Warehouse Shopping 101

Follow these 7 simple steps to find the right fulfillment partner.

Selecting a fulfillment provider goes deeper than finding a warehouse to store product; it’s about understanding your brand’s requirements and ultimately matching with a partner that can meet your needs.

But what should you look for when sourcing a partner? We consulted Chris Mushinsky, vice president of Warwick Fulfillment Solutions (with more than 15 years of experience under her belt) to find out.

1. Make sure your brand requirements align with your provider’s capabilities.
Although one warehouse might be easily confused for another, you want to be sure you’re selecting a site that specifically matches your brand. “Not all providers are the same,” Mushinsky says. For example, are you shipping to end consumers, businesses or both? Providers with business-to-business experience will often work with direct-to-consumer outlets. However, they may not be equipped to handle order fluctuations or might not have (or allocate) their resources to you, “but rather to another client with greater volumes, easier requirements and/or more urgent time constraints—all of which could put your brand at a disadvantage,” warns Mushinsky.

2. Find your Goldilocks zone.
You’ll want a provider that gives you the attention your brand requires—regardless of its order volumes. “As a client, you don’t want to comprise less than 5 percent of your provider’s volume, or you may be starved for resources because you are a small fish. You likely don’t want to be too big a fish, either,” Mushinsky says; big volume swings in your account could lead to either missed deadlines or an unstable labor pool at the warehouse. “Ideally, you want to be between 5 and 20 percent of your provider’s business.”

3. Ask questions for added value.
“As a niche brand, any added value will likely go a long way,” Mushinsky says. Ask what additional services can be offered to you. For example, are there discounts on shipping rates? On which carriers does the discount apply? Does the provider have dimensional weight threshold allowances to minimize the impact of shipping costs determined by box dimension vs. actual weight? There are cost-saving opportunities if you ask the right questions!

4. Confirm your provider is proficient in your category.
Ask about relevant experience to your account requirements and product type. “For example, if you ship glass containers or liquid products, you’ll want to use a provider with experience in packing product to avoid breakage and leakage issues,” Mushinsky explains. “If you ship to retailers with routing guide requirements, you’ll want a provider that understands the IT and shipping sides of routing guide compliance.”

5. Check on client retention before entering into an agreement.
A strong relationship can last years—the ideal partnership will allow you to focus on more than just the fulfillment side of the business. How do you know if you are entering into a lasting relationship? Mushinsky makes it a point to look at a company’s track record. “Check on the provider’s client retention. Short tenures can be an indication of either small, project-based work or client dissatisfaction with execution,” she says. “Getting client references can also be a great way to learn if the promises of the sales process translate to the day-to-day service levels.”

6. Achieve client centricity via a designated layperson.
You want to know that your brand is well represented at the provider, even if you are located in a different time zone or internationally. “This is often best accomplished by having a central point of contact,” she confirms. An account manager communicates status, alerts you to issues and offers vetted solutions so that promises are kept and deadlines met. Preferably, your manager functions as a layperson with expertise in your product category and/or with similar business requirements to your brand.

7. Think ahead for sustained success.
You don’t know for sure what your brand’s requirements will be down the road. “The marketplace is changing constantly and brands are evolving to stay competitive,” says Mushinsky. You may find yourself in need of services in the future that are not a part of your current requirements and want to know if your provider will invest in new services in order to support your brand.