Your Fulfillment Strategy Needs a Lift. These 6 Things Can Help

planningMultichannel fulfillment is difficult for even the best-organized executives. With so much riding on scale these days, small companies must look anywhere they can for competitive advantage.

These six items won’t by themselves transform your fulfillment activities. But, with consistent execution, they’ll put it on stronger footing for the road ahead.

1. A Comprehensive Just-in-Time Fulfillment Plan

Just-in-time inventory is the gold standard for selling at any scale. Whether do your own manufacturing, farm production out to a third party, or serve as a third-party retailer or dealer for products manufactured elsewhere, your inventory footprint must be as lean as possible.

For that, your company needs sophisticated forecasting capabilities that map past demand patterns onto current sales and projected future trends to ensure you keep the bare minimum counts on hand. You can’t afford to keep excess inventory on hand for a sale that takes months to arrive; space wasted is money wasted, after all.

2. Small-Run Manufacturing Capabilities

If you manufacture your own custom or limited-edition products, or handle white-label production for clients, you need a robust small-run manufacturing capability that can quickly turn around the precise product configurations your customers demand. Look to a 3D printing partner with a full range of additive manufacturing services for limited runs and custom builds.

3. Rapid Prototyping Capabilities

Even if you’re not in the custom or limited-run manufacturing business, your lean, mean fulfillment apparatus demands tight time-to-market, especially in competitive niches characterized by rapidly changing states of the art. Many 3D printing firms with small-run manufacturing capabilities also offer pre-market services – reducing the time needed to move from ideation to prototype and back.

4. Sophisticated Front-End Ordering Interface

Your customers need to feel confident that your fulfillment apparatus – especially the parts they can’t see – will actually work. For that, you need a sophisticated front-end ordering interface with real-time shipment tracking. Simply tossing off a tracking number at the end of a confirmation email doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

5. A Trustworthy 3PL Partner

If you can’t manage your fulfillment needs on your own, work with a third-party logistics (3PL) partner that knows your business almost as well as you do. Read up on best practices for finding the right 3PL partner, solicit bids, and dive in.

6. Lots of Touches Along the Way

Last, but not least: keep your customers happy with lots of touches throughout (and on either side of) the fulfillment process. This might be customer relationship management 101, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to lose the forest for the trees when you’re trying to ride your small shop’s fulfillment tiger.

Continuous Improvement Comes to Fulfillment

You’re probably aware of Toyota’s famous (at least, in business theory circles) policy of “continuous improvement.” Known as kaizen in the original Japanese, and touted as part of the broader Toyota Way, the policy was central to Toyota’s transformation from regional manufacturer of uneven-quality small engine craft to global automotive powerhouse.

If you have yet to implement a comparable policy of continuous improvement at your company, perhaps now’s the time to think about doing so. In the meantime, you can always look to these six tips – and any others you pick up in your business journey – to improve your fulfillment apparatus and move closer toward that elusive goal: delighting every customer, every time.

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