key. Everything is built around pleasing the customer,” Rodda points out. “But also, we believe in always doing the right thing, which may mean moving away from commerciality. For instance, when the pandemic hit all our sales force hit their numbers regardless, but we did not change the commission scheme until the end of the year. We absolutely would never move the goal posts when it come to pay and reward.

The third pillar is to be accountable. Everyone is accountable, which makes for a nice place to work for everyone. The fourth pillar is driven by the team spirit that keeps the company working as a well oiled machine.

“We succeed together- a salesperson might win the order but it’s a team order to get that order despatched and paid for.”  Rodda says, which leads into RAJA UK’s final pillar, simply “Be the best.”

RAJA UK fosters a real team ethic and culture where everyone rolls their sleeves up and gets stuck in.

The way RAJA UK takes care of its workers is evident in how it treats one of the most hotly contested worker segments- its truck drivers.

“We’ve just expanded our own fleet. We had trucks last year, but we’ve added two 7.5-ton vehicles and seven 12.5-ton vehicles to our fleet to service customers and achieve an exceptional level of service,” says Phil Spratling, RAJA UK’s Customer Marketing Director. “The drivers are set sociable working hours, set routes, and an acceptable number of drops per day. As a result of that we have managed to recruit drivers despite the competition that is out there. The way we treat staff has been key.”

With this philosophy to guide it, RAJA UK has a bright future ahead.

“We’ve ridden the wave of Covid, and we’re seeing our numbers well up on last year,” Rodda says. “We’re working very hard to expand our product range and make sure we’re touching even more customers in the UK.”

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