You may have seen or read coverage depicting a fulfillment center as a terrible place to work. In 2021, California lawmakers were so concerned about fulfillment center working conditions that they passed a law limiting the use of quotas in fulfillment warehouses in the state.
In a 2019 episode, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight highlighted the dangers of fulfillment center work. As Oliver’s piece pointed out, fulfillment centers often operate on slim margins, which can lead to low wages and demanding quotas for warehouse workers, as operators scramble to turn a profit.
Most of the criticism of warehouse working conditions is aimed at the biggest eCommerce company in the U.S.: Amazon. That criticism is often well-earned: Amazon warehouses have an injury rate 80% higher than the rest of the fulfillment industry.
It’s indisputable that working conditions in some fulfillment centers are less than optimal, to put it mildly. But, while working conditions at Amazon get most of the attention, not all warehouses operate the way Amazon fulfillment centers do.
Red Stag Fulfillment was built on a culture of excellence from the beginning. To us, that doesn’t just mean that we strive for error-free work from the pickers and packers on the warehouse floor (we do). It also means that we work hard to be the best place our employees have ever worked.
So let’s drill down into the truth about working at a fulfillment center.
Fulfillment Center Horror Stories
Amazon isn’t the only warehouse operator with poor working conditions. A New York Times investigation detailed how pregnant workers struggled with warehouse work at a facility operated by a different fulfillment company. Some had miscarried after being denied requests for shorter shifts and lighter duty. Most shockingly, the article also recounted an incident in a Tennessee warehouse where a worker died. After her death, employees were ordered to continue work while her body remained on the warehouse floor. (The warehouse operator has denied reports of this incident by workers.)
And warehouse conditions have been even more challenging during COVID. With more people ordering products online, pressure on fulfillment center workers to do more, better, faster may increase. As a result, we could hear more fulfillment center horror stories.
But, fortunately, there is more than one kind of fulfillment company. Some 3PLs strive to create a different kind of working environment; that’s an important part of being a different kind of eCommerce fulfillment company. For example, at Red Stag Fulfillment, we increased sanitation and social distancing to keep our staff safe while keeping our client’s orders moving, even in the peak pandemic holiday season.
Here’s what it’s like to work for a fulfillment center that knows its employees are its most valuable asset.
What It’s Like to Work for Red Stag Fulfillment
Red Stag Fulfillment opened for business in early 2013 with just a few employees. Those first staffers did everything, from managing operations to building shelving and packing boxes. One of them was Sam Hughett, now Site Manager for Red Stag’s Knoxville facility. “We started out against the grain from traditional warehousing,” Hughett recalls. “We wanted to make a great work environment.”
Two eCommerce entrepreneurs founded Red Stag Fulfillment. Now, every employee, from the CEO to the newest hire, shares that original entrepreneurial spirit. Today, we put Problem Boards on our warehouse floors, so employees can report issues and make suggestions to improve operations, and an RSF manager will respond to every suggestion.
Eric McCollom, Red Stag Fulfillment’s COO, was one of the first employees who came on in 2013. He knew the scrappy little fulfillment center could only succeed if management listened to everyone’s ideas. “At the end of the day, it’s about a culture that we’re going to be the best at everything we do,” he says. “That means creating the best working environment to attract and retain quality employees. We believe that listening to all perspectives and treating our employees with respect is one of the reasons we’ve been rated the top fulfillment service [for heavy and fragile items] four years in a row.”
It gets hot in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the summer, but RSF’s warehouses never experience the sweltering conditions that some other fulfillment centers do. It’s not possible to run air conditioning in a warehouse-sized space with high ceilings and frequently open loading dock doors, but we use a fan system that keeps our warehouses 10-20° cooler than the outside temperature on hot days. And our employee break room has air conditioning, to give staff a chance to cool down.
Red Stag Fulfillment offers our clients fulfillment accuracy guarantees that mean their business will never suffer because we make a mistake. Of course, perfection is impossible, but we strive to get as close as we can. We know we can’t get there by treating our employees like robots.
Instead, RSF offers a bonus structure aligned with those client fulfillment guarantees. After employees pick or pack a certain number of orders error-free, they get a bonus for accuracy, not based on speed or meeting a specific quota per hour worked. Accuracy is the primary driver for our incentives. As the number of error-free packages rises, so does the amount of the bonus an employee gets each time. We’ve had long-time employees turn down promotions to management positions because they earned more on the floor through our bonus structure!
Employee break room
Working in a warehouse is hard, physical work and when you work hard on the warehouse floor, you need a clean and comfortable space to take breaks. Providing pleasant break rooms for our employees is a priority for Red Stag Fulfillment at both our Salt Lake City and Knoxville locations.
Promotion from within
Many of the people working in management at Red Stag Fulfillment started in the warehouse. We promote workers who show talent, drive, and initiative. When you know that your employees are your biggest asset, as we do, you want to keep the best people on your team. That means promoting from within.
Red Stag Fulfillment gives our employees full paid health benefits, with the option of a buy-in for family members. We offer stable, predictable, full-time work, with full benefits. Trainees start accruing PTO during the 90-day probation period and, once someone finishes probation, we give them an additional 40 hours of PTO right from the start.
During the pandemic, Red Stag Fulfillment’s workers were considered essential and had to stay on the job, so our goal was to keep them safe. We did that by adapting our schedules in the warehouse to allow an extra 30 minutes between shifts for a team to come in and disinfect packing stations and equipment. We also had a designated team that consistently disinfected high-touch areas such as breakrooms and clock-in stations. Because of this care for our employees, RSF had a low infection rate during the height of the pandemic.
And, of course, if a team member was unfortunate enough to get sick, RSF maintained a family-first attitude. We encouraged them to stay home, rest, recuperate, get well, and come back to work when they were recovered.
Long-term Employees Are the Key to Red Stag’s Strategy for Success
Red Stag Fulfillment’s business model is different from many fulfillment centers. We don’t count on shipping a high volume of orders at razor-thin margins to make a profit. Admittedly, we aren’t the cheapest fulfillment company in our eCommerce niche—just the best. RSF’s focus is on being the best order fulfillment service for businesses shipping larger, heavier parcels, and we know that we need experienced staff who care about what doing a terrific job to accomplish that goal.
Red Stag Fulfillment will try to keep up with the fulfillment speed expectations that Amazon sets, but we will never follow Amazon’s example and replace workers with robots because our client’s products are too heavy to be handled by robots. We need human workers to handle the items we ship with care, accuracy, and speed, so continuing to invest in our employees and culture will remain at the heart of our business model.
A Different Kind of Fulfillment Center
Red Stag Fulfillment is not for everyone. We aren’t the best fulfillment service if your eCommerce business sells lightweight and small products. However, if you sell heavy, fragile, or bulky items, we’d love to talk with you. And we believe our attitude toward our employees is one of the reasons you should choose us as your fulfillment center.
Red Stag Fulfillment’s founders couldn’t find a good fulfillment company to ship their products. The fulfillment company they chose had a trash-strewn warehouse, a filthy employee break room, and, not surprisingly, demoralized staff. That company didn’t treat its clients much better.
That’s why Red Stag Fulfillment strives to be a better fulfillment company. Creating a positive work environment attracts the best employees, and the best employees power the best fulfillment companies.
Better Fulfillment Center Jobs
Working in a fulfillment center is, without a doubt, hard work. Jobs on the warehouse floor require physical strength and stamina. However, at a fulfillment center that values its employees, warehouse work can be satisfying and rewarding. Red Stag Fulfillment strives to create good jobs, a positive work culture, and a family feeling in the workplace. We believe every employee should be treated with respect.
So, don’t give up on fulfillment industry jobs. You just might find that a fulfillment warehouse is the best place you ever worked. At Red Stag Fulfillment we are continuously improving our operations, for our employees and our clients.