Guest post by Jake Rheude.
Few things are as taxing to a supply chain as heavy items, and that means their fulfillment can be a major drag on your operations and profitability if things go wrong.
If you’re a software marketer, this isn’t something you care about. But if your product line includes physical goods, particularly “luggable” items, this information is crucial for your fulfillment team to know.
Getting heavy-item order fulfillment right means following best practices and practical advice to keep your team and products safe at every step. Below are a few essential ideas about what you should, and shouldn’t, do to optimize fulfillment and deliver your goods to your customers safely.
Here are eight key dos and don’ts.
Don’t: Ship it like normal
It can be tempting, especially when you’re pressed for time, to treat heavy items like standard packages. This means using traditional materials, going to a carrier’s store, or even carting around a heavy box all the way to your loading dock without using the right equipment.
When you treat a heavy package like something you’d put in the regular mail, you risk increasing your costs significantly, while also increasing the chance that you’ll hurt yourself or someone else.
Do: Use a DIM weight calculator
Heavy packages are usually priced based on their dimensional (DIM) weight. Carriers have slightly different pricing for these packages and using a DIM weight calculator can help you find the best price based on your box’s billable weight and its final destination.
These tools help you pick the best cost for your products, while still getting them to customers on-time. Plus, tools integrated with your warehouse management system (WMS) or ecommerce suite can help you view costs across a range of carriers and delivery speeds.
Don’t: Use standard shipping materials
Heavy materials will bust through standard cardboard and packing peanuts with ease.
Sticking with standard materials can lead to damaged packaging and products, which often means returns for your business. Plus, some carriers may raise red flags if the way you package goods leads to problems on their end.
Don’t let poor materials harm your sales, customers, partners, or reputation.
Do: Test and cushion more
Avoid the flimsy follies by upgrading your materials. Pick heavy-duty cardboard and boxes that have seams which are stitched or stapled. Always be under the weight limit noted on the Box Maker’s Certificate.
Package with corrugated board or engineered/molded foam and other strong materials. Seal your boxes well with heavy-duty, reinforced tape with multiple strips on the middle and edge seems.
Look for carrier instructions, too. UPS, for example, requires that you have a heavy package sticker on all packages weighing more than 70 lbs. (31.5 kgs). They may also have tips to help you make the most of their service and keep costs (plus returns) down.
Don’t: Skip pre-shipment checks
Large items tend to do damage to their packaging. This can occur anywhere, from the last mile to the steps in your warehouse. Review your boxes and crates before they go out the door. Give your team a checklist for the materials before and after you use shrink wrap.
This process protects your packages and ensures there’s no damage or weakness in the packaging and materials, minimizing risks while out on the road.
You may also want to photograph items and record them within your warehouse systems to ensure carriers aren’t altering packaging or making other adjustments.
Do: Share with customers and partners
Those photos you took to verify your package are an important thing to send to your customers. Many systems can help you automate the process by adding any account-related images to emails that notify someone when a product has shipped.
This will help customers and partners prepare, too. It might give them an idea of the space or equipment they need to receive goods — especially useful if they’re heading to a small office or if you’re partnering with a distribution center and showing them what will be on tomorrow’s truck.
This practice can help you touch base with people and gives you a customer service boost, with minimal impact to operations or workflow.
Don’t: Ignore training
Handling heavy items means using a lot of equipment. Teach your team how to use everything they touch, even something as simple as hand carts, plus how to safely lift and move large items. Train whenever someone new joins and provide ongoing updates to ensure everyone is doing things correctly.
Also, train whenever anything changes. If you have new, heavy products or move to something like shipping in a crate, train your team. New equipment, a different warehouse layout, or even just different packaging should all come with training. It’s the best way to keep your people safe.
Do: Give 3PLs a second thought
The processes above relate to internal efforts, but any company doing fulfillment knows that these practices and related requirements can change at any moment. To ensure you’re following best practices and getting the best deals, it might be time to reconsider working with a 3PL that specializes in high-value, large, and specialty products. There are multiple options for you, regardless of your size and products.
Many 3PLs specialize in niche transport and product areas. Looking for those focused on heavy items can usually net you a few extra carrier-related discounts. Plus, these 3PLs will have the right materials and equipment to properly package products for their long journey. It’s an effective way to keep your investment safe and customers happy.
A 3PL is not right for every business. However, for heavy items, you may find substantial savings when using a larger 3PL compared to the total cost you run yourself — from shipping and storage to the need for specialty equipment to move products around the warehouse.
Even if you don’t choose to use a 3PL, talking with some about your business may provide you with thoughts on how to run a better, more profitable business.