This is part one in a two-part series. You can read part two here.
Start-ups are young companies so full of enthusiasm for their product or service that it’s often contagious.
Before you know it, your product’s getting a fair amount of press, or perhaps has even gone viral. The problem many startups neglect to address from day one is fulfillment. It’s one thing to make a product and market it effectively, but it’s quite another to actually get those physical items out to their destinations.
Chris Thornham, co-founder of FLO Cycling, had this very problem when his company started taking off. He and his brother were fulfilling orders from their home, but only reached a peak efficiency of about 330 orders a day. This is what he had to say about it in a column in Internet Retailer: “A quick and efficient process allows your customers to swiftly receive their purchase — an essential part of the user experience that cannot be overstated. While patience is a virtue, they want to play with their new toys as quickly as possible.”
Keeping Fulfillment In-House
Startups tend to underestimate the amount of time order fulfillment can consume, but if you’re not planning to process many units daily or your company specializes in something you’re ordering on-demand from elsewhere, it may stay manageable for a long time.
There are some tricks to improving your order processing efficiency, including:
Keeping your fulfillment in one spot. When you’re working out of your garage or basement, it can be tempting to stack things pretty much anywhere you can find a space, but don’t. The more disorganized you are, the longer it’s going to take to fulfill your orders and that’s more time your customers spend waiting for their products.
Taking advantage of technology. Even if you can’t afford more than a printer and a laptop, put them to work as part of your order fulfillment process. Use software to automatically grab shipping and product information in one go and print it off instead of trying to manually maintain a cumbersome and frustrating spreadsheet or other offline database. The Cloud is your friend, use it to speed up order processing.
Using an assembly line. Wherever you’re doing your order fulfillment, set it up like an assembly line. You might not have moving belts and robots, but you can still stack all your product boxes in one zone and your products nearby to keep the workflow moving fast. Some startups find that printing all the labels first and attaching them to boxes speeds things up — you may have to experiment a little to see what suits your business best.
As a startup, you may need to handle your own fulfillment while your company is small, but as long as you plan ahead for it and stay organized it should be reasonably manageable. As you grow, your company will face even greater challenges, though — we’ll discuss those in part two of this two part series.