C-store distributor teams up with Chinese tech firm on robotic warehouse

Dive Brief:

  • Construction is underway on a new automated warehouse in Huntsville, Alabama, that will use three robot technologies and more than 70 robots, convenience-store distributor C-Store Master announced Wednesday.
  • Work broke ground last week on the 120,000-square-foot warehouse, which is set to open in the first quarter of 2021 and create 40 jobs. C-Store Master, which is based in Huntsville, will invest $12 million in the warehouse, which it’s building in partnership with Chinese tech firm Geek+.
  • The upcoming robotic warehouse comes at a time when distributors and retailers have increasingly turned to automation to improve order fulfillment for e-commerce and store replenishment.

Dive Insight:

C-Store Master said its new robotics-enhanced warehouse will be “the only one of its kind in the country” and the first in the Southeast to use a multi-level shuttle system. 

The dozens of robots at the Huntsville warehouse will increase productivity by three to four times, Rick DeFiesta, the director of business development and partnership at Geek+, said in the press release. The three robot technologies will also improve accuracy to 99.99% percent, the announcement said. By increasing efficiency and accuracy, automated fulfillment helps distributors and retailers provide services and fill orders faster than human employees. 

C-Store Master, which specializes in tobacco and beverage categories, has been growing its distribution footprint throughout the Southeast. The wholesaler works with both independent and chain stores. 

In June, the company announced it acquired DH Distributing, a Montgomery, Alabama-based convenience store distributor and also revealed that it expanded service at Circle K locations across the Southeast. 

Founded in 2015, Geek+ is a global technology company headquartered in Beijing, China and has deployed more than 10,000 robots worldwide. In June, the company announced it raised $200 million in a Series C funding round completed in two parts.

Geek+ has partnered with other leading companies this year — with Nike on same-day delivery in Japan, with Walmart Chile on robot deployment and with eStore Logistics, a warehousing and order fulfillment provider in Australia, on two new fulfillment centers. In the spring, Geek+ also rolled out two new disinfecting robots.

In recent years, robots have been popping up nearly everywhere, from grocery store aisles to delivery to food preparation. FreshDirect and technology firm Fabric are working on a micro-fulfillment center in the Washington, D.C. area. Last month, H-E-B announced it partnered with Swisslog, a Swiss warehouse automation company, on automated micro-fulfillment centers, while Ahold Delhaize is currently building automated warehouses for frozen goods.

Next spring, Kroger will open its first automated online fulfillment warehouse in concert with Ocado.

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