Fulfillment services can be a great addition to a print and mail business, but it isn’t right for everyone. Many shops add fulfillment reactively, meaning that they are addressing the needs of a specific customer that they don’t want to lose to another business. This reactive process rarely produces the results that the business or their customer wanted. Instead, the decision to add fulfillment should be proactive and begins with a review of the pros and cons of providing this potentially complex service.
There are several positive reasons to add fulfillment, which are:
1. One-Stop Shopping. Adding fulfillment broadens the list of customer services, which can allow a business to retain or expand their client base.
2. Higher Profit Margins. When done properly, fulfillment can produce higher profit margins than a print/mail shop, which improves cash flow and the bottom line.
3. Establishes Long-term Client Relationships. Print and mail shops usually have a job-based engagement with their customers, who can easily take their business elsewhere. Fulfillment results in ongoing customer engagement because they don’t want to shop around once they’ve chosen a provider.
4. Stronger Customer Relationships. Because fulfillment is engagement-based, the client already has a long-term relationship with the company and is more likely to bring their print and mail business to them as well. The print and mail shop also gains a deeper understanding of the client’s needs, which allows them to provide excellent customer service.
5. Stabilized Cash Flow. Since fulfillment is an ongoing process, often billed on a monthly basis with fees for warehousing, fulfillment, returns, inventory management and more, adding this service has the potential to stabilize cash flow.
While there are great reasons to add fulfillment to your services, unprepared print and mail shops will fail if they don’t address these cons:
1. Different Selling Process. The fulfillment sales cycle is longer because potential customers are aware that they are establishing a long-term relationship. Also, the print and mail shop must be able to demonstrate their experience and capabilities in this area. Generally, it is a harder sell.
2. Greater Space Requirements. Truly effective fulfillment requires space to hold inventory and process orders. If a shop has unused space this can be a great use for it, but if space must be rented to provide this service, it adds an expense and the shop owner must provide supervision for workers at the second location.
3. Additional Staffing Needs. Expecting the print and mail shop employees to automatically transition to fulfillment is a recipe for disaster. New staff needs to be hired or additional training provided because fulfillment is simply different. There are two customers who must be satisfied– the client who hired you and their purchaser whose order you are fulfilling. Also, fulfillment requires the managing of returns and the client’s inventory.
4. Additional Expenses. In addition to hiring and/or training staff and additional space, fulfillment may require specialized software and operational processes. Unlike a print and mail established mailing list, fulfillment requires the management of an ever-changing slate of business rules that are solely dependent on the product purchasers.
5. New Operations and Expectations. Fulfillment activities have different deadlines and customer service activities that need to be taken into consideration. This is not simply adding a new print and mail service to your existing options, but a truly new and unique business.
Fulfillment can a logical addition to a print and mail shop, but the venture should not be undertaken reactively. Review the pros and cons, and determine if you have space, staff, and other components necessary to a successful fulfillment operation before offering this service to your customers.