Using a third party logistics provider for your company's order fulfillment needs should be carefully examined before you begin. Just like you need to vet everything (and everyone) else before you begin a partnership, it's no different with a 3PL company. Considering they are acting as an extension of your business, you have to feel comfortable in what they do every day.
Unfortunately, not all companies take the time to investigate potential fulfillment providers before signing the contract. Some think a logistics company can work independently without needing input directly from the business partner. But to keep shipments running smoothly without confusion and errors, you have to communicate with your fulfillment partner daily. An on-site tour of their distribution center is one part of the vetting process that should not be overlooked and is crucial to ensuring you select the right fulfillment partner. Here are our top tips for things to look for during a fulfillment center facility tour.
Cleanliness and Orderliness of Facility & Inventory
As many 3PL facility analysts note, you can't always assume a distribution center is completely clean from a still photograph. Don't sign on with a 3PL just based on a brochure or a picture they send you in the mail. So much can become easily hidden in photographs.
Doing a live tour, you'll be able to uncover things in a distribution center they may try to hide. An in-person tour gives you the opportunity to find out how orderly and clean they really are.
Since you’re entrusting product inventory to your 3PL partner, it is important to have peace of mind that your items will be kept safe and organized.The way they store inventory is going to matter, especially in bringing any risk of damage or potential for products to go missing. Make sure they have proper storage units, including a secure storage area for high ticket items if necessary. Make sure item spaces are clearly marked to lessen potential confusion of picking and shipping the wrong item. Aisles should be clear (no inventory left on the floor) and clean, so products are kept in pristine condition. Any sign of precarious inventory stacking is always a bad sign.
Packaging and Handling Processes
How the 3PL packages and handles your inventory is going to determine much about the warehouse's quality. Success in this area all comes down to technology and how advanced this tech is. Are they using the latest packaging and handling equipment, or is it too outdated?
Any kind of mechanical breakdown could slow down handling, hence leading to delays in your customers receiving packages on time. Plus, too much rushing or clunky technology could cause product damage, leading to increased customer returns. During your visit, ask what processes and technology they have in place to help reduce/eliminate shipping errors. Pay attention during the facility tour to see if employees are following those processes and procedures discussed. Also, it is important to ask about current and past order fulfillment accuracy statistics and even references to discuss their services.
The Capacity to Expand & Handle Large Projects
Do you know how much physical space your prospective 3PL has? An in-person tour can quickly find this out and whether they have any scalability to help your company grow and expand. You'll want a 3PL that can quickly scale if your company starts to grow faster than intended or can handle seasonal volume fluctuations.
With this, you want to know if the warehouse can take on large shipping projects. Can they handle seasonal volume fluctuations or increased order volumes during a product launch? It is important to review these topics with your potential partner to ensure that their infrastructure is capable of expanding to fulfill your needs at that moment. A solid plan should be in place to expand and/or downsize based on your business forecasts without impacting the customer experience.
Pay Attention to the Demeanor of Employees
How 3PL employees look and act can tell you a lot about whether they're a good culture fit for your business. By touring the facility and meeting the employees, you're able to determine whether they're truly happy and are going to represent your brand to the best of their ability. When you see happy employees, it usually means they're more engaged, hence leading to better service. In turn, this creates a domino effect in improving service to your customers.
Also, dive deeper during your site visit by asking your potential distribution center partner about track record with community involvement and support, programs available to employees such as wellness programs and company values and how they influence their workplace. Finding a fulfillment partner who is a value match for your organization is the foundation for a successful partnership.
Remember, the 3PL you team up with represents a good chunk of your brand reputation. Thorough vetting is worth every moment of time before signing on the dotted line. If you are looking to outsource your order fulfillment or interested in learning more about our services, please contact us today. We look forward to hearing from you!