Your business is growing faster than your warehouse can keep up, and you’ve pulled the trigger to get a shipping and fulfillment partner so you can keep customers satisfied. When things go right, that means reducing your risk of out-of-stocks and voids, getting goods to existing and new customers faster, and maximizing the shelf life of your products thanks to a team who lives and breathes warehouse efficiency.
Congrats. That’s a very tough decision, and it can be a bit scary for business owners, but it’s one that your customers and partners will ultimately enjoy if everything goes as planned. To help you prep for your first month and establish the habits of a successful fulfillment relationship, we’ve put together our top five steps.
These best practices are designed to make your entrance into the 3PL world easier, less stressful, and more profitable.
1. Keep Desires Clear
Like every other relationship you have, whether it’s with suppliers and partners or your customers, it all comes down to have a clear set of expectations that everyone agrees to use.
Before your first month, you’ll need to set out what you want and define the agreement for as many processes as possible. Every aspect of fulfillment should be covered, and you should know how things can be measured and audited. Refresh and review this with your team, then do the same with your fulfillment partner.
A core thing to establish here is how you’ll be using and sharing data for decisions, in everything from how you send them orders to approvals for returns and tracking usage of packaging material. Don’t wait for your partner to come to you. Always raise questions when you’ve got them and triple-check that your partners understand what you expect from them.
2. Review Processes And Reporting
You likely performed various tests ahead of the first month, and those are a great baseline. But, take time to test your partner when everything is live too. This is your chance to find the flaws and issues and work them out before anything significant occurs.
Test the service as both a partner and a customer. So, look at everything from how data is managed and authenticated to how nicely packed your product arrives in the mail or from a carrier. Track and review as much as possible.
One major element to this is looking at your systems too. You want to review how you’re handling the pass-through, what you might not be providing to your partner, and if you missed anything in your setup. CPG brands like yours tend to have a lot of SKUs and individual product rules, so you want to make sure things are being enforced correctly and that you’re giving all the necessary details with each order.
Your partner should know some tests, while you want to keep others secret — like mystery shoppers in retail and fast food. You can include outreach to customers too to get an understanding of how the new effort is going.
Audit as much as you can so it’s easier to fix things quickly.
3. Make Changes And Communicate
Things come up during that review process. Expect it, roll with it, and work together to change what needs it.
Your first month with a 3PL will come with worry and concern, but you can alleviate that by being proactive and communicating as much as possible. Neither you nor your partner want packages to be damaged, customers to be angry, or returns to increase. It can be nerve-wracking for you both.
So, set aside time to review during and after the month — plan these times before anything goes live — and be honest about your experience. Communicating clearly and calmly is the best way to approach an issue and have it resolved.
And, be sure to discuss what is working. Thank the 3PL for the work they’re doing and how it is helping your business. This approach helps them feel like part of your team, making it easier to address issues now and in the future.
Your 3PL partner has been doing this work for a long time, and with a lot of companies, so they may have suggestions for when things aren’t going as planned. Depending on your space in CPG, it might involve reducing inventory counts or adjusting resupply levels to ensure your goods are always fresh.
If you’re part of the wave making the direct-to-consumer shift, things are going to be extra scary. Again, communicate with your partner and listen too, so you have the best chance to make the right changes for your business.
4. Review What Was Said
Here’s something just for you. Take a few minutes at the halfway point in the month and at the end to look at everything you sent out to your partner. You’re checking two aspects: you and them.
For the “you” side of things, look at the tone and nature of your communication. Ensure that you're specific and professional, with explicit requests. The first month is an especially stressful time, and it’s easy to take that frustration out on others. Always check for this and address it to keep the relationship healthy.
At the same time, review your partner’s communication for their responsiveness. Did they acknowledge the issue and work to address it? Are they resistant to this process? Did they try to pass the buck?
Your best time to address the tone and temper of the relationship is right away. Work on it together and call out any issues.
5. Have a Backup Plan
Something is going to go wrong, but no one knows what that is until it happens.
So, have a backup plan for as much as possible. Hold onto some of your inventory in case orders stop getting passed through. Get additional inventory in case things spoil or you have a sales bump. Give yourself as much padding as possible.
Stick to those five practices, and you’ll be in good shape no matter what comes.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.