May 1, 2015

Last month we held a webinar to explore the fundamental elements of order fulfillment. Capacity’s co-founder and CSO Thom Campbell identified five key areas to focus on if you truly want to develop a fulfillment process that keeps customers coming back to your business time and time again.

To follow up on that event we’ll be unpacking each of these elements in more detail. Today we look at fulfillment consistent with your brand, and you can read the rest of the entries in this compelling series under the tag Fulfillment Fundamentals.

 

Blue Mercury Product Packaging

 

“Your vision is very important. You should know whom you’re selling to, what your marketing and advertising says about you, and whom it’s speaking to. Me personally, I don’t try to please everyone. I understand who I am selling to and I work towards that vision all the time.”

~Ralph Lauren

 

Order fulfillment has the ability to impact a great deal about your business, not least of which is brand recognition and reputation. Packaging, shipping, and the value added services that feed into them will all communicate something about your brand to the end customer, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Most businesses have several functional challenges to face, many of which take priority over order fulfillment. Product development, merchandising, marketing and the all-important sales effort are all key areas in which you’ll need to deliver quality to succeed, but none of that counts if you can’t get deliver your products in the time and manner your customers expect.

Freeing up time to focus on those critical challenges most companies face is the main reason to outsource your order fulfillment. In some cases it isn’t appropriate, but almost every brand can benefit in some way by bringing in outside assistance.

There are, of course, some brand elements to clearly define and understand before you begin any decision-making process to outsource.

These include:

  • To whom are you selling and what does your brand mean to them?
  • What do you promise and what do customers expect from you?
  • What are your limitations? How do they impact your ability to meet or exceed those expectations?
  • What materials and presentation requirements do you have to meet brand expectations?
  • What would it take to exceed expectations?

 

At the core of these questions is how how you’ll work with a third party to keep these elements of your brand consistent and still provide the right level of order fulfillment.

Ideally you’ll also find areas that a provider can help you improve, to make more of your investment in outsourcing this function. Value added services, for example, can help you to improve quality and packaging, consumer-facing features that build, drive and benefit the brand.

 

 

Exceeding Expectations with Results (and Repetition)

 

Customer satisfaction – and, by extension, the brand reputation that flows from it – is a match between expectations and results. The results you have a good degree of control over, but expectations are often set by outside influences.

Expectations are higher than ever due to Amazon’s ability to deliver in ever-decreasing lead times and the standards they set across the industry. Along with other big name online retailers, Amazon sets the bar extremely high, to the extent that the rest of us must develop strategies to meet and manage those expectations, which contribute to the heightened sense of consumer entitlement.

Your brand promise is the start of setting customer expectations. They have a certain level of presentation and quality associated with your product and expect to see that, or better, every time they receive a delivery. Once you understand those levels of service it’s much easier to work with your fulfillment team or an outside provider to set up processes and systems that can meet those expectations on a reliable basis.

From there, you’ll need to explain the external factors that work to shape a customer’s perspective on your brand. Competition, suppliers, and prevailing industry service levels can all influence this perspective.

Our brands are both what we set out to make them and what they become; they have a life of their own, despite our best efforts to control them.

Hearing the voice of the customer is one critical way to refine your understanding of your brand. It’s easier than ever to solicit and receive such feedback. In fact, it will often be made known to both your business, your competitors, and the viewing public on social media, whether you ask or not.

The underlying factor in all of this is consistency. Once you’ve established what customers expect of your brand, delivering them time after time is the only way to convince people that your brand is the real deal. Fall down too many times in any key area and you can be sure that customers will not only tell you about it and alter their opinion of your brand, but often they’ll tell others and bring that reputation down further still.

For that reason alone, reliable and consistent levels of order fulfillment are fundamental building block for your brand.

 

 

A Note on Employees

Customers rarely consider the workers who actually touch products in the warehouse, a tough working environment which works to strict deadlines. As a brand or operations manager, however, it’s not something you can afford to overlook or underestimate.

Whether you have full-time or temporary workers, provide benefits like healthcare and paid time off or not, this all has a huge impact on worker satisfaction and performance. If you offer pay-for-performance, how do you define ‘performance’? If it’s just throughput, you’ll get a lot of work done fast, but not necessarily well. Conversely, f you don’t offer pay-for-performance, what incentives do you have for hourly associates to perform?

If you provide a definition of culture that is as aspirational as the products you sell, workers at every level know they can earn more by furthering the company’s goals. Then and only then do you have a great platform on which to build your business.

Most 3PLs need to use temporary labor to manage the seasonality and cyclicality their clients are looking to escape. Those fluctuations can kill any company if not properly addressed, and you need to understand you cannot just throw bodies at volume spikes.

You can mobilize and deploy well-trained, highly-motivated teams at these spikes and keep your customers loving your brand, all of which feeds back into that core of a consistent brand that delivers for its customers time and time again to keep them coming back for more.

As well as excellent employees, you’ll need to bring in appropriate technology to maintain that brand consistency. This is where the third fulfillment fundamental comes in, so join us next week to learn how to choose the tech that gets the job done (or cheat and skip ahead with this full replay of our webinar on YouTube!)

 

March 30, 2015

Our recurring “Unpacking” series digs into the deeper meaning of commonly used terms and trends in the supply chain world that prompt a lot of questions. You can read all of the previous entries here.  

Today we’re unpacking value added services and the kind of additional activity that your business can incorporate into this final few miles of the supply chain.  Continue reading Unpacking: Value Added Services in Order Fulfillment

November 20, 2014

Updated: December 17th, 2015
We all know by now that, for many brands, the packaging is as important as the product. A visually appealing package speaks to both the content and quality of the product inside.

More often than not it’s the appearance that product managers focus on to stand out from the crowd. That’s a competitive criteria where it can be tough to stand out though (trust us, we have a hand in creating a lot of great packages each and every day!)

If that’s true of your product category, it might be time to  add “tactility” to the list of qualities that your higher-end product packaging should exhibit. Continue reading Can’t Stand Out? Pump Up Your Product Packaging!

November 13, 2014

Our business brings us into contact with some outstanding organizations and individuals. As our Chief Strategy Officer Thom Campbell explained in an interview earlier this year, it’s the passion for people in the supply chain world that really drives our efforts.

With that in mind, and the occasion of Thanksgiving fast approaching in the United States, we thought it would be worth taking the time to focus on some partners and vendors that we believe represent the best of our profession. This is our “Vendor Spotlight” series, and this week we’ll focus on our New Jersey neighbors Micara Trading.

Micara Trading Logo

 

 

Vendor Spotlight: Micara Trading

The relationship we have with Micara Trading and owner David Weisfelner goes back quite some time, and with the company’s 30+ years in the industry that won’t come as much of a surprise.

Sewing machine close upMicara operates in the logistics and distribution field with a strong focus on garment work and special services. These specialties include sewing, steaming, dry-cleaning, price ticketing and odor removal, with many other valuable refurbishing options if a client bringing in a shipment finds that something has gone awry in transit.

Given the potential for damage to garments and the high rejection rates caused by even minor blemishes, expert care is required at both ends of the shipment process, from sourcing to delivery. Decades of experience make for great confidence in the latter part of the supply chain, even in cases where the earlier elements don’t live up to expectations.

In short, what David Weisfelner and his team don’t know about the apparel industry probably isn’t worth knowing, and it’s their clients who benefit from it!  

When you need a quick turnaround and flawless delivery, this is the kind of back up that product planners want to have on their side. As you review the company’s website you’ll notice the same refrain crop up time and again, “problem solving,” “resolving,” “solutions,” and plenty more synonyms to describe the same core value: Micara Trading is an organization that cares about your business challenges and has a passion to help you hurdle them.

One of the reasons our two companies have connected so often over the years is down not only to geographical proximity but also having values that are extremely close to one another. Both companies have been built on a passion to understand our clients and serve them better with each subsequent shipment. We’re both high-touch, hands on service providers with a commitment to solving problems and seeing the job through.

Micara has committed to this superior level of service for three decades and provides a role model for us to keep striving that bit higher with each new piece of work we undertake.

Learn more about Micara Trading LLC’s services and story here on their website.

October 30, 2014

Our “Unpacking” series is dedicated to defining and expanding upon a practice or concept in the supply chain world that prompts a lot of questions. You can read all of the previous entries here

This week we look at price ticketing, an activity that for us comes under the category of “value added services.” These are activities that we undertake above our core services, often tailored to a client’s custom requirements. There are plenty of service solutions that come under this category and we’ll explore many of them in this series before the year is out.

http://gty.im/152891684

 

Price ticketing is the process of labeling up products so that they include the information required by the customer and end-retailer. This includes the price, of course, any discounts, relevant product information, and often codes that can be scanned. In some cases customer-friendly codes may even be included, such as Quick Response (QR) codes that can be scanned by mobile devices and allow the customer to access more detailed product info and specifications.

Price ticketing tends to be completed at the point of manufacture, whenever possible. Product planners usually have close relationships with their manufacturer and build the price and information tags/labels into the production process. Often labor costs are lowest at this section of the supply chain, bringing the marginal cost per product down, and it’s appealing to have products labeled up and ready to go the minute they arrive at the warehouse.

That being said, when the country of origin has higher labor costs or insufficent expertise on the supplier’s part, the price ticketing activity may need to be moved further down the supply chain. We perform the price ticketing function for most of our clients. We focus a lot of effort and attention on our value added services and have become well-known . The labels often come from an approved vendor, or the client will provide an approved sample as a blueprint for production of the full batch. This makes it possible to take stock product and customize it for a specific retailer.

If price ticketing is pushed all the way to the end of the supply chain and reaches the retailer (DC or store level), they tend to levy charge back fees. These are sufficiently large enough to discourage this practice, making the 3PL an attractive alternative to price ticketing at origin.

 

Along with assembly activities – such as kits, gift sets, shopping channel combination packagess – this type of value added service comprises approximately 10 to 20 percent of the work that a 3PL (third party logistics) provider like Capacity LLC undertakes. It also provides an opportunity to get closer to our clients and understand their requirements a little better, the value of which is tough to put a price on (in a metaphorical sense, of course!)