Small businesses and startups can have a difficult time finding a company that provides fulfillment services on a smaller scale. There are many fulfillment companies that are not willing to work with smaller volumes or do not have logistics that fit well with your products. By looking at your business’ analytics and understanding how fulfillment companies think, finding fulfillment services for your startup or small business is made much easier.
What are Fulfillment Services?
Fulfillment services include receiving, packing, and shipping orders. A fulfillment company aids in those three areas to streamline operations and ensure your items are distributed in a timely fashion. The entire order fulfillment process is covered, and other services—like handling logistics processes or providing packaging materials—are sometimes included.
Why are Fulfillment Services Beneficial for Small Businesses or Startups?
When starting out, unfamiliar logistics and operations are introduced. These may take time to grasp as a new business owner. Fulfillment services handle these processes so you can become more acquainted with operations while they take place, not before. Fulfillment services will help determine optimal packaging for your products, carriers, and shipping methods so operations can run smoothly as soon as possible.
Fulfillment services also aid in establishing quality and efficiency. Inventory management is provided to ensure there are no disruptions in the distribution chain. No disruptions mean no delays. Additionally, startups can potentially have product and delivery complications that hinder future sales. Fulfillment services prevent these complications by improving delivery quality, managing returns, and refilling stock consistently.
At times, fulfillment services include technology and opportunities that would be unavailable to startups and smaller businesses. Fulfillment services provide technology that has real time data on delivery schedules and locations. These digital operations allow for organized order management which decreases mistakes and boosts customer satisfaction. As your business expands, fulfillment services include worldwide shipping and custom packaging to help your operations grow. Small business fulfillment services are flexible and well equipped to accommodate growing scales.
When to Not Use a Fulfillment Service
Outsourcing fulfillment is not for everyone. If you are just getting started and looking to learn about fulfillment before enlisting outside service, you can hold off on seeking fulfillment services until you are familiarized with fulfillment processes. Fulfillment services are also somewhat of an investment, so if you are not looking to invest or have a tight budget, outsourcing fulfillment might not be your best option.
Another time to not use a fulfillment service is if operations are already running smoothly. If you are satisfied with your business’ fulfillment operations, looking for outside services would not be beneficial.
What to Look for in a Fulfillment Company?
Often, fulfillment companies have requirements that exclude small businesses and startups from receiving their services. Fulfillment services sometimes require a minimum number of orders, monthly spend, or number of pallets per month that smaller businesses cannot meet. Occasionally, fulfillment companies waive minimums to get startups off the ground, but fulfillment services with no minimums would be the best option.
Small businesses typically have smaller volumes. This leads to the belief—by both businesses and fulfillment companies—that small volumes do not need outsourcing. Without outsourcing fulfillment, the possibilities for growth shrink. Small volumes need logistics for growth too, so finding a fulfillment company willing to take on and expand small volumes is important.
The location of the warehouse that provides fulfillment services is also essential. Multi-location providers are typically more expensive, so a single location provider would work best for startups. If your products come from overseas, a warehouse near a main hub like California or New Jersey would be ideal. Using a warehouse in a state where all parts of the region are quickly accessible or many orders are generated is also beneficial. Overall, look for a fulfillment company that provides a location that best benefits your shipping and receiving needs.
A fulfillment company should be flexible. When it comes to products, warehouses should be able to accommodate and safely store products whether they are large, small, fragile, or perishable. Fulfillment companies should also be flexible to growth. Finding a fulfillment company that will facilitate and assimilate to growth is important for the livelihood of your business.
How Do You Find a Fulfillment Company?
When searching for a fulfillment company for your startup or small business, online results may be misleading. Often, fulfillment companies pay or advertise to be listed at the top of a google search or online list, so the top listed fulfillment company might not be a good fit for your business. Smaller companies that may be competitive in price or services are sometimes not included because of their lack of marketing dollars. In terms of fit and quality, the fulfillment companies listed are typically not what startups or small businesses are looking for.
Alternatives to a google search would be searching specific keywords, online forums, or finding reliable recommendations from an unbiased source. Matching services are also provided by businesses to match you with the best fulfillment company, but be wary of referral companies that profit from you or receive commission by providing this service.
After selecting potential candidates to work with, begin a screening process. The fulfillment company you choose should be startup friendly, flexible to the changing needs of a growing business, and willing to offer better pricing than a general fulfillment company. Screening goes both ways when entering an agreement between a business and fulfillment company, so making sure the partnership is a good fit for both parties is important.
How to Be Best Prepared to Take the First Step?
As partnership discussions begin, be sure to provide everything the fulfillment company needs to see. These items include proof that you are a business entity with a company name, office phone, business email address, and a basic website to your credit. An optional addition to those items would be your formal business plan. By providing your formal business plan, you are displaying that you have done your research and are striving for long-term success. Upfront cash may also be a requirement after coming to an agreement, so be prepared to make that payment.
Along with these items, fulfillment companies will want an estimate on the number of units you will be sending and their arrival date. Once product amount is established, you should disclose any requirements—such as temperature control, fragility, or special packaging—your items might have. Learning where your products will be stored is also important so you can ensure the location is optimal for reaching your customers quickly. Being upfront about how much the fulfillment company will be taking on is essential to making sure they can provide you with the services you need.
Finding Fulfillment Services is Not Impossible
Outsourcing fulfillment increases efficiency, time savings, and provides expert assistance, so partnering with a fulfillment company is an excellent option for small or new businesses. Although major fulfillment companies cater to larger or well-established businesses, finding startup and small business fulfillment services is possible. Understanding your business’ needs and how fulfillment companies think is the first step to finding services that are beneficial to you.