Staci Americas Blog

Fulfillment Processes: Advice for Growing Companies from IZBA’s Jennifer Polce

The Unboxing Fulfillment podcast recently hosted Jennifer Polce, the Director of Consulting at IZBA Consulting, for a discussion about the operations challenges related to rapid sales growth. Read her key takeaways below.

The IZBA client roster includes many B2C brands who have experienced tremendous growth streaks. Here are Jennifer’s top five tips for ecommerce companies who are managing sudden growth – or who just want to be ready to manage it when their time comes.


Tip #1: Simplify and Wait to Diversify

Polce-Fulfillment-ProcessesRushing to introduce SKUs and expand the product line is a common misstep of growing companies, Jennifer observes. Overcomplicating the supply chain too early on can be a situation where brands can fail.

She often sees the 80:20 scenario playing out where 80% of business comes from 20% of sales. For cash-strapped eTailers, that can make things especially hard. Jennifer recommends companies focus on where their sales are, at least initially, before diversifying the product mix and adding complexity to their supply chain.


Tip #2: Don’t Wait to Automate

Not long ago automation was something that required an exhaustive business case to substantiate efficiency gains, cost savings and projected payback. Not so today from what Jennifer is seeing.

“With all the labor constraints, it's getting to the point where if companies aren't automating, they won't be able to keep up with demand going forward,” she says. “The sooner you do it, probably the better off you’ll be.”

This is especially relevant in ecommerce fulfillment where there’s not enough labor to keep up with demand during peak periods. Jennifer thinks automation and robotics is especially relevant as a solution to managing volume peaks and troughs throughout the year.

She gives the example of automated carts in fulfillment operations. By doing the traveling to and from pick locations, these robots save time that associates spend walking back and forth. The net effect is that fulfillment operations can run with fewer associates who work more productively. Watch to see how Staci Americas has deployed collaborative robots in its operations.


Tip #3: Be Transparent with Outside Fulfillment Partners

In the heat of managing a promotion or surge of orders, sometimes a third-party logistics (3PL) provider can be the last to know about an impending volume spike.

It pays to provide any outsourced fulfillment provider with all the information it requires, so the company can prepare, Jennifer says. The 3PL may need to hire more people so it can meet SLAs and fulfillment KPIs established in contracts. And from an inbound perspective, an outside partner needs to know what the flow will look like so it can staff up and have storage available.

Transparency should run both ways too. When problems come up in a 3PL’s fulfillment processes, a collaborative approach to finding answers benefits everyone, she points out. Transparency breeds trust, and vice-versa.


Tip #4: Share Bad News, Too

Disruptions like parcel carriers’ caps, supply shortages, port disruptions, and weather delays make for a very unpredictable supply chain today. Knowing in advance helps shippers identify potential delays and collaborate with partners to solve the problem.

She gives the example of a client engagement where the fulfillment center she was working with could not figure out the source of a huge drop in on-time shipping. The mystery was solved when the team realized that one of the small parcel carriers had put a cap on the outbound shipments it was picking up and hadn’t properly communicated that in advance.

Transparency opens the door for brands and their service providers to be proactive in finding a solution together.


Tip #5: Share New Products with the Fulfillment Team Early

Product development teams don’t always realize how important it is to inform the fulfillment team early on about new products that are coming out. But today’s volatile supply chains necessitate padding the timeframe.

The more visibility the fulfillment operation has to upstream plans, the better. Accurate information combined with more planning time results in an order fulfillment operation that can deliver the required throughput with the highest quality at the lowest cost. Simple as that.

When advising growth companies on operations planning and how to grow up right, Jennifer and her team at IZBA often return to the themes of communication and transparency. Slowing down to plan or to carefully communicate that plan to partners is not easy when you’re experiencing hypergrowth. But these practices are actually growth accelerators since they avoid operational glitches that can damage your brand.


Need help with order fulfillment?

Check out other episodes of the Unboxing Fulfillment podcast, where we talk to operations experts about how to run smarter, more efficient fulfillment operations. This podcast is produced by Staci Americas, a national provider of order fulfillment services with 15 fulfillment warehouses across the U.S. Talk to an Staci Americas expert to discuss your need for scalable fulfillment services.


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