The right fulfillment partner can be a powerful ally in a business’s quest to become bigger, better, and more profitable – particularly as online sales and customer expectations grow.
But how do you even begin to find that partner in a field that’s chock-full of possibilities?
Many of us at Amware have been in your shoes because, before we joined this company, we were shippers (and 3PL clients) ourselves – and along the way, we collected several helpful Do’s and Don’ts that we’d like to share about how to find the best fulfillment companies.
Do look beyond the glitter
Just like many consumers flock to Starbucks because it’s one of the world’s most recognizable brands, it’s natural to gravitate toward working with big-name 3PLs simply because they’re well known. While that’s not an issue in and of itself, it is a problem if it distracts your company from the key question at hand: whether those super-sized 3PLs can actually meet your key performance criteria and – just as important – whether they’re willing to. As you vet potential fulfillment partners, always be mindful that what truly matters is a candidate’s fulfillment expertise and desire to collaborate with you, not its image or massive footprint. After all, images don’t get orders filled and delivered.
Don’t make your next RFP a cattle call
When it comes to RFPs, no one benefits from a free for all. If your fulfillment candidates know that they’re part of a large crowd of contenders rather than a carefully selected group, it’s possible that they may elect not to participate. Or, if they do choose to respond, they may decide not to put as much sweat equity into preparing a proposal as they ordinarily would – which could result in your company missing out on the chance to work with the best fulfillment companies . For that reason, keep your list of RFP recipients relatively short. And if you need help arriving at that short list consider sending out an RFI first. It’s a much easier document for 3PLs to respond to and should yield enough data to help effectively streamline your search.
Do consider using legally binding non-disclosure agreements – and not just for your candidates
It may sound cliché, but honesty really is the best policy if you want to find the best fulfillment company for your business’s needs. It also can be elusive – unless you find a way to ensure that each participant has a high level of trust that all information being shared isn’t going to find its way into the wrong hands. So, if two-way confidentiality agreements aren’t part of your fulfillment 3PL search process yet, make sure they are going forward. It will make everyone more comfortable, open, and candid – and vastly improve the quality and productivity of the discussions you have.
Don’t underestimate the importance of each 3PL’s employee retention rate
While many companies do a great job of examining potential 3PLs’ operations and systems, an astonishing number forget to give equal time to the human side of things during their search. That’s ironic when you consider how people-intensive most order fulfillment operations are and how important continuity is in warehouse staffing. For the best fulfillment 3PL selection results, be sure you take time to carefully examine how well each of your potential 3PLs manages its workforce, beginning with how well it retains top talent. An excellent rate of retention suggests that a shipping and fulfillment 3PL is probably treating its people right. By contrast, a higher-than-average rate of turnover could be cause for concern – especially if it happens during your peak season.
Do schedule site visits to verify everything you read
Much like you wouldn’t marry someone after merely texting or talking to them online, you shouldn’t commit to working with any 3PL (no matter how impressive its proposal) until you’ve visited at least one of its fulfillment centers. A site visit is the only way to ensure that the impressive things presented in writing are more than just talk – and that the best fulfillment companies on paper are just as well-matched for you in person.
Don’t lose sight of what you’re really looking at – and for – during 3PLs’ site tours
There are some amazing fulfillment centers out there, including some that take automation to astonishing levels. Should you find yourself touring one during your 3PL search, feel free to be impressed. At the same time, approach such tours with a modicum of caution – because you may be looking at what’s promotional instead of what’s possible for the average company. In light of that, here are a couple of questions to keep in the back of your mind: Is the 3PL facility that you’re touring actually the one you’d be using – or at least comparable to it? And which, if any, of the bells and whistles you’re looking at would or could be used to support your business? In other words, make sure you separate the eye candy from the tools and technology that are accessible to you.
There’s no objective list or set of criteria for the best fulfillment companies. It really comes down to which provider aligns best with the particular set of requirements you establish for expertise, services, volume throughput, technology, and culture.