It can be tricky to find the best warehouse center for your eCommerce company. Choosing this partner involves a lot of research and discussion about your needs and their capabilities. While Red Stag Fulfillment is very bullish about what we offer, we think you should judge us and other options based on comparable metrics. To help, we’ve put together this list of five categories that can turn the options you’re considering into a shortlist for people to interview.
What’s a warehouse center?
When companies ask for a warehouse center, they’re usually looking for a warehouse location that provides some fulfillment or distribution support. A warehouse center toward the beginning of your supply chain may inbound goods from a manufacturer, then send freight to different fulfillment locations so that you have inventory available. That would make this a distribution center.
However, a warehouse center at the end of your supply chain will serve as one of those fulfillment locations, breaking down freight into individual SKUs and using those to fill orders for your customers. We’ll be taking the fulfillment approach in this blog because it can better help your business prepare and grow. Most eCommerce companies can operate well with a warehouse center that provides fulfillment services without needing any distribution center options.
How to choose the best warehouse center for your company
Now that we’re all on the same page, it’s time to look at what makes a helpful, reliable warehouse center for your operations. Five core characteristics can help you judge a warehouse center provider. Some tackle physical elements of the warehouse locations, while others focus on the company and the technology it uses. Here are the essentials to get you started.
1. Location, location, location
It’s often said that the only three things that matter in property are “location, location, location.” We think that adage is valid for the warehouse center and fulfillment operations, too. The location of your warehouses impacts inbound times and costs, the speed you can reach customers, the cost to ship orders to customers, wages, rental pricing, and much more. In a world focused on growing your business and ensuring fast deliveries, location is critical.
Your fulfillment operations or partners should be able to explain why their locations offer you the support needed while controlling your costs. The location should be the core driver for the 3PL’s decisions on warehouse center facilities. It’s why our national fulfillment strategy includes Knoxville and Salt Lake City, with potential future additions looking at metros that need greater service coverage.
Conventional wisdom often puts California toward the top of location lists, but in our experience, that’s not always true. Click here to learn the truth about California fulfillment locations.
2. Proven capabilities with product expertise
A warehouse center needs to have the capabilities to handle your specific types of products. While every partner can promise general pick, pack, and ship support, that may not cover special requirements. A lack of knowledge here can quickly lead to damaged goods and overpriced shipments.
Red Stag Fulfillment focuses on heavy, bulky, large, and luxury items. Our teams have the training to handle these products and the forklifts or other equipment necessary to maneuver them around the warehouse safely. We’ve ensured our racks and shelving can handle these products and have room for a variety of items. That’s true for everything from flat-pack furniture and comfy chairs to electric bikes and world-class oatmilk.
Expertise also means working with the right partners for your products. We negotiate carrier rates around these larger items. That helps us offer you a better DIM weight rate or tackle fees you may face with someone who focuses on lightweight goods. By working with specific company areas, we can offer the best-tailored services for their products.
3. Guarantees and support
Capabilities and expertise are a great start to determining your warehouse center partner. However, the next test should be if the company achieves the desired results with that knowledge and skill. Case studies and customer reviews are a great starting point to learn how others feel about the service. Begin here and look for what companies say works well and what doesn’t.
After that reading, it’s time to ask the potential 3PL about their service level agreements and guarantees. These help you judge if other customers hold the 3PL to the same standards you have. Ask for metrics and promises based on the positive and negative elements you found in reviews.
For us at Red Stag, we prioritize beating expectations and guaranteeing the services we offer. That mission translates into specific promises we offer to everyone:
- Receiving: When we unload your shipment in our facility, we’ll receive it accurately within two business days.
- Inventory accuracy and zero shrinkage: If any of your inventory is damaged or missing after receiving it into our facility, we will pay you the wholesale cost of that item.
- Order processing speed: That means 100% of your orders ship according to your chosen service level. If we miss that target, you don’t pay for that shipment, and we pay you an inconvenience fee.
- 100% order accuracy: If an order is shipped incorrectly, we address it in three ways —we fix the mistake, you don’t pay for that shipment, and we give you a fee for the error.
Red Stag and any other 3PL you consider should always be willing to put their money where their fulfillment is.
4. Room to grow
A warehousing provider should have enough space for your goods right now, with plenty of additional room as you scale. When you outsource storage, it should never get in the way of your growth potential. During this eCommerce boom, that means your partner should have existing space and concrete plans for expanding.
Red Stag Fulfillment is currently building out a Sweetwater campus and adding square footage to our two current locations. Our goal is to help every customer meet demand with affordable space that can scale as quickly as you do.
And by adopting the industry-lead cubic storage model, you’ll only ever pay for the physical space your products use. If your business is seasonal, you’ll be able to reduce and control costs as you scale inventory down. Or, if the work-from-home revolution has been good to you, you can use more space and keep that as long as you need. It’s easier to predict your costs and helps you restock at whatever moment is best for your business.
5. Tech and warehouse center software
Your eCommerce business lives and breathes tech and data. Every system generates more understanding of customers, sales potential, and supply chain needs. Your business deserves a warehouse center partner that helps you capture and use this data instead of building silos.
We recommend you ask every potential provider about their technology platforms and integration capabilities. You’ll want to know what they use in the warehouse to see how to works with your favorite tools. At the same time, it’s good to check that their warehouse and order management tools include features like barcode scanning, order checks, inventory audits, and multiple points of data capture during activities like inbound and putaway.
Red Stag offers some direct integration capabilities, such as our Shopify integration. We also support multiple eCommerce tools directly via API and webhooks or through partner services like DropStream. That makes it easy to use your preferred order and customer management tools, shopping carts, and much more.
Integration can be complex, especially in the eCommerce space. So, we’ve created this free eBook to help you understand the process and our approach. And if you ever have questions about our capabilities, Red Stag’s experts are just a form or phone call away.
Get warehouse center reviews and references
Warehouse center operators always put their best foot forward when it comes to winning your business. Those proposals are a good start point, allowing you to ask questions and get specifics. However, you’ll want to explore these companies in a broader sense to see if their culture, capabilities, and promises fit your needs. That means reading reviews, looking for awards, and asking for references.
You shouldn’t have to take our word for it when it comes to guarantees, service levels, and the ability to help you grow. We invite you to read what Pop-A-Shot says about us, search for online reviews on third-party sites, and explore why we’ve landed on Fit Small Business’s list of the 6 Best Order Fulfillment Services for Small Businesses for the sixth year in a row. After that, our experts are here to answer any questions you have about how we operate.