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3PL Fulfillment for Different Industries

3PL Fulfillment for Different Industries
Last Modified: September 27, 2023
You’ve probably heard of big businesses outsourcing their fulfillment to a third party. When Third-Party Logistics (3PL) fulfillment boasts cost-savings, value-added services, and a variety of other benefits, it’s no surprise that companies are starting to shift gears and move fulfillment out of
Fulfillment & Distribution
June 24, 2020
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You’ve probably heard of big businesses outsourcing their fulfillment to a third party. When Third-Party Logistics (3PL) fulfillment boasts cost-savings, value-added services, and a variety of other benefits, it’s no surprise that companies are starting to shift gears and move fulfillment out of in-house warehouses. Maybe you’re interested in doing the same, but you aren’t sure if 3PL fulfillment would work for your company, your product, or even your industry.

Regardless of your industry, 3PL fulfillment can bring huge benefits to your business. If you sell apparel, art, food, books, electronics, or almost anything else, you can feel confident that a 3PL is qualified to handle your goods. 

What is 3PL Fulfillment?What is 3PL Fulfillment

First thing’s first, you need to have a solid understanding of what 3PL fulfillment means. 3PL stands for Third-Party Logistics, which is a type of company that organizes the transportation, storage, fulfillment, distribution, and many other processes in the supply chain on behalf of their customers. When you let a 3PL handle your fulfillment processes, you are essentially handing off all the responsibility for the entire order fulfillment process to this third party. That typically means that you will be able to take advantage of cheaper shipping, better technology, and a large team of trained warehouse workers that you might not have access to otherwise. 

A 3PL can take care of all of the following processes, and more:

  • Keeping track of stock levels
  • Organizing and managing inventory
  • Receiving and packing orders
  • Arranging transportation 
  • Delivering orders to customers
  • Handling returns

If you’re handling your own fulfillment right now, then you’re probably already daydreaming about how much time you could save with a 3PL. However, there are many other ways you could benefit from utilizing 3PL fulfillment. Most 3PLs also offer a range of additional services that can take your fulfillment strategy to the next level.

3PL Fulfillment Services3PL Fulfillment Services

3PLs like R+L Global Logistics are experts at managing fulfillment processes, so you can feel confident that the essential processes are being carried out seamlessly. However, you might be wondering how you can get more out of your fulfillment provider. Well, most companies are willing to offer you a range of value-added services to take your fulfillment to the next level—at a higher price, of course. 

Some of the services that you could take advantage of from a 3PL include: 

  • Pick and Pack - Received orders are sent directly from your website to the 3PL warehouse staff. Workers then pick the customer’s items off the warehouse shelves and pack them all in the same box together, secures the items, seals the box, and sends it out for immediate delivery. This pick, pack, and ship method is a fast, efficient, and inexpensive option for managing e-commerce fulfillment.
  • Kitting and Assembly - This is the process by which individual items can be put together and sold as a single package. This is helpful for items that are commonly bought together, such as bath supplies (bath bombs + bubble bath soap + bath oils + body scrub), or matching pieces of luggage. These items can be grouped together as a single unit and listed as one thing on your website. 
  • Reverse Logistics - To put it simply, reverse logistics is the process of accepting returns, reevaluating the condition of the returned stock, and reclaiming value from it. Items that are returned in good condition can be repackaged and sold again at almost full price, but even damaged goods can still be sold at a significant markdown instead of being trashed. This process of returns management can create huge cost savings for you. 
  • Cross-Docking / Transloading - fulfillment staff are already skilled at quickly loading and unloading freight trucks, so many fulfillment centers offer cross-docking and transloading services. This is the process of unloading an inbound truck and loading the goods onto a different outbound truck—or several—to either transport it to another facility or complete the final part of the delivery. This is also a common practice for large fulfillment partners with multiple distribution locations, since it is cheaper to ship consolidated loads to a halfway point in the right general direction before dividing the load onto smaller trucks to go in different directions. 
  • Expiring Product Fulfillment - Expiring products can be classified as FIFO (first in, first out) or FEFO (first expiring, first out) to determine the order in which items are picked and shipping out to your customers. This ensures that all items being shipped out are still good, and you don’t end up with any forgotten portion of your stock expiring and going to waste. 
  • Integrated Shipping/Delivery - With a 3PL, you wouldn’t have to worry about organizing any of the shipping for your products. In addition to warehouse and fulfillment services, 3PLs offer advanced logistics solutions with their established network of carriers. You can even utilize shipping options that you might never have had the opportunity to before, such as same-day delivery, expedited, overnight, intermodal, or air shipping. 

You might be thinking that you just aren’t big enough to merit using 3PL fulfillment services. To be clear: you do not need to run a gigantic retail or e-commerce store to be able to get the most out of 3PL fulfillment. No matter what size your business is, or what you sell, you can reap some serious rewards from using a 3PL. 

Who Can Benefit from 3PL Fulfillment?Who Can Benefit from 3PL Fulfillment

No matter what industry your company falls into, you can still get the most out of 3PL fulfillment. Here are just a few examples of the many many different business owners who can benefit from outsourcing their fulfillment to a 3PL.

  • Entrepreneurs - If you’ve ditched the usual 9-5 to start your own company, you’re probably having to take care of a lot of different responsibilities all at once. Whether you have an e-commerce store, a small shop, or even a dropshipping company, you could take advantage of a few extra helping hands to take care of fulfillment. 
  • Artists - Selling art prints is no easy task, especially on top of making and marketing the art itself. Comics, paintings, digital art, and even things like custom stickers can be a real challenge to make a living off of, so once you’re making money, you want to make sure your operation can scale. Why not outsource to a 3PL fulfillment center to free up your time to make more art?
  • Writers -  If you’ve skipped out on traditional publishing and you’re looking to sell your own self-published books, then you’re going to need to have a good place to store your stock. Books take up a lot of space, and they are highly sensitive to changes in humidity. If you want to make sure you can handle a high volume of sales and prevent damage to your inventory, a 3PL fulfillment center is the way to go.
  • Musicians - As a musician, you know that selling music is only part of your paycheck. Serious money comes from selling band merch, like physical CDs, T-shirts, bracelets, and posters. If you need a fulfillment partner to store and ship your band merch while you’re on the road, outsourcing to a 3PL can be a real lifesaver. 
  • Designers - Designers can make anything more interesting, from coffee cups and blankets to apparel and shoes. Like any good designer, you probably have a huge variety of products that you’re selling, so trying to manage that all on your own is probably starting to become a real headache. A good 3PL can manage a large number of SKUs with no problem at all, so you can be confident that your customers will get the right products every single time. Check out our article on shipping and warehousing for fast fashion to learn more.
  • Candymakers - Shipping and storing candy can be a huge hassle since fluctuations in temperatures can ruin your entire stock. If you want the peace of mind associated with refrigerated storage and inventory insurance, working with a 3PL is the way to go. You can save yourself a lot of headaches later. 
  • Importers - If you’re importing anything into the U.S., either for resale, manufacturing, or anything else, you’re probably importing a lot of things at once. You’re going to need to have somewhere to store all those products, and where else is better than a 3PL fulfillment center? Not only could you store your goods there, but you can also take advantage of all the other services offered by the 3PL.
  • Large Retailers - If you run a large retail store and you still handle your own fulfillment in-house, it’s time to start exploring your options. Fulfillment with a 3PL is often much cheaper than dealing with deliveries yourself, and it’s usually a better experience for your customers too.
  • Manufacturers - If you run a manufacturing company, you know one of the worst-case scenarios is to run out of materials. Without materials, production screeches to a halt and you can’t make any money. But what if, when your stock in the factory starts to get low, you could call on your 3PL provider to ship materials from your back-up stock and have it delivered within the hour? With a 3PL, you wouldn’t have to slow down production if you’ve worked through all the materials your factory can hold, since more materials can be delivered at a moment’s notice. 
  • Basically, any business at all - No matter what you sell, where you source from, where you sell it, and how many customers you have, you can rely on the services provided by a 3PL fulfillment provider. As long as you sell a physical product, you could benefit from a 3PL.

To take a deeper look into some of these examples, let’s dive into the specifics of 3PL fulfillment for different products. 

3PL Fulfillment for Different Products3PL Fulfillment for Different Products

The fulfillment process can look quite different depending on the type of product being handled. Even though just about every company can utilize the same fulfillment provider, the services they need are not always the same. Some products require different handling techniques, and some products could benefit more from specific services than other products. A good 3PL provider knows how to offer tailored fulfillment solutions to each company that works with them, to offer them the services they need for the best deal. 

Fulfillment for Apparel

Apparel is a difficult thing to manage selling, storing, and shipping for several reasons. Fashions go in and out of style quickly, so unsold inventory can go to waste if it isn’t sold while the style is trendy. In addition to that, merch for shows, bands, and other entertainment avenues often has unpredictable demand. The last thing you need is to be overwhelmed with sales so you can’t fulfill all the orders quickly. 

In a 3PL fulfillment center, a common technique for handling apparel is with a solid pick and pack strategy. Customers rarely purchase only one item from a clothing retailer, so this can be helpful for reducing shipping costs. Individual items are folded and stored in sealed plastic bags to protect them. 

When an order is made, the items are picked out of bins and packaged together in a polyethylene shipping bag, which is a much cheaper option than cardboard boxes since they are smaller and lightweight. The shipping label is created from the information collected on your website, and it is stuck directly on the shipping bag.

Fulfillment for Books

As stated above, books can be a hassle to store and ship yourself. Humidity can cause the pages to warp, and a leak or flood in your storage room or warehouse can wreak havoc on your inventory. Books that get wet cannot be salvaged, so you absolutely do not want to risk that. 

When it comes to shipping books with 3PL fulfillment services, including novels, comic books, textbooks, and magazines, the process is quite streamlined. All warehouse conditions are carefully monitored to make sure the books will stay in the best condition before they are shipped out. 

When an order is made, warehouse workers will cross-reference the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) on the site with the one on the book they pulled from the warehouse, to double-check that it is the correct book. For books that do not have an ISBN, they may use a publishing date, cover art, or some other indicator to verify. Then, the book is packaged in the correct sized package for shipping. Because of their shape, books can be packaged in boxes or envelopes that are the exact right size, with no room to wiggle or slide around, which saves you money and ensures the book stays safe in shipping.

Fulfillment for Art

Art can be a difficult thing to handle. Paintings, posters, and prints are delicate commodities, and mishandling them could cause serious damages. If an original painting gets damaged, you could lose out on a huge amount of money, depending on the painting. If you really want to ensure the safest shipping and handling for your art pieces, you should work with a 3PL. At least this way, you can insure your product against damages. 

When an order comes in for a piece of artwork in the fulfillment center, workers carefully remove it from storage and start the process of packing it. If the item is flat, it is often packed in a plastic sleeve with a rigid cardboard backing to prevent folds and wrinkles, then placed inside a padded envelope for shipping. Three-dimensional pieces require a bit more planning, however, and often involve using styrofoam padded boxes with packing peanuts, or even custom-cut pieces of foam to fill in any concave parts. Shipping boxes are appropriately labeled as delicate, and handed off to carriers to deliver. 

Fulfillment for Food

If you’re in the food industry, you know it can be a pain to deal with an inventory of perishable commodities. When you need to keep track of when each item is going to go bad, while maintaining the proper conditions for storage, packing and shipping orders, and making the food itself, then you’re probably going to see the benefit of outsourcing to a 3PL fulfillment center. With refrigerated warehouses and FIFO/FEFO procedures, you can even feel confident storing frozen foods with a 3PL. 

When orders for food come in, experienced warehouse workers know to pack the orders in insulated boxes with dry ice to keep the products fresh. Alternatively, refrigerated freight trucks can also keep the products at the right temperature, even with no other insulation. Food orders are then shipped—usually expedited—directly to a customer’s door or to a temperature-controlled holding facility to be picked up later.   

Fulfillment for Electronics

Electronics are notoriously expensive commodities, but if you’re worried about security in a 3PL fulfillment center, then you can take a deep breath. 3PL fulfillment centers are equipped with state-of-the-art security features like 24/7 security cameras, locked areas with limited access, and high-tech tracking technology to keep track of every single item in real time, you can feel confident that each and every piece of your inventory is accounted for. 

In addition to carefully monitoring your stock, warehouse workers know to pack high-value electronics with care. By using packing materials and double boxing orders, your customer’s package can be made impact, shock, and crush resistant, to give each product the absolute best chance at making it to the customer in perfect condition. 

Medical devices need fulfillment and distribution as well, check out our article 6 Steps to Choosing a Medical Device Logistics Company to learn more about how a 3PL can help.

3PL Fulfillment with R+L Global Logistics

No matter what it is you sell, R+L Global Logistics is prepared to be your 3PL provider and fulfillment partner. We take pride in our customer service, and we will work with you to create a customized solution to fit your needs. With distribution locations in Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri, as well as partner locations all across the U.S. and the world, we can serve your business from anywhere!

Give us a call at (866) 989-3082 and request a quote.

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