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Your Guide to Musical Instrument Fulfillment

Geoff Whiting

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Musical instruments can be difficult for anyone to ship, but those issues scale when you sell saxophones, guitars, keyboards, and more online. While our 2021 look at how to ship instruments individually sparked interest, we thought it was time to put together a bigger guide around musical instrument fulfillment.

When a single scratch or ding can lead to a replacement, your business needs to master the eCommerce fulfillment specifics of shipping instruments and growing your brand on a positive note.

opening up an case after a music instrument fulfillment delivery

Premier handling for bulky and fragile fulfillment

One musical instrument fulfillment challenge is getting these heavy, bulky items to your customers without damage or delay. Containers and crates must be strong enough to protect the shipment the entire way — customers can be upset if their new instrument or case comes with dents or dings.

That should mean a lot of testing to ensure the 3PL is treating your products and customers as you want. Before that testing, there are some qualifications you should look for during the RFP process and initial conversations:

  • Tight inventory control to minimize the risk of shrinkage — and a guarantee to make you whole when things go missing or get damaged.
  • Fast, accurate order processing and reliable delivery.
  • Expertise in safely handling fragile and bulky merchandise.
  • Kitting services in case you sell to schools where students need instruments, cases, stands, and more all at once.

People buying musical instruments typically need their goods delivered quickly and safely. Sometimes it is because their child just started middle school and decided to join the band on a whim, while others need a replacement for a performance, teaching, or practice. They need you to be a company they can count on — which means you need us, a fulfillment company you can always rely on to get the job done right.

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What’s the difference in musical instrument fulfillment?

Order fulfillment can seem simple, but there’s nuance to your business, including handling inventory and getting orders to customers. Racks, shelves, docks, trucks, packing materials, and scanners all should keep your specific business and products in mind. You’ll also want someone that operationally leans toward your needs. As a guide to musical instrument fulfillment, let’s give you a couple of things to look for from a fulfillment partner.

Ability to deliver instruments safely

Most online orders of musical instruments will involve bulky packages, while some will also be heavy. A trumpet weighs between 2 and 3 pounds, while a tuba can weigh upwards of 30 pounds. Electric guitars are often around 8 pounds, but a five-piece drum set can be 70 to more than 120 pounds. Then there are cases and everything else you add to each order.

Depending on what you sell, your orders can get very heavy very quickly. You’ll also need significant packaging to safely ship instruments and keep them and their cases free of damage. That means you need a 3PL with the processes, equipment, and training to move heavy merchandise safely. Damage, dings, tears, and breakage can ruin any single instrument, costing you hundreds of dollars.

Ask your 3PL about their ability to handle heavy and fragile goods. What is their typical package weight? How does their workflow keep your items safe? What kind of testing do they do to ensure packaging is secure?

Flexing and scaling as you need

Every industry has trends and seasons, including musical instruments. So, your planning and this guide to musical instrument fulfillment must address those trends relevant to you. Sales trends depend on the mixing of your core audiences and products.

Suppose you’re selling musical instruments for band students, for example. In that case, you’ll want to significantly increase inventory holding in the summer so you can have everything ready as students return to class in the fall. Then, you’ll transition some of that inventory investment into ongoing supplies, from valves and reeds to replacements and repair kits.

If you move into these smaller options, such as holding trumpet finger buttons and valve stems or sousaphone necks, talk with your 3PL. Not all big and bulky shippers also have small quantities of all these other products. You want to ensure your partner can support all aspects of your business.

On the other hand, guitars and drum kits follow more hobby and eCommerce trends. That means more consistent sales during the year and a big influx of orders during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Ask your 3PL partner about their ability to scale and change fulfillment needs so that you understand pricing, sales volume requirements, and other details correctly.

Weight and musical instrument fulfillment

When you first start shipping musical instruments around the U.S., you might be surprised at the cost to move these goods. That’s because many orders will be large, others will be heavy, and some will be both. This reality makes planning difficult because you may pay based on the weight or the volume of the packages you ship.

Think about orders and instruments in this way:

  • Some instruments are very light while others are heavy and dense.
  • Despite often being metal, many parts are fragile and prone to dents and bends.
  • Instruments need heavy-duty cases and packaging to keep them safe during shipping.
  • Instruments aren’t uniform sizes and shapes, so you need a variety of boxes and materials to protect them, but this can create packages awkwardly configured for shipping.

Those considerations mean your 3PL or musical instrument fulfillment partner should negotiate with carriers based on dimensional (DIM) and physical weight. They should also work with you to understand DIM weight, oversized shipping charges in 2023, and shipping zone costs for these larger and heavier items.

The importance of dimensional weight to musical instrument fulfillment

Carriers charge you based on how much capacity you take up in their trailers and trucks. Capacity has two flavors: volume (dimensional weight) and physical weight. A trailer can only hold so much volume or weight before there’s an operational risk. So, modern carriers look at the dimensional weight and the actual weight of the box for each order. 

FedEx, UPS, and USPS all use specific formulae for calculating shipping costs that factors in size as well as weight.

To understand the cost difference, let’s use Red Stag’s DIM weight calculator.

Let’s think about this for a viola weighing 1.3 pounds. After adding the case, packing materials, and outside box, the whole thing weighs just under 12 pounds. However, the box is large and roughly 32” x 16” x 9”. The viola would ship with a DIM weight of 34 pounds for FedEx or UPS, and 28 pounds for USPS. So, carriers will charge you based on this DIM weight of 28 or 34 pounds.

The image below shows costs based on shipping zone and carrier for these DIM weights. If you just used the weight of the package to estimate costs, you could be surprised that you’re paying anywhere from $5 to $33 more than expected depending on carrier choice and how far the order travels.

shipping costs by zone for musical instrument fulfillment example listed above

Talking with a company like Red Stag can help you understand these cost changes and find ways to avoid them, such as using our multiple locations to avoid the high costs of Zones 5 through 8.

Characteristics of a good fulfillment partner

That might feel like a lot of information thrown your way, so let’s get down to brass tacks. Here are a few characteristics and things to ask about to understand if you’ve got a good partner for musical instrument fulfillment.

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Order safety at scale

Your 3PL should be able to make significant guarantees about the safety of your orders, backing this up with details about their prior year. Ask how they manage goods and move things safely around the warehouse. Discuss their rates of returns due to damage and how they make you whole if they cause an issue. You want guarantees about service and security.

Expertise in oversized and heavy shipping

Many musical instruments and their accoutrements ship in bulky or heavy packaging while remaining fragile. The best 3PLs for these shipments specialize in shipping heavy and oversized goods, negotiating with carriers to make these specific shipments more affordable, and having existing customers in these spaces.

Fast order processing and delivery

Speed is crucial to online sales success. That’s true even if your customers tend to order items months before they need them. While musical instruments aren’t perishable, people’s patience is. You want orders to move quickly from the processing stage through last-mile delivery so that people feel they can rely on you for their needs. Fulfilling orders quickly can also be affordable if you’ve got a reliable 3PL that automatically selects the most affordable products based on your speed promises.

Order accuracy in musical instrument fulfillment

Your customers are paying you for specific products; typically, they can’t use anything else. That means every order must be accurate or you face angry customers, refunds, and costs to return each item. Every mistake affects your profitability, especially for heavier and larger items with high shipping costs.

Demand that your fulfillment partner has high accuracy rates and ask for proof. See how well they did during peak or your seasonal times. Ask for customer referrals and references to get a reliable account of their success. And, as always, ask about how they make you whole and protect your business if the 3PL makes a mistake and ships the wrong item to the customer.

Kitting and subscription options

Depending on your sales targets, you will likely offer a variety of kits and subscription options. That can mean creating and kitting packs for someone new to an instrument — including books, cleaning materials, straps, and more. Kitting services can help you use inventory for these deals without needing to create the packaging and groups on your own. That way, you can sell saxophones like this at the beginning of the school year, but still use that same inventory to sell saxophones individually during other times.

Some music sales companies also offer subscription options for schools and musicians. That might mean cleaning materials each month, a quarterly set of reeds, replacement pads at certain times, and more. If you plan to make such an offering, always ask your 3PL for their support.

guitar that will need an additional box and packaging before music instrument fulfillment will keep it secure

Red Stag Fulfillment for musical instrument fulfillment

Red Stag Fulfillment is an excellent choice for musical instrument fulfillment. We’re your big, bulky, and fragile experts, but we still have significant experience with lightweight goods and related products. For every order, we offer options for same-day order fulfillment to move things fast, while still meeting our accuracy and safety guarantees.

Let us help you get every order correct every time. That way, we do the heavy lifting of fulfillment so you can focus on sales and customer satisfaction.

Turn to Red Stag Fulfillment  for High-Value and Oversized Shipping

Red Stag Fulfillment is a 3PL founded by ecommerce operators, and built for scaling businesses.

A team of fulfillment fanatics who care about our clients’ businesses like their own. We see things from our customers’ perspective, and have the guarantees to prove it.

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