Your answers will help you get started outsourcing logistics and establish a successful 3PL partnership
Thinking about working with a 3PL for the first time? There are a lot of upsides to partnering with a logistics provider. Doing so can save you time and money, not to mention helping you scale and launch into new markets. Whether you’re just getting off the ground or expanding into a new region, outsourcing logistics can come with tremendous benefits.
It does require a modicum of planning, however. A reliable 3PL will take a lot off a shipper’s plate, but it can only provide an optimal level of service once it has the right information. And knowing what to communicate to a third-party provider can be an overwhelming task, especially for startups and smaller enterprises that are new to the world of logistics contracting.
For that reason, we’ve compiled a list of questions to start thinking about before you even pick up the phone. We’ve helped scores of companies manage information overload when they first start planning their logistics. By giving you a glimpse into our thought process, we hope to help you avoid a headache and get the best possible service from your provider.
But – and this is where we have a confession to make – this list is as useful to us as we hope it will be to our clients. That’s because at WSI, we don’t just do ‘flat rate’ or one-size-fits-all, ‘quick’ pricing. In our experience, those types of prices can’t exist without building in hidden fees or broad assumptions. It’s just not reliable and that’s not how we roll.
Instead, we offer a different model. We’ve eschewed cookie-cutter estimates for accurate quotes that don’t include surprise fees. The following list is useful no matter which provider you decide to work with. Should you choose to partner with us, having at least some of this information on hand will help us help you.
So, without further ado, here’s what we’ll want to know once we get on a call:
When outsourcing logistics, prepare to answer the following questions
Product information: What we need to know
Let’s start with the simplest, and most important part of the equation. WSI handles merchandise from electronics and chemicals to food and paper products. Answering the following questions will help us know what to do with yours.
- What products are you shipping?
- What units do you use to track your product?
- What are the height and width dimensions, by unit? How much does a unit weigh?
- How many different SKUs do you anticipate storing?
- Can you provide pictures of your product?
Storage: Your needs help us shape the solution
Knowing more about an item’s storage requirements can be a great way to trim costs. We’ve lost count of the number of times that we’ve found creative ways to store a product and passed the savings onto our customers. We can do that when we know things like:
- If you use pallets, how many cases are there per pallet? How heavy are the cases?
- Does your product have particular requirements, such as temperature control? Does it have an expiration date that we need to be aware of?
- Can units be stacked on top of one another? If so, how high? Do they require racks?
- Are there other details that need to be tracked, such as pallet ID or lot number?
Shipping: Addressing details around warehouse arrival when outsourcing logistics
This aids in planning, big time. When your product arrives at the warehouse, a reliable 3PL will strive to unload it as efficiently as possible, and have it ready to ship out immediately. Everybody wants their product in inventory and ready to ship as soon as possible. For that reason, when you call us, we’ll likely ask you:
- What transportation mode will your product arrive on?
- How many truckloads of freight do you expect per month?
- How many pallets or cases are there per shipment?
- Will your product be shipped in pallets or be floor loaded? Will it include a single SKU or several?
Outbound shipping: Customer orders determine what happens next
WSI’s goal here is to get a feel for what your customer’s orders typically look like. We care just as much about correct packing as we do about fast turnaround times. To get this right, it helps us to know:
- Which transportation mode do you intend to use? Do you anticipate using 3PL transportation rates or your own?
- Within each mode, how many shipments do you expect per month? What items do you anticipate shipping, and how many of them? What unit of measurement do you prefer to use?
- Is any overpacking needed for your product?
- Will your product have any special requirements, such as labeling, kitting, or stretch wrapping?
- How will you send orders to us? Will you use Electronic Data Interchange, or another means of communicating?
- How much order lead time will you need?
- Do you ship directly to customers or to a store?
Inventory: Let’s talk volumes and tracking
Finally, whether you’re outsourcing logistics or keeping it in-house, there are always inventory requirements. Tracking this can feel overwhelming or impossible when your company is first starting out, and that’s okay. We’ve worked with plenty of customers who didn’t know how much or how quickly their company would grow. It’s actually one of our favorite challenges to tackle. To whatever extent possible, it’s helpful if you can tell us:
- How much inventory do you plan to have on hand?
- How many pallets will you have in inventory? Alternately, how much square footage will you need?
- How many orders do you expect per day? Per week? Per month?
- How much inventory do you expect to move into storage each month? How much do you expect to move out?
After reading through this list, you may be thinking, “I can’t answer half of these questions!” If so, don’t panic! Not having a forecast or a sense of your transportation needs isn’t a dealbreaker. In fact, the only situation that we haven’t been able to assist with yet is clients who don’t communicate with us. Other than that, we have yet to encounter a challenge that we could not find a solution for.
If you think you could benefit from outsourcing logistics, it’s time to enlist the help of a 3PL. Regardless of where you’re at in the business cycle, give us a call. We would love to hear from you.