How To Find And Leverage 3PLs
Partnering with third party logistics providers (3PLs) is a great way to focus on your business operations while leaving fulfillment and shipping to businesses specializing in these processes.
Stitch is excited to partner with several 3PLs, with more integrations on the way. When you partner with a 3PL and use Stitch as your central hub, you’ll have visibility into the shipping and fulfillment information that flows between the two platforms.
Advice For Choosing a 3PL
- Identify 3PLs that serve your industry and work with businesses in your vertical. Do your products require temperature control? What about a dust-free environment or a secure facility? Do they integrate with solutions already in your technology stack? There are 3PLs that can accommodate each of these needs, so make sure you identify your must-haves, and make a short list of possible partners from there.
- Many of our customers have trouble finding credible reviews when searching for 3PLs. One way to circumvent this problem is learning who a 3PL’s customers are and reading those companies’ reviews that pertain to shipping and fulfillment.
- Be prepared for pricing conversations. The 3PL will ask a laundry list of questions about your business before giving you a quote, but you should know which questions to ask, too. Often the quoted price won’t include value add-ons like marketing inserts, gift wrapping, and special packaging, so be sure to ask about those.
Questions To Ask Potential 3PL Partners
- Do a 3PL’s warehouse locations make sense for your customer base? For example, if the majority of your orders are coming from the West Coast and a 3PL has warehouses in New York, Florida, and Chicago, you’ll probably want to look for a more geographically compatible 3PL.
- To what extent is the fulfillment and shipping process customizable? One of Stitch’s 3PL partners, Shipwire, offers businesses the ability to brand with personalized inserts as well as customized labels and shipping confirmation emails. Additionally, Shipwire provides customers with options regarding shipping rates and delivery time windows.
- Do they have customer references with order volumes similar in size to yours? It’s easy for a 3PL to tell you they can handle your order volume, but nothing beats confirmation from an actual customer.
- Can the 3PL scale with you? Be upfront with your business goals and vision for the future so potential partners can tell you upfront whether they have the capabilities to support your growth.
- Once you decide on a 3PL, visit the warehouse early. Even in such a connected world, there are benefits to actually observing the processes that will get your products from the warehouse to your customers. Stitch customer Brian Hahn of Nomad tells us, “We should have physically visited the warehouse earlier. There are a lot of things they do that are very smart and we now love, but it took us a while to figure out why they were doing certain things. Had we gone to the warehouse from the start, we would have had those answers faster.”
- Start by sending a few items as opposed to your entire inventory. Test to see what works well and what still needs to be communicated and perfected with your 3PL.
- If you’re switching from Amazon FBA to a 3PL, make FBA your default warehouse in Stitch and add the new 3PL as an overflow warehouse. That will run the inventory out of FBA and prevent you from needing to transfer inventory or have inventory shipped back to you — only to have to ship it out to your new 3PL. Once stock numbers are at 0 with FBA, you can switch your default warehouse.
Once you make a decision, trust your partner. Brian says Nomad chose a 3PL because time spent on shipping and fulfillment was time taken away from creating new products.
“We had to make sure we always had tape and boxes, and as we added SKUs we needed multiple box sizes and new ways to make sure everything was packed properly. We were also spending a ton of time training people to pick and pack properly. Now we can focus on our products again.”
Focus on your core business and let the 3PL do the heavy lifting (literally). Remember that 3PLs specialize in fulfillment and shipping — they do it better and faster, and with best-of-breed warehouse technology.