Founded in 1946, Willerby is the UK’s leading manufacturer of prefabricated holiday homes, caravans, and lodges. Operating from an 80-acre site in Hull, the company employs a team of 1,100+ and produces more than 7,000 holiday homes each year across its five assembly lines. In 2017, the company received a strategic investment from private equity investors Equistone Partners to support its expansion in the growing UK holiday home market. With an expanding book, its planning processes were proving not fit for purpose. Today, with Anaplan, implemented by Vuealta, the company enjoys fast and accurate production planning, increasing the efficiency of its assembly lines, and providing timing certainty to its customers.
Accurate Production Planning is key to driving efficient operations
The caravan industry is highly cyclical and hard to predict. Currently, the trend for ‘UK staycations’ means the caravan industry is enjoying a period of growth. But this wasn’t always the case. When Mike Helm, Willerby’s Business Partner – Financial Systems, joined the company in 2012, its order book typically stretched three or four months out. And the company’s previous production planning tool couldn’t work more than a year ahead, making the long-term forecasting now required virtually impossible.
Accurate planning is crucial, particularly for the company’s assembly lines. Willerby’s product mix is varied, with its larger models being twice the size of the smaller and medium ranges. Given that production times are calculated to the minute, accuracy is key. As demand from customers grew, and following the investment from Equistone Partners, the requirement for accurate, long-term production planning became critical.
“We used to plan at a reasonably high level. We would group our products just to make things easy. But we were asked to plan down to the individual product and then further to a customer level. That’s where things got complicated”Mike Helm, Business Partner Financial Systems, Willerby
A smart planning solution supporting a complex production process.
Willerby schedules to the minute across its five major production lines, one for each type of holiday home (van) it produces. Within those lines are multiple assembly bays, through which the movement of each van is timed. It starts as a chassis, interior walls then exterior walls are fitted, central heating installed, insulation and a roof added, windows and doors fitted, furniture and kitchen installed, final touches are made, and then it’s cleaned…ready to be shipped to a park and become the holiday retreat of a customer.
Each caravan or lodge spends time in bay before moving to the next. But a bigger van may follow, requiring a higher number of minutes in each bay. This can lead to gaps on the product line, which causes delays, and forecasting accurately the time when each completed van is due to leave the line. With planning covering the next two years, a scalable planning platform is essential.
Without an optimised production plan, the assembly line was unable to provide clear delivery times to the company’s customers. There were several Excel-based attempts at modelling different scenarios, but try as they might, Willerby’s Production Planning team could not get them to the high level of accuracy needed.
The existing planning system had further limitations. Adjusting working and overtime patterns, for example, was a very laborious process. This left the team struggling to plan to a satisfactory degree of accuracy, which led to Willerby’s finance team to look for something faster, more flexible, and smarter. It was at this point that Willerby turned to Anaplan.
Vuealta’s Proof of Value – a “real wow moment”
There was significant pressure from board to find a solution to the company’s planning issues. The decision to implement Anaplan came from Sue Allan, Willerby’s CFO as all information from the Production Planning team fed into her finance team, whose current systems were unable to keep up.
“We needed Anaplan to turn scenarios around quickly and show where things were on the line at any given moment,” says Mike.
The Anaplan project had to go live by May 2022 to meet the company’s annual budget process window. Conversations between Vuealta and Willerby began in August 2021, in which Mike outlined the requirements, explaining how everything worked. “We wanted to change the working assumptions. We told Vuealta we wanted to be able to model our manpower; to know the effect that putting more manpower in would have on output.”
From this, Vuealta created a Proof of Value (PoV), illustrating Anaplan’s functionality and UX, which Mike describes as “A real wow moment. Everybody that came out of that initial session was absolutely buzzing. That PoV was so good, it became the benchmark for the project. When we engaged with the full solution, it was essentially what we’d seen in the Proof of Value, only bigger.”
“This is the first project I’ve worked on where there’s been no scope creep because we captured everything at the beginning. Every project overruns. This one didn’t.”Mike Helm, Business Partner – Financial Systems
Leaving spreadsheets behind to plan with confidence.
Mike sees Anaplan as an “Excel killer”. Much of Willerby’s budgeting and forecasting information was held on large, unwieldy spreadsheets. By migrating these to Anaplan, Mike could improve efficiencies and free up valuable time for the planning team.
Willerby’s planners are already in a very different situation from where they were only a year ago. “We can say to the sales organisation – we’re ready for you now. Just give us your information.”
There’s a lot more confidence in the accuracy of the company’s production plan.
“The business lives by the production assembly plan, if we want to know how many, what type and when the vans will be ready for the customer, we look at the plan. The difference now is that, in all types of scenarios, Anaplan will detail plans – with a hundred percent certainty – when those vans will be produced.”Mike Helm, Business Partner Financial Systems, Willerby
The planning team can run a scenario and an answer will be delivered in real-time, with no need for time-consuming reworks as was previously the case. This has significant benefits on the speed and efficiency of decision-making – both for the finance team and at board level.
The Connected Planning journey with Vuealta.
Mike has greatly enjoyed his journey into connected planning with Vuealta. “From the PoV at the beginning, to where we are now, it’s made my job so much easier,” he says. “The relationship with Vuealta has been superb. We have a sensible working relationship, which I look forward to maintaining.”