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3PL Warehouse Operations: Benefits, Purpose and More

For any growing company that makes and sells products, figuring out how to store and track your inventory is a major question. Often, it’s...
Fulfillment And Distribution
April 7, 2020
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For any growing company that makes and sells products, figuring out how to store and track your inventory is a major question. Often, it’s smart to leave this important task to the experts. A third-party logistics (3PL) company will have the expertise to provide reliable warehousing and storage services. 3PL warehouses make order fulfillment and distribution simpler for retailers, manufacturers and other businesses.

3PL Warehouse operations are characterized by product storage, order fulfillment, shipping & receiving, and more. Businesses that need to outsource these logistical tasks rely on 3PL providers. These companies offer varying levels of service, available space, and technology. 

R+L Global Logistics is an expert in this regard, and can easily and successfully handle every part of the supply chain — including warehousing operations — to help your business reach another level. We employ the most efficient practices and can provide cost-effective solutions for enterprises of all sizes. 

Our comprehensive guide below will explain the ins and outs of 3PL Warehouse Operations and how these facilities can benefit you. 

What Is A 3PL Warehouse? 

Before you can understand why a 3PL warehouse can improve your business, it’s important to learn what the term means.

3PL stands for third-party logistics. Still confused? Let’s break that name down. In the business world, “logistics” refers to the process of moving of products, materials and other items along a supply chain, including:

  • Packaging
  • Storage and warehousing
  • Managing inventory
  • Shipping and receiving
  • Fulfillment and Distribution
  • Tracking
  • Drayage

The “third-party” part of the name means that a business is outsourcing some or all of these supply chain management responsibilities to a company that specializes in logistics services. This is also called “outsourced logistics.”

A major element of third-party logistics is warehousing. Rather than managing one’s inventory levels and coordinating fulfillment and distribution, a company will entrust its stock to a 3PL to take on the process. 

It’s no surprise why in this day and age — online shopping alone is worth over half a trillion dollars and has grown by double digit percentages recently. To house a successful online business as your operations grow, warehouse real estate is absolutely essential. In 2018 alone, 165 billion packages were shipped. While your business might comprise a small fraction of that, there is money to be made.

So when beginning or transferring the process, it’s just as important to find a company that can be trusted. R+L Global Logistics is such a provider with ample warehousing space all across the country in strategic locations. 

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When To Use 3PL Services For Warehousing And DistributionWhen to Use 3PL Services for Warehousing and Distribution

Companies often don’t have their own warehouses or storage spaces, or don’t have the knowledge base and team to handle the complicated process of shipping and receiving. So, rather than take on the job themselves, they call on a 3PL with all equipment, facilities and experience to handle the items.

Any company with high standards and special requirements for their supply chains should consider taking advantage of 3PL warehouse operations to keep track of inventory. But there are a few key reasons to seek a logistics partner to handle your warehouse management:

  • Increase in inventory volume
  • Expand to new distribution routes
  • Change business priorities
  • Maximize efficiency and save costs long-term
  • Seek more expansive or current warehousing services

In some cases, a company may switch to a 3PL distribution center because they are growing out of their own spaces or want to upgrade to a more advanced fulfillment and distribution system. Beyond simply keeping track of your stock, a 3PL can help with many other elements of the business because of their experience with comprehensive logistics operations.

Major retailers, distributors and manufacturers alike rely on 3PL warehousing services to make sure their supply chains run smoothly. Businesses have plenty of things to worry about already — leaving the complex logistics processes to a third-party frees up bandwidth for your core business concerns.

On top of having it be one less thing for you to worry about, it can also reduce costs overall because a 3PL warehouse with vast experience has most likely streamlined every process and would be able to do everything in the most efficient way possible. You don’t have to worry about renting warehouse space and staffing an entire staff, or the additional expenses that come from both.

Also if you are doing a large enough volume, a 3PL company may be able to give you a discount on shipping costs when done in bulk.

The Best Method For Managing Your Inventory & Supply Chain Operations

A new small business may start off by keeping track of inventory on its own. When the stock level is small and the client list short, it’s possible to oversee this element of your operations. But as the company grows, inventory management and outsourcing warehouse operations become more and more intricate.

Nonetheless, companies will often resist letting go. They’re hesitant to relinquish control of such an important aspect of their process. But just because you can manage your logistics doesn’t mean you should. Knowing when and how to delegate jobs is a major part of running a successful business. 

While hiring an outside company to handle your inventory control might seem expensive, its long-term benefits can make a huge impact on your bottom line. To make the leap, first understand the advantages of a 3PL provider. 

Saving Money With 3pl Warehouse ManagementSaving Money with 3PL Warehouse Management

You can attribute the cost savings from a 3PL to several factors, including:

  • Efficiency
  • Flexibility
  • Expertise
  • Productivity

When you partner with a third-party logistics company, you know what you’re getting into. While surprises can happen in any businesses, outsourcing your warehousing services to a 3PL takes some of the unknowns out of the equation. The accountability to solve logistics questions is on the 3PL, rather than left to your business to handle. This means you shouldn’t run into as many unforeseen expenses when it comes to this aspect of your budget.

When using a 3PL, you don’t have to worry about the headaches that come with staffing the warehouse facilities. Additionally, the top logistics companies stay up to date on the latest warehouse equipment — if you instead handle these services in-house, the expense of staying relevant would fall on you.

Because of their global networks, major 3PL providers also can find the most efficient ways to transport goods. They can then pass those savings onto you.

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State of The Art Warehouse TechnologyState of the Art Warehouse Technology

It’s incumbent on any serious 3PL provider to stay current with the industry standard in all aspects of their business. The industry is constantly innovating, with new ways to make its processes more efficient through new technologies and systems. The top companies may have:

  • Inventory management apps and software
  • A real-time warehouse management system
  • Advanced warehouse robotics 
  • Machine to machine technology
  • Automated inventory control platforms
  • Automatic guided vehicles
  • Automated storage and retrieval systems
  • Pick to Light or Put to Light Systems
  • Web portals and interfaces for tracking
  • Labor Management systems
  • State-of-the-art barcode scanner systems

Keeping up with an ever-changing field can be a drain for internal warehouses with only specific services. But when warehousing is your bread and butter, it’s essential to be on top of the latest industry trends. 

Compatibility in Inventory Management Systems

Unless you’re a brand new company, you likely have IT systems and inventory management systems in place. When enlisting a 3PL, it’s important to confirm that their own systems are compatible and interoperable with yours. This is necessary to guarantee an easy flow of information between both parties. You don’t want to miss any updates because of incompatible systems.

Electronic Data Interchange

Existing since the 1970s, an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) has basically replaced the old way of communicating between businesses, usually in the form of invoices or purchase orders. In a fully digital world, the flexibility and speed in which an EDI can help in submitting orders, having them filled and then being billed or being able to bill for them is invaluable and will make you want to eschew mailing out paper bills once you get used to it.

Different regions of the world use different standards for their EDI submissions, so that might be an additional cost to implement to account for doing business with European partners, for instance. The other reason this is an advantageous system to use in warehousing and moving down the supply chain is it takes out some of the human error. The less handling of and inputting on documents equals better accuracy.

Indeed, there are growing pressures for 3PL warehouse operations in current times to become paperless.

Reducing Risk When Setting Up Warehouse Operations

Taking on warehousing in-house requires a substantial investment, from preparing the facilities, ongoing rental or mortgage costs, staffing and training expenses, insurance and additional taxes. Building them from the ground up demands upfront costs that can hamstring your business during a time of growth.

It can also be a huge increase in time and brainpower on your end in trying to figure out the best setup for your warehouse supply chain. An intelligent 3PL operation like R+L Global Logistics can have you describe your business needs and have a workable solution with associated costs presented to you quickly. Plus, if your requirements were to change at any time in the future, R+L Global Logistics can adapt quickly so that your workflow is not interrupted or compromised in any way.

While 3PL providers will require upfront costs themselves, you remove the risk of establishing one’s own internal warehousing services. The long-term savings from increased efficiency, too, will make the investment worthwhile. Maintain your financial freedom by enlisting someone who has all of these elements already in place. Logistics can be complicated, and if they’re not your business’s focus, unforeseen expenses are sure to arise. 

Trust In Warehouse Experience & ExpertiseTrust in Warehouse Experience and Expertise

3PL providers have seen it all. These companies are well-versed in the kinds of issues that tend to arise when managing a warehouse, and fulfillment and distribution services.

Meanwhile, in-house services developed with only a few specific services in mind may be thrown by the unique challenges of logistics. Whether you’re dealing with B2B or B2C distribution channels, industry leaders will have an answer for you.

While every business is unique, it’s likely that a longstanding 3PL provider has dealt with a company with warehousing needs similar to yours before. They’ll be able to anticipate the warehousing services, staffing and conditions that will help your business run without a hitch.

The experience aspect is important and R+L Global Logistics has been managing warehousing for numerous businesses across a wide array of industries.. With that vast well of experience to draw from, you can rest assured that the company has the financial clout and staying power to weather any situation and continue to provide valuable services for its business partners.

As far as expertise goes, it helps our customers in a similar sense. Our longevity comes from our ability to adapt and offer specialized results for a diverse set of issues or even complications stemming through the normal course of business. So when you partner with R+L Global Logistics, you’re receiving all the trial and error of navigating the current landscape upfront because we’ve already gone through it all and come up with many of the answers to questions you might have only just asked.     

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Flexibility In The Face Of Obstacles

In-house warehousing will only be able to do what you set it up to handle. If a new roadblock arises, your team will be left to scramble to address the issue on the fly, dedicating time and resources to devising and implementing a brand new solution — which might not even be successful or possible depending on how things have been set up. 

On the other hand, a 3PL company has a wide array of clients with their own unique needs. This breadth of demands requires an interconnected system of transport and distribution that allows improvisation when hurdles appear. These companies can leverage other parts of their networks to pick up the slack if something goes wrong with one link in the chain.

Furthermore, R+L Global Logistics has a network of available loads ready to be filled, so your items won’t be sitting on the shelves or in a package just waiting and waiting to be shipped.  

Individualized And Custom Warehousing ServicesIndividualized and Custom Warehousing Services

The most common knock against using 3PL warehousing services is that it requires a loss of control. Sticking with in-house warehousing lets you keep a finger on the pulse of every step of the fulfillment and distribution process.

After all, you know your company and its challenges best — who better to handle your warehousing needs? Why hand that responsibility to someone who doesn’t know your business frontwards and backward?

However, the best 3PL companies can put those questions to rest. They can cater their services to your particular warehouse needs. Their vast, varied networks and facilities means there are few limitations on customizing their offerings to your requirements — whether that means a certain warehouse location or specific conditions. 

Scale Your Business With Ease

As your business grows, your warehousing space and capabilities have to grow with it. If you’re handling warehousing in-house, you can anticipate some growth — but if things go well, you’ll run up against the limitations of your original facilities and capacity. It’s up to you to either expand or find a new space — not to mention updating your process to handle the increased inventory volume.

With a 3PL, this kind of expansion can happen much more seamlessly. Since a third-party provider will have many other clients, the infrastructure is already in place to handle more and more stock of products and materials. It’s no longer up to you to make sure your processes can handle the strain.

A well-equipped 3PL will be able to adapt in real time as your business scales without a disruption in operations. 

Logistics Services That Add ValueLogistics Services that Add Value

When you hire a 3PL company to handle your warehousing needs, you open up the possibility of adding other logistics services that can be advantageous for your business. There are no shortage of steps in the supply chain that can benefit from an experienced, capable company. 3PL providers will often offer value-added services such as the following:

  • Customs brokerage: Ensure that you follow all the rules and regulations when moving goods internationally. 
  • Freight audit: Examine the company’s freight bills to guarantee accuracy. 
  • Shipment tracking: The best companies will offer live, 24/7 insight into the status of your items. 
  • Returns processing and reverse logistics: For any ecommerce company, a smooth returns processing system is a must. When a customer wants an exchange or refund for a product, it’s up to your warehousing and logistics systems to make sure the transaction is seamless. 
  • Pick and pack fulfillment: The process of selecting the correct quantities in a warehouse and placing them in the proper packaging materials. 
  • Kitting services: For companies that offer special combined packages of products, 3PL providers can handle the necessary repackaging as demand dictates. 
  • Drayage, cross-docking and transload: A single step in the larger process of transport, drayage involves carrying goods over small distances, usually after arriving to a seaport in a shipping container. 
  • Order consolidation: Combining multiple packages into one load to maximize efficiency and lower costs. 
  • Advanced inventory management software and tools: Tools and techniques that provide thorough control and oversight of your stock.

Transportation Services Offered by 3PL Companies

This aspect gets a special section because it’s not necessarily considered first and foremost when thinking about a 3PL company warehousing your valuable products. Yet being able to provide transportation on demand and being able to do it well will be a huge separator between a merely competent 3PL provider and an excellent one.

A 3PL company will be able to pick your items up from your business, warehouse them and then pick and pick them to go on a truck and be shipped to your customers.

Making sure your products or materials get where they need to go promptly and securely is the name of the game, and can include air freight, ground transportation, and more. And even within air or ground transport, there are different kinds.

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Full Truck Load

For instance, there is Full Truck Load or FTL, which means your product is the only one on the truck. Even though the name suggests a truck filled to the brim with goods, a business can buy a FTL with even less than a truckful worth of merchandise. This might be because buying individual pallets on a shared load is less cost efficient or if you simply don’t want your items sharing space with that of other companies.

Less Than Truckload

On the other side of the coin, there is Less Than Truckload, or LTL. This is the aforementioned practice of buying pallet space on a truck that will be shared with that of other companies. If you have a small order to get shipped or an order that doesn’t have to be there right away, this can be a good, lower-cost option.

Expedited Shipping

While probably used less often, there are also expedited services. This is an ASAP delivery that will come with a higher cost but can be a life-saver for those times when you can’t waste a second getting your shipment out of the warehouse and to your customers. This is considered an exclusive courier-like service that travels directly with no stops in between. This could also be known as “hot shot” trucking, which carries smaller loads to easily accessible locations.

Pick and Pack Services Offered By 3PL Companies

Unless you’re moving entire pallets of product to customers at a time, there is a good chance your business will benefit from having items stored in a warehouse and then having the 3PL company you chose employ the pick and pack method.

Simply explained, pick and pack is the practice of items being picked off a shelf or pallet, packaged into a container — in many cases a cardboard box — and delivered right to a business or customer’s house. In this increasingly electronic world, this happens after an order is placed through a website, email or phone call.

Regardless of if your warehoused items are moving at a slow, steady rate or a fast, frantic pace, you’ll require a partner who can handle whatever capacity you need. R+L Global Logistics is well versed in the art of pick and pack, and has the resources and expertise to accomplish the goals you lay out. 

Customer Service Essentials For 3pl WarehousesCustomer Service Essentials for 3PL Warehouse

One of the most important things to consider when choosing a 3PL warehouse is customer service. After all, the point of going with a 3PL provider is to make processes as efficient and streamlined as possible — that should be the priority whenever you have a question or problem that needs to be addressed.

When it comes to communication to expect from a 3PL provider, look for a company that assures communication and visibility. Relinquishing your inventory to a 3PL means giving up an element of control over your stock — the service provider should do everything in their power to alleviate that pain point.

3PL Warehouse Transparency & Visibility

Real-time tracking through a web portal or inventory management software is important for seeing the status of your products, raw materials or other items when you need to. Even after letting a 3PL handle your warehouse operations, it’s important to take note of inventory levels and the movement of items. These kinds of insights are relevant not only to other steps in the supply chain but other aspects of your business. 

3PL Warehouse Communication 

The 3PL should also offer live support in case issues arise that need to be addressed immediately. Ask specifically about the company’s communication policies and services. Can you expect to reach an actual human at any time of day? If not, seriously consider how that would affect your fulfillment and distribution processes. 

Phone a Friend

Of course, a 3PL provider can make all the assurances in the world that their team will be on top of all your customer service needs — but it’s hard to know in advance how they’ll actually respond when an emergency pops up.

That’s why it’s helpful to have an endorsement with firsthand experience about how the 3PL company responds in a crisis. A referral from someone you know and trust is ideal, but don’t hesitate to ask for references. Your company deserves a 3PL provider that is both capable and responsive.

Peace Of MindPeace of Mind

You have plenty on your plate already. Why add the stress of coordinating the intricacies of a supply chain to your to-do list? Entrusting your warehouse services to a 3PL company means that they’re the first to field any challenges that arise when keeping track of your inventory.

Using 3PL warehousing services means your materials and products are in the hands of the people who make logistics their number one priority. Your company doesn’t have to worry that you missed a step in the process.

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Micromanagers Beware

Sorry, control freaks. Ceding any component of your supply chain operations to an outside entity requires a loss of control. If you’re obsessed with managing every step of the process, a 3PL will take some getting used to.

But you should consider whether burdening yourself with the responsibility of managing warehouse operations is worth your team’s time and energy when capable and experienced experts are available to take on the task. A 3PL warehouse could mean more resources for achieving other important goals.

And in all honesty, if you clearly communicate your specific needs to a good 3PL company, there should be no hiccups in regard to not having your business’ personal goals met. Working with a company like R+L Global Logistics will really give you that peace of mind because they’ve seen every imaginable scenario, worked a variety of different supply chains for numerous customers and met every problem that’s arisen with a workable solution for its partners.

Warehousing Made Easy With R+L Global

So you’ve run down the advantages of having 3PL warehouse operations and decided to take the leap. Now you need to find the right service provider for you for everything from nutraceutical fulfillment to beauty products! When choosing a 3PL warehouse provider, it’s important to look for competitive pricing, a strong warehouse network and top-notch customer service.

R+L Global Logistics has the expertise and connections to handle your warehouse operations. R+L Global puts an emphasis on clear communication and a personal touch with 3PL warehouse customers. The company’s integrated 3PL services keep every step of the supply chain humming along smoothly, with an eye toward customer satisfaction at every turn.

Furthermore, we can haul whatever items you need with our network of qualified carriers available. We can ship anywhere in the U.S. and globally, so you never have to worry about whether your items can get exactly where they need to go. 

We also boast a 99.5 percent on-time delivery rate, so you can have confidence that those same items will arrive when they are supposed to be as well. We offer real-time freight visibility so you can even track where those items are at any given moment. In addition, our customer service team is readily available to assist you in any manner necessary.

So if you’re ready to begin or shift your 3PL warehouse operations, get in touch with an R+L Global Logistics representative today to learn how 3PL services can make warehousing and storage easier. Give us a call at (866)989-3082 to get a fulfillment warehouse quote today.

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