Fulfillment is a broad term that encompasses every aspect of storing, packing, and shipping your goods. When you launch your products, you may manage this work yourself to save on labor and storage costs. There’s a reason many successful businesses started in garages or basements – it works! 

As your business gains traction, you may struggle to find the time to pack and ship your orders. Perhaps you run out of storage space, or will run out of space if you take that large order from a retailer or wholesale partner. 

A  third-party logistics company, or 3PL, exists to manage the storage, order picking, packing, and shipment of your products. Choosing the right 3PL will give you more time to grow your brand and work on product development, rather than miscellaneous fulfillment tasks.

When looking for a 3PL, you can choose one that caters to the needs of your business and brand, ensuring a seamless customer experience and ability to focus on growing your business. 

What are your current needs? And what does it cost now?

To begin, outline your logistics and supply chain processes, including the costs. This should start with the product leaving your manufacturer and end with it in the customer’s hands, whether that is through direct-to-consumer shipping or on-shelf with a retailer. 

Know your overall budget and the following key information before you meet with any fulfillment providers:

  • Product weight and dimensions
  • Current monthly order volume
  • Average number of items per order
  • Common order combinations
  • Where customers are located
  • Total number of SKUs
  • Technology stack, including your EDI/IMS and the e-commerce platform(s) where your store is hosted (if you sell online)

Most 3PL companies charge per item picked, so it’s crucial to understand the unit economics of your orders. For example, if your average online order is $35, then you can estimate how much can be spent on fulfillment per order without eating into your profit margin. 

Where are you growing? 

Your future plans should also help guide the conversation with a potential fulfillment partner. A good 3PL will ask whether you plan to expand internationally and how you anticipate your order volumes changing over the next months or years. 

Be prepared to share your marketing plans, whether you plan on launching additional products, or reach new markets. 

For many consumer packaged goods brands, working with a 3PL offers a leg up on expanding into new markets. If you currently work with retailers or plan to grow your in-store presence, look for 3PL companies with expertise in B2B or wholesale fulfillment. Orders bound for retail locations or distribution centers are often subject to specific requirements for master casing, carton labeling, and palletization. A good 3PL understands these concepts. A great 3PL has shown success in managing these types of orders for its current partners. 

Whether you are contracting with a retailer, expanding cross-border and needing international support, or launching new product lines, be sure you communicate your future needs to your potential fulfillment partner to avoid unwelcome growing pains.  

What are the benefits of outsourcing your fulfillment? 

Outsourcing your fulfillment is an exercise in trust. After all, your inventory is the most valuable part of your business, and fulfillment is the most crucial piece. 

Questions to ask a potential fulfillment partner

  • What makes your business different from other 3PLs? 
  • What services do you provide? 
    • Note: Many inexpensive 3PLs offer reduced services. If your product requires returns, specialty storage, or is an unusual item, be sure to ask about these requirements early in the conversation. 
  • Who are some of your current customers? Do you have any testimonials or case studies? 
  • Can you support my business growth? 
  • Do I have a dedicated account manager on your team? Who/how do I contact you if I need support? 
  • How many warehouses do you operate? 
    • If they have more than one: How is my inventory distributed between them? Do I get to choose? 
  • What is your company’s corporate social responsibility or staff welfare policy? 
  • Am I able to visit one of your locations before we begin working together? What about once my product is in your facility?  

You launched your business to bring your products to the people who need them. You didn’t start your business to become a fulfillment expert. Trusting your fulfillment to a knowledgeable partner can save you time, energy, and money, enabling you to grow and secure coveted retail shelf space. 

Check out our “Shipping Tips and Traps for Brands Workshop” with Bulu’s CEO, Paul Jarrett, to ensure you’re receiving the best shipping rates and fulfillment possible to support your brand in this changing landscape

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