When you’re looking for your first (or a new) fulfillment company, your initial focus is likely to be on service and expense related questions, such as:
- How fast is your order turnaround?
- Do I get a dedicated account manager?
- What are your set-up, storage and line-item fees?
Those are all critical concerns, of course. But, between the time your materials are produced and the time they’re sent out, they have to be stored somewhere. That ‘somewhere’ is usually the fulfillment company’s warehouse or distribution center.
You need your inventory to be secure, in good condition and available when needed, and you want it to get where it’s going quickly and cost-effectively. With that in mind, here are five important, warehouse-related considerations you should look into before committing to a fulfillment company.
If most of your customers are on the west coast, using a fulfillment company with a west coast distribution center will speed delivery and reduce your shipping costs. If your customers are spread out across the country, consider hiring a vendor that’s centrally located or, better yet, one with multiple facilities throughout the U.S. This has the added advantage of providing redundancy – something that comes in handy if a natural disaster or other business interruption strikes at or near your primary distribution facility. More on this below.
2. Square footage and organization
Make sure your fulfillment partner has adequate warehousing space for all of your current inventory, plus room to accommodate extra items for special campaigns, seasonal surges or rapid growth in your business. Additionally, the facility should be clean, well organized and adequately staffed to ensure efficiency when fulfilling your orders.
Receiving is one of the most important things a fulfillment company does on your behalf. In many cases, items in your inventory are shipped directly to the fulfillment center from your printer or manufacturer. Your fulfillment partner should have rigorous procedures to ensure that the right items and quantities arrive in good shape and in the right quantities. If there are discrepancies, they should have a system to alert you immediately. SKUs and quantities should be entered into their system and ready for ordering in eight hours or less. And your inventory counts should be available in real time, periodically audited and close to 100 percent accurate.
You should feel confident that your materials will be stored in a facility where the risk of loss or damage is minimal. Ask whether the company has facility security measures such as:
- Access control through identification badges, magnetic security cards or access codes.
- Different levels of access for full-time employees and contingent workers.
- Camera surveillance throughout the facility.
- Separate storage with additional security protocols for high value or easily concealed items, as well as print materials that contain proprietary or confidential information.
- Centrally monitored alarm and fire systems.
5. Business interruption contingency plans
If a weather disaster, fire or other emergency temporarily shuts down operations at the warehouse storing your inventory, what happens to your business? Look for a fulfillment partner that’s proactive about business continuity and recovery. Ideally, your partner will have more than one facility, so that they can quickly transfer your account to another location, without interruption. This process is greatly facilitated if they securely back up your customer and shipment data daily, both to a hardened local server and to an offsite location. You should also look for a company that can provide on- demand digital printing and electronic delivery capabilities for print materials, if physical inventory is lost or damaged or shipping services are interrupted.
Finally, be sure to schedule a tour of the company’s distribution center. A physical walk-through of the premises will trigger other questions of importance to your business goals and help you judge for yourself whether the fulfillment company is a good match for your needs.
Do you have questions about fulfillment services? Read additional Knowledge Center articles, blogs and white papers on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Fulfillment Services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.