If necessity is the mother of invention, then I definitely need some of it. Desperation is not pretty, but I am close!
OK, you smart, business people out there. I need some help. I am not ready to open up my retail stores just yet. But, I am having a HELL of a time trying to get my product to my clients, and I am frustrated. I have searched multiple avenues and keep coming up at halfway places or just dead ends. So, I bring my quest to you. How can I get small packages to my customers in a timely and cost effective manner?
Since COVID shuttered our business doors, I have been fulfilling/ processing orders. I started with most orders going through USPS. In the small town with USPS, it would take 1-2 days to go to the large sorting facility and then 1-2 days back then to go to the person’s residential address. That was not going to work, so I moved all inventory to a large town where it would not take the 1-2 days to go to the larger sorting facility. The large town though has intermittent problems. It will be fine one or two weeks and then it goes into a deep dark hole. It is now taking more than 5 days to get anything through in the large metro area. One might think, well, you are still saving time, but the answer is no. One USPS station will be fine one week and then another week, it will just be horrible. The USPS has stopped tracking all orders through this metro area, just stopped, even though it is a service that we (my customer and I) have paid. So, it makes all of my packages look like I have just not sent them. I am spending more time trying to answer questions from unhappy customers than I am spending on marketing and sales. USPS has shown that they are neither about partnerships, service or commerce.
I go to FedEx and UPS. While they too seem to have more business than they care, they at least are tracking most materials and get it right most of the time. It is a service that you pay for though. Many times, the shipping is costing me more than the package itself! Why would someone buy from me when they can get the package off Amazon in just a few days when mine costs more with shipping.
So, why do I just not jump on Amazon like everyone else? First, being a small business, I cannot just jump on Amazon. I do not have the infrastructure (inventory) to support such. Secondly, I have been chasing my tail trying to recover as much business as possible with the pandemic. Going after Amazon would be beyond that. And, finally, my product partners do not favor Amazon as territory becomes an issue, etc.
Back to FedEx and UPS, I am familiar with these services as I previously ran a multi-million dollar account through FedEx. While I do not consider my current account small by any means, it is big to me, these services want to push you to a 3rd party. I find it difficult to ask specific questions, make claims, and get the additional help for my “small” account without jumping through hoops. (UPS has trended towards helpful, others not so much.)
So, how do I get small packages to my customers without it being cost (and service) prohibitive? I am lucky that many of my customers are centrally located so I need packages to go there!
Here has been my research:
1. Lockers: I thought what if I install these lockers at a central location and have customers pick up items there. There are several businesses that offer these types of set ups usually appealing to multi-housing districts and businesses on location. My thought was to co-op this deal and find a way to bring products to customers. After all, the big box stores have this type of concept actually located in their store, i.e. Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Alas, the metrics did not seem to work out with the co-op structure since my business was centrally located, outside of others and well funding.
2. Consignment shops: I have looked into consigning a space at a consignment shop just to have them assist in mass distributing product. This still has some merit. My reservation is that many consignment shops are in a similar situation that I am in with the COVID situation. (And, I am not sure that some realize the amount of product I ship.) I really like this concept of a single shop with multiple shops, but most adapters of this concept are cottage makers, crafters and boutiques selling end product and not manufactured items.
3. Building a partnership with a similarly situated storefront that could assist in distributing merchandise. Still a possibility; however, many of my customers are competitors to those that are similarly situated. A possibility, yes, but still questioning the practicality.
4. Building a partnership with a business that is equipped to distribute product already sold: I have one partner that ships product to a FedEx facility at a discounted rate. I have to go and pick up the product, but the concept works for me as I am not paying more for the shipping than I am the product that I need. The issue is that this is a FedEX facility and if you are not a million dollar account holder with FedEx, then this arrangement does not seem to be a possibility.
5. I had even considered a rep type model where I would hire a person to deliver product or to meet purchasers at a particular location. This one has a lot of holes. Just putting it out there.
Is there another way to do this without having a store front? With so many people shopping online, there has got to be a better way. I keep going back to the adage: you want cheap, fast or good, pick two. The problem is that I am not even getting two with any option out there. It’s a problem for me as a business owner and as a consumer. I am sure if I have this problem, many others out there are experiencing the very same thing. Can we solve this?