This is Part 2 of my journey switching from self-fulfillment in my home to a 3PL fulfillment center. If you haven't read Part 1 click here to do that now.
I decided I want to talk to three different fulfillment centers before making a decision. I know each one can offer specific services so I want to make sure I find the one that's right for my business, The Bali Market.
One that I was really interested in was Shopify Fulfillment. That interested me because I felt like everything would be streamlined and easily connected to my Shopify store. I filled out the online application and received an email back saying I didn't qualify. Bummer.
I received a nice and personal email from a woman named Juliana at Shopify Fulfillment. She explained to me the qualifications to use Shopify Fulfillment. I qualified for most but the one I did not was having consistently 10 sales a day over the past six months. I'm getting much closer to that and I know once I'm in a fulfillment center I'll be able to focus on the things to get me to that point but nonetheless I could not use Shopify Fulfillment at this time.
The qualifications for using Shopify fulfillment are this:
- Sell primarily to US customers
- Have fewer than 2,000 SKUs
- Sell 10 or more US orders a day over the past 6 months, through Shopify
- Do not sell regulated, hazardous, perishable or oversized goods (larger than a microwave)
- Are approved by Shopify Payments
So Shopify Fulfillment is out.
I had a follow-up call with ShipBob. My first call went really well and I was excited about using them but my second call didn't feel right. I'm new to using a 3PL service and I needed a little hand-holding to help me understand the process. And I just didn't get that from this call.
I've learned over the years that working with someone who's truly excited and invested in your business is vital. This means anyone from a photographer, a PR expert, to a copy editor. If they're not interested in what you're doing the business relationship will struggle.
And during the second conversation I really felt a lack of connection or interest in my business.
For example when I explained how I currently ship my products which includes not sending each item in a poly bag I was confronted with an annoyed response “well, why would you want to do that?”
My business values are on creating a zero-waste lifestyle so shipping my items in a poly bag doesn’t really fit that model. I'm learning that shipping without a poly bag might not be possible. But him not even understanding why a business wouldn’t want to use poly bags was a little disappointing.
I also felt like he wasn't interested in helping me make better shipping decisions. It was more like “if you don't know what to do I'm not interested in helping you”. And that's fine but it just might not be the right fit for me.
Starting out I made a lot of annoying mistakes and asked a lot of dumb questions.
But there were always people who were happy to help. Like my main manufacturer. She could have brushed me off when I reached out and said I was starting a new business. But she took time to help, send me samples, and answer all my annoying questions. We now have a wonderful business relationship and even met each other at a trade show in Paris. I am looking for that kind of relationship in my 3PL.
So, I need to keep looking.
In one of my business groups a fellow member recommended a smaller fulfillment center near where I live. I'm in Arizona and this fulfillment center is in Utah, so we have a neighborly connection. They’re called MintFulfill and it's a small family-run fulfillment center. So I shot them an email and got some good information back.
They're pretty straightforward with their prices and if your items are really easy to ship it just cost $1 per order (fun fact, they’re called MintFulfuill because they put a mint in each package they ship).
I talked to Jim at MintFulfill and he was kind and helpful and patient with me as I talked through some of the specifications I needed for my business. I was able to understand that some of the customizations I am currently doing aren't necessary and there's other ways to have customizations that allow me to use a 3PL effectively.
From our conversation I estimate that each order will cost me about $2.50 a package.
That seems pretty realistic and I may even be able to increase my prices to help cover that cost.
One thing Jim mentioned is that I would be charged for each individual item in the order. I sell a few sets and it got me thinking maybe my manufacturer can pre-pack those together in one polybag so that it's now one item instead of 4.
After our conversation I sent a quick email to my manufacturer and lo and behold he said that's no problem to pre-pack my sets. So many things I'm learning were always available to me I just didn't think they were. I just had to ask.
My other manufacturer told me it may be no problem to add my packaging label which I thought there was no way they'd ever be able to do that. They also were understanding in the polybag situation and offered to use recycled poly bags. Now if I have to ship in a poly bag from a fulfillment center it at least aligns with my business values a little bit more.
I'm a little frustrated with myself for not looking into this sooner.
I still haven't settled on a fulfillment center but right now Mintfulfill seems to be the best option. I like that they are close to where I live and I feel like I can have a relationship with them where at a larger fulfillment center I might get lost in the shuffle.
This week I learned my manufacturers can offer me more customizations than I thought possible. I just needed to ask.
My goal is to be set up in a fulfillment center fully in the next 90 days. This is going to free up an entire room and our home and allow me to cancel my storage unit monthly membership. I currently pay $180 a month for that. Using a fulfillment center might not even cost me any more money that I'm currently spending.