Bristol-based fulfilment centre huboo has continued to seize new business during the COVID-19 epidemic with a unique, socially-distanced ‘micro-hub’ design implemented well before lockdown began.

The model, designed by the firm’s CTO and its co-founder Paul Dodd, sees individual hub managers running their own ‘micro-warehouses’, performing all tasks for between one and 30 clients.

“Social distancing during the working day came about organically,” explains the firm’s CEO and co-founder Martin Bysh.

“Of course, we introduced other safety measures such as quarantining on full pay, masks, hand sanitisers, repeated washing of surfaces throughout the day and staggered breaks once the crisis looked certain to get more serious.

“We also brought our new warehouse online early to allow us to move some larger clients to a larger space and further distance staff by removing small bottlenecks.”

The firm, which serves SMEs and startups across the UK, Europe and US, continues to operate as a result, delivering manuals on behalf of Porsche and fulfilment for coffee bean start-up MovingBeans.

Following a £1m seed investment last year it is has more than tripled its customer base and currently serves around 300 retailers.

Already seeing a 100% quarter-on-quarter growth prior to the onset of the pandemic, Bysh attributes the firm’s growth spike to Amazon’s lengthening lead times, and supermarket stock issues.

The firm is now reporting 50% growth on last month's figures, and Bysh said one of the factors in its growth was “Amazon’s decision to prioritise its own essential items and increase third-party FBA fulfilment lead times by up to four weeks, which has led to many businesses having to look at handling their own logistics”.

Huboo created a new delivery category within its warehouses of ‘essential items’ – from hand sanitiser and protective clothing to vitamin and health supplements.

The firm reports that this category saw a 63,000% increase from February to March after launching in January.

“We were growing at 600% per year prior to the pandemic with no signs of slowing down,” he said.

Bysh also put the growth down to a squeeze on the high street, and older consumers who have “previously resisted the pull of eCommerce” being driven to shop online.

“It’s likely that anyone that had previously resisted the pull of eCommerce has yielded under the pressure of coronavirus confinement and perhaps will realise that this genie cannot simply be put back in the bottle when it’s all over,” he says.

The firm’s plans to expand into Europe have been put on hold during the pandemic, but Bysh said it still plans to grow use of its SaaS interface throughout the UK along with more clients and more warehouses.

“We’ll be launching our app store, bringing on additional services and products such as gift wrapping, customised pick slips and emails, new eCommerce channels and more multi-channel-management-software integrations."

The firm is also looking to invest in new automation tech as it becomes commoditised and can tackle the complexities of delivery complex and fragile items – a solution which is currently “science fiction”.

“As we have a 100% in-house modular software solution this is quite straight-forward for us,” he says of future automation plans.

“A few years from now huboo will look nothing like it does today, incorporating a huge range of inexpensive automation technologies”.