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Your Total Guide to Starting a 3PL Business

Geoff Whiting

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Starting a 3PL business is a challenging, exciting adventure. Get it right, and you can become a master of international shipping and travel, negotiating with companies around the world. Get it wrong, unfortunately, and you’ll quickly burn through revenue and reserves while dealing with frustrated partners and customers. The question, then, is: Is it right for you?

To start your answer, let’s look at precisely what a 3PL is, what they do at a high level, and why Red Stag Fulfillment started. Then, you may discover an opportunity or realize that a partner exists to address what you need.

What is a 3PL?

Before starting a 3PL, you’ll want to learn what it is and how it operates. These third-party logistics companies offer the services that stores need to import and store inventory, protect it, and fill orders. They provide all the help companies need to get products from manufacturers to the end consumer. As the 3PL’s customers grow, a 3PL will also expand services to support imports and exports, either directly or by expanding their own partnerships.

A 3PL like Red Stag Fulfillment offers a core benefit: growing eCommerce companies can better predict their expenses and scale operations. The eCommerce store won’t hit inventory caps or physical space limitations when they have chosen the right 3PL partner, removing barriers to national or even international sales expansions.

3 core functions when starting a 3PL

The 3PL business model focuses on inventory control and management for other businesses. The exact service mix and capabilities of a 3PL may vary, but there are three core functions that most 3PLs provide. To start, let’s look at each of those a little closer.

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Inbound inventory

A 3PL will help customers move their goods from manufacturers or wholesalers to the 3PL’s warehouses. The company must schedule inbound inventory and replenishment orders to ensure each customer has the appropriate amount of stock. Some 3PLs just receive inventory, while others will help you create orders and manage your inbound inventory.

Red Stag Fulfillment provides data and assistance to help our customers restock at the right time to minimize the chance of stockouts and lost revenue. Our inbound teams also quickly offload products and scan them into inventory software so that you know what’s available at each location. Our freight forwarding partnerships make it easier for you to import products into the U.S. too.

inventory management for starting a 3pl

Warehousing and storage

Perhaps the most crucial function of a 3PL is to store your inventory. When inventory is stored incorrectly, it can become damaged and no longer useful. Poor storage also slows down fulfillment, frustrating customers.

The best 3PLs use scanning and automation tools to create accurate inventory counts available 24/7. The 3PL needs enough space to handle all client inventory now and for their future. Inventory must be stored safely, which can include refrigeration and other advanced requirements. Also, 3PLs will have to work to eliminate shrinkage to protect customers and their own operations.

Having a national fulfillment network also reduces shipping prices for customers while making last-mile fulfillment faster.

Learn about RSF’s inventory management and balancing support

fulfillment when starting a 3pl

Order fulfillment

The final component of standard 3PL services is the fulfillment of customer orders. 3PLs will pick products from stored inventory, pack products together based on individual orders, and ship these packages to the end customer. These efforts are foundational to a 3PL and rely on the company’s relationships with carriers and local partners to distribute orders.

3PLs should work with multiple carriers and offer multiple locations to minimize their costs and costs for their customers. The 3PL is also responsible for ensuring orders are accurate. Red Stag Fulfillment believes that the 3PL should pay for any incorrect orders that go out the door, which is exactly what we do.

See our order accuracy guarantees

Should I be starting a 3PL?

If managing inventory, transportation of goods, and fulfilling orders sound exciting to you, then it might be time to investigate working at or starting a 3PL business. Begin the same way you would with any business: research the current market, identify opportunities or niches, and learn about everything the business would require.

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Typically, launching a 3PL comes with significant capital investment. You’ll need to lease or buy a warehouse space, plus all the shelving, racks, and infrastructure. Warehouses need significant amounts of technology to process orders, scan barcodes, connect to customer and carrier software, and ensure order accuracy. Industrial scales, forklifts, hand carts, scanning devices, computer workstations, and other tools are also standard requirements.

Warehouse locations, hiring teams, buying equipment, and marketing to start landing customers can easily cost you millions of dollars before you bring in any revenue. The capital requirements make it difficult for many to start a 3PL. Beyond that, there are other scaling requirements. You’ll also want various legal, compliance, and logistics experts to flesh out your management team. Beyond that, 3PLs have extensive warehouse teams who can process inbound inventory quickly and fill orders accurately. These hires come with managerial, HR, and support needs outside of their wages.

It can be an intense process. Sometimes, that’s right for you. If you’re not sure, you may want to look into partnerships with existing 3PLs or even join a great time like ours to learn the business, master the fundamentals, and explore future possibilities.

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Why did Red Stag Fulfillment start?

Red Stag Fulfillment is an eCommerce 3PL provider specializing in shipping products heavier than 5 pounds, high-value, or need other types of specialized handling. We offer service guarantees to safeguard customer operations, including a zero-shrinkage allowance and paying our customers when an order is not shipped on time, as well as our same-day shipping services.

That’s how we believe 3PL fulfillment should be.

RSF starting a 3PL

Our leaders founded Red Stag Fulfillment in 2013 because of a poor-quality experience with existing fulfillment options. They are eCommerce entrepreneurs and needed a company that would provide the level of detail and care that their products demanded. The vendors were not performing as promised, orders were not shipped quickly, and customers were understandably unhappy. Sensing an opportunity and industry need, they formed Red Stag.

We started with just a few employees who managed operations, stocked shelves, and packed boxes.

Since then, we’ve continued to grow to provide customers with high-quality service and support. Not only have we been named a top 3PL, but we offer some of the best guarantees and order accuracy rates in the fulfillment industry. While some may think that’s largely due to our technology and processes, the people are the real heart of our success. We’re committed to our team members and the communities where we live and work, guiding our expansion efforts.

Thankfully, our customers agree with our focus and capabilities. The results speak for themselves.

Red Stag Fulfillment has plans to expand further and bring our national fulfillment services to more eCommerce companies. If you were thinking about starting a 3PL business because of fulfillment frustrations, we get it. We’ve been in the same position and took that action. If fulfillment is in your blood, we wish you great luck and success. If you’re more focused on getting rid of a headache, it might be best to speak with a fulfillment company that’s been there and solved that concern.

Can Red Stag solve my needs?

The big question for people looking at starting a 3PL is if that’s the best way to solve your concerns and work with your budget. It takes significant time and resources to get started, then to find customers and start negotiating with carriers. Running a 3PL is a full-time operation, and that isn’t always an option for owners of existing businesses.

It’s time to ask if Red Stag Fulfillment can address your business needs and remove the pain you’re experiencing. The best way to figure that out is to start a conversation and explain the problems in front of you. Our experts are here to listen.


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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3PL founded by ecommerce operators, and built for scaling businesses
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