Struggling with storing, packing, and shipping orders? Whether you’re sending promotional products to tradeshows and conventions or trying to get customer orders to them on time, it’s a big challenge. There’s good news, though. The right fulfillment and warehouse management partner can help!
Of course, choosing a partner means more than just looking for a company that offers a warehouse in Iowa. You’ll need someone with experience in the industry, systems in place to handle picking and packing, best-of-breed inventory management solutions, and more. In this guide, we’ll help you explore your options and learn more about choosing the fulfillment partner you need, whether you’re interested in a warehouse for rent, or you need a full-blown 3PL service provider.
What Are Fulfillment Services?
Let’s start with the basics. What are fulfillment services and why do they matter to your business? It all comes down to the challenge that many small and medium businesses (SMBs) experience when trying to fulfill shipping requirements.
This can include shipping customer orders, but it can also involve handling in-house shipping needs, such as creating printed matter and then shipping it to events like tradeshows. Many SMBs can’t afford to buy their own warehouse in Iowa or staff it, install the right equipment and technology, and run an in-house shipping and receiving operation. So, they must turn to a trusted partner that offers fulfillment and warehouse management.
What does a fulfillment services partner offer, though? While each partner is different, some of the possible services that might benefit your organization include:
- Secure warehouse space
- Picking and packing orders
- Inventory management/control
- Fast, affordable shipping
- Real-time order tracking
- Custom kit creation
The right partner can streamline your operations considerably, particularly when it comes to marketing. Printing, storing, packing, and shipping marketing materials can be a huge time and money sink. With the right fulfillment partner, you can take all those tasks off your plate and turn them over to an expert.
So, what should you look for in such a company? It’s about more than the right combination of services. You’ll find many different fulfillment companies operating today and they’re not all the same. Below, we’ll break down what you should consider when choosing between them.
Choosing a Fulfillment Partner: Tips to Make an Informed Decision
Fulfillment services are critical. They can make or break your business. After all, if your marketing materials aren’t where they need to be on time, you can’t build your brand, reach your audience, or generate profit. So, your choice of fulfillment partners matters a great deal. Use the tips below to make a decision that supports growth and success.
1. Know What You Need
The first tip is something of a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of companies that fail to do this. Know what you need in a fulfillment partner. Are you only looking for a warehouse to rent? Or do you need more than that?
- What about the items you’re shipping – do you require refrigeration?
- Certification in handling specific types of materials?
- Experience working with promotional products?
- Expert help in creating and printing marketing materials and then storage, pick/pack service, and shipping of those materials?
Nail down your needs before you start comparing fulfillment companies. Not only does this help avoid false starts with companies that don’t cover everything you need, but it ensures full understanding for your partner. The fulfillment company will have a much better idea of how they can serve your needs most effectively.
2. Location, Location, Location
Fulfillment is a lot like real estate in that location is a critical consideration. A warehouse for rent on the East Coast might be the most affordable, but what if you’re shipping to California or Oregon?
That means the extra time required for transit and increases the potential for delays that could derail your plans. The same thing applies to a fulfillment partner that operates on the West Coast. A better option is to look to the center of the nation.
A warehouse in Iowa, for instance, puts you right in the heart of the US, giving you easy access to all points east, south, west, and north, without having to be too far away from any of them. So, always pay attention to the location of your shipper’s warehouse.
3. Shipping Speed
When it comes to fulfillment, speed is of the essence. How long does it take for the partners you’re considering to pick, pack, and ship your items? While you might not have to deal with consumer expectations, you do still need to ensure that your marketing collateral arrives at its destination with plenty of time to be retrieved, unpacked, and distributed or set up.
It’s not just about the time your shipment will spend traveling to the destination, though. How much lead time does each fulfillment company need to have your order ready to go to ensure a timely arrival? Are they agile enough to make do with a few days’ notice or do they require weeks of notice to ensure an on-time arrival?
Compare shipping and lead time to ensure you’re going into the relationship with a good idea of what you can expect.
It doesn’t matter how fast a company’s shipping times are or where its warehouse is located if they aren’t reliable. Take the time to dig into each company’s reputation. What do their current and past customers have to say about their experience? How long have they worked with the fulfillment firm? Would they repeat their experience? Was the company able to maintain its commitment to on-time, affordable deliveries?
Assessing a company’s reputation does take time, but it’s essential. Use the tools available to you – excluding often paid-for customer testimonials on the website. These can include sites like the Better Business Bureau where you’ll be able to see complaints against the company, as well as any resolutions offered. You can also use Google reviews and other review sites. If necessary, ask for a list of customers with contact information and then call several to verify their experience.
Any partner you choose should have a reputation for reliable, on-time delivery, predictable pricing, expert solutions, and always-on support.
Speaking of support, that’s the next item on our list. It’s one of those things you might not think about too much in the excitement of forging a new relationship with a trusted vendor but is very apparent when it’s lacking. Why does support matter so much, though?
Things are going to go wrong. It happens. Something’s not going to go to plan at some point in your relationship with the fulfillment company. When that happens, you need to know that they have your back. Where do you turn with questions? Whom do you ask for clarification? Where do you bring problems in need of solutions?
The right fulfillment company will offer 24/7 support through multiple channels. Those should include email, phone, online chat, and more.
6. The Environment
Warehouses come in many shapes and forms. Some are little more than massive buildings with open space inside. Others are highly organized, with shelving units, conveyor belts, and more. Yet others offer environmental controls to reduce temperature fluctuations and humidity that might damage your materials.
Just as warehouses come in many forms, so do customer needs. This is another area where it’s important to know your requirements. Do you need a special environment to protect your marketing collateral? Will excess humidity damage boxes or paper? Will temperature fluctuations damage the binding of booklets?
Start by determining your needs and then choose a company that offers the environment that best suits your needs.
Once, warehouses weren’t particularly technology-heavy. Today, that’s not the case. Many different technologies have evolved that streamline the logistics process and having access to them is critical. However, not all fulfillment companies offer the same range of technologies, so it’s important to know what’s what here. Below, you’ll find some of the most important considerations as they relate to the technology used by and made available by your fulfillment partner.
- Inventory Management – If you’ll be entrusting marketing collateral or inventory to a fulfillment partner, there should be an inventory management/control system in place. This should offer real-time management capabilities to help you run your business confidently, and it should also include fail-safes that help ensure inventory access over time.
- Project Management – Where does your shipping project stand? How is your marketing project doing? Where are your materials and how long will it take to get them to your next destination? These are just some of the questions you’ll need to answer. Advanced project management technology gives you the information you need at a glance.
- Data Analytics – You need information to make accurate decisions. Your fulfillment partner should be able to provide you with access to critical data that allows you to improve your supply chain optimization, make timely decisions that grow your business, gain a competitive advantage, and deliver a superior experience to your customers or clients.
8. Additional Services
Some fulfillment partners only act as middlemen. They’ll allow you to store your inventory in their warehouse and they’ll pick, pack, and ship when you need to move items somewhere else. However, that’s the extent of their services.
At FuseBox One, we realize that your needs run deeper. That’s why we developed an end-to-end program that handles all your marketing needs. How much time and money could you save if you were able to cut multiple vendors from the picture? How much stress would streamlining your promotional needs alleviate?
We offer industry-best printing solutions for everything from booklets and flyers to banners and large-scale items that require special equipment. Our experienced print technicians use advanced technology to create vivid, brand-aligned marketing collateral that helps spread the word, inform, educate, and engage your audience.
In addition to marketing collateral like signs and banners, we also offer access to some of the highest quality yet most affordable promotional items available. Plus, we can customize them for you. Whether you want your business’s name and logo added to a run of T-shirts or want to honor an employee for their lifelong service with a customized award, we can help.
Plus, all our additional services dovetail with our fulfillment offerings. It’s like having an extension of your own company handling everything – we work as part of your own team for a seamless, stress-free experience.
The final consideration is the company’s commitment to transparency. It’s critical to building trust and establishing a long-standing relationship. What does transparency mean, though? Simply put, it means doing what you say you’re going to do without any caveats or hidden fees.
For instance, if the fulfillment company claims to offer two-day shipping but can’t actually deliver within that timeframe, it’s a red flag that they’re making claims they can’t uphold. Another example is with pricing – are there hidden fees or additional charges added to your contract?
You should have full visibility into your partner’s fulfillment process and pricing. There should be no surprises at all. Without transparency, there’s no accountability and you can’t build trust.
Why Choose FuseBox One as Your Fulfillment Partner?
At FuseBox One, we make your success our primary goal. That’s true in all that we do, from our industry-leading Marketing Management Platform to our fulfillment services and warehousing solutions. We combine decades of industry experience with a passion for customer service to deliver something unique – an end-to-end solution that supports your growth. We handle 100% of your marketing needs, from design and printing to inventory control and shipping. It’s never been easier to build a thriving brand.
Ready to learn more about how FuseBox One can transform your operations with our fulfillment services? Get in touch today to schedule a free consultation or to explore our offerings.