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The Future of Warehouse Automation and AI

What Is Warehouse Automation?

Warehouse automation is the process of moving products into, out of and within a warehouse with minimal handling by people. Automation takes advantage of technology to complete repetitive tasks, track inventory and increase efficiency.

For example, an automated distribution center may use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to map inventory movements or locate goods. When a worker moves products from storage to shipping — or vice versa — automated trackers detect these changes. Once items pass by sensors, a software program automatically logs their journeys. As a result, stock counts are current and a warehouse operator can pinpoint product locations with a few clicks.

Today’s warehouse automation solutions offer significant benefits and options like robotics, blockchain technology, big data and more. These alternatives enable businesses to lower expenses, improve productivity, advance safety and maintain accurate records.

Benefits of Using Automation in Warehouse Operations

Automating warehouse operations provides businesses with advantages like reduced outlays, efficiency, security and more informative stock logs.

Lower Costs

A primary benefit of automating a distribution center is its direct impact on a business’s bottom line. Investments in automating technology lower a company’s overhead by replacing inefficient human processing with advanced solutions. As a result, labor costs and energy usage decrease. Options like automatic product retrieval enhance revenue by reducing picking errors and the time associated with manual methods.

Higher Workforce Productivity and Safety

Attract and retain the best in industry talent by embracing technology options that increase employee satisfaction and workplace safety. Automation solves heavy lifting and repetitive motion challenges, reducing injury risk and increasing output.

Crown LSP Group provides comprehensive on-site warehouse services in your facility with crews experienced in the latest automation technology.

Inventory Accuracy Increases

Using automation for your warehouse stock optimizes your efforts to support your customers. Robust applications track, pick and ship products with greater accuracy, simplifying inventory management and auditing. Crown LSP Group offers integrated warehouse management systems with our customized storage solutions to help your company capture these benefits.

benefits of using automation in warehouse operations

Types of Warehouse Automation and AI

Warehouse automation examples span the landscape, from robotic options to devices that communicate online to analytical data and blockchain technology.

Robotics

Robotic warehouse automation has grown significantly recently, for good reason. These solutions help improve job satisfaction and productivity while reducing errors. Common types of robotic automation include:

  • Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): Many use AGVs for goods transportation, either moving products between storage locations or from one department to another. These robotics require assistance with movement execution, usually via preprogrammed pathways.
  • Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS): This complete system processes the entire order from picking to delivery. Since workers remain stationary, AS/RS automation delivers safety and efficiency with little potential for error.
  • Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs): These robots are more complex machinery, able to undertake movement on their own using sensors and maps. Their advanced programming makes them ideal for inventory scanning and tracking applications.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology rose to fame with the advent of Bitcoin as a secure method to link blocks of data together and prevent alteration. In warehouse applications, blockchain joins various stakeholders along the supply chain with an accessible, secure platform for management and communication.

The technology pairs well with the Internet of Things (IoT) to check conditions at different points along a product’s journey, creating an immutable ledger. Blockchain can also ease vendor payments via its Smart Contract functionality. For example, once a distribution center receives goods and confirms their condition, the purchasing agent verifies it through the system. The embedded code then self-executes and releases payment directly on the blockchain, completing settlement quickly and with high degrees of transactional security.

IoT

Robotics represents only one component of the IoT. Many other devices — such as sensors, GPS units and temperature-monitoring equipment — fall into this category. Other typical connected device applications include:

  • Employee monitoring: Outfitting employees with wearable IoT devices allows center management to gather production data, pinpoint worker locations and provide extra safety measures, such as alerting the employer to a fall.
  • Equipment maintenance: Smart equipment uses an internet connection to report its condition. These machines can issue scheduled upkeep reminders and send error codes directly to qualified personnel for faster repair service.
  • Transportation: One of the most vital segments of the supply chain gets a big boost from IoT in GPS devices. These units ensure a driver follows the most efficient travel routes and provides real-time arrival estimates for better inventory management. Partner with Crown LSP Group for comprehensive transportation services with the latest in IoT transportation technology.

Big Data

Big data helps more than retail organizations — it supports best inventory management practices in warehousing. Ways analytics benefit the inventory management process include:

  • Demand prediction: Rely on customer behavior metrics to more accurately anticipate and adjust to shifts.
  • Efficiency boosts: Use your analytics to identify underperforming employees or machinery.
  • Replenishment management: Examine overstocked and understocked items to effectively manage product availability and turnover.
  • Loss prevention: Investigate and prevent shrinkage by using metrics to pinpoint the locations that need more security measures.
  • Recall acceleration: Get proactive with product recalls by using data to track inventory from its production to the end-user, enabling quicker contact and better brand perception.

Conclusion

Available options for automation and AI in warehouse operations today include big data analysis, blockchain programs, robotics and the IoT. The advantages of an automated warehouse provide significant opportunities for businesses to increase their workers’ production, maintain a safer work environment and improve recordkeeping while lowering costs.

Crown LSP Group welcomes the challenge of devising an ideal solution to your business’s warehousing needs. We’re a family-owned company with over 30 years of experience as a full-service third-party logistics partner. Discover how our expertise benefits your organization’s bottom line while solving supply chain issues. Contact a Crown LSP Group representative today and experience what a can-do attitude can do!

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A Guide to Distribution Best Practices

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A Guide to Distribution Best Practices

Warehouse operations and transportation take effort to manage. Different procedures and strategies can potentially influence production, costs, efficiency, compliance, accuracy and data collection. To stay ahead of these concerns and enhance the functionality of your warehouse distribution, it’s important to learn about the various elements you can practice to strengthen sustainability and capacity.

Warehouse and distribution center best practices provide a structure that can lead to success. Implementing these practices in your system can help you reach your goals, whether you’re aiming for reduced costs or labor, increased productivity and efficiency, organization, data and information accuracy, or regulated transportation.

 

Warehouse and Distribution Center Management Best Practices

Efficient warehouse operations are crucial for optimizing distribution strategy and organization. With improved efficiency, you may see an increase in productivity and a reduction in costs. Here are some of the most efficient warehouse best practices you can implement in your management.

 

1. Regulate Vendor Compliance

Vendor compliance programs may be crucial for collaborating and communicating about products and requirements. Warehouse distribution centers can enable a working relationship between suppliers and vendors to enhance efficiency and improve internal facility operations. Vendor compliance programs may help the supply chain process by:

  • Streamlining warehouse operations
  • Reducing handling of products
  • Improving transportation services
  • Checking that purchase orders are in compliance
  • Ensuring seamless movement
  • Providing visibility
  • Leading the way to increased customer satisfaction

A vendor compliance manager can handle and oversee these processes. Compliance managers are also responsible for monitoring all requirements and performance. With a manager in place, any concerns, issues or feedback with products or merchandise can be properly communicated to the vendor to reach a solution. Vendor compliance programs may also ensure suppliers provide sufficient information regarding standard case quantities, accurate bar code labels and advanced shipping notifications.

Observing the process of labels helps organize and optimize the warehouse distribution process. These processes may help identify any issues with non-compliance, which can produce ways of fixing the supply chain to enhance strategic relationships. Non-compliant shipments from a warehouse may cause a retailer to issue deductions or fees from a vendor.

Making specific changes without authorization can incur additional expenses that cause issues for your company. Minor improvements over a period of time that satisfy business rules and requirements can lead to overall efficient and productive operations that make a difference. Using your business guidelines, history, goals and customer service standards may help internal and external cost reductions as they comply with terms and conditions.

 

2. Employ Advanced Shipment Notifications

Advanced shipping notifications (ASN) can go hand in hand with vendor compliance. These notifications allow suppliers to see consistent status updates about when their product has been shipped from the warehouse and when it’s expected to arrive.

This information exchange is typically done with electronic data, which is part of an overall warehouse management system. With these notifications, you can improve efficiency by reducing delays or disruptions in the supply chain process.

Engaging a third-party logistics (3PL) company, such as Crown LSP Group, can help protect your investment in these kinds of practices. Upholding orderly communication among carriers and receivers is essential for scheduling receipts and prioritizing actions.

When receivers are notified of when to expect an incoming shipment, they will be better equipped to direct that product to the proper place. ASN also helps with management functions such as adequate staffing and receiving information about when shipment orders or inventory requirements are fulfilled. When transportation and labor are appropriately distributed and optimized, you can then begin to reduce the overall cost of operations.

Employ advanced shipment notifications

Some issues and questions that ASN can help resolve among vendors, retailers, businesses, suppliers and receivers include:

  • Notifying what orders have been shipped
  • Describing the items that are being shipped and their quantities
  • Notifying when the order is expected to arrive
  • Detailing if the shipment contains the complete order
  • Notifying if the load is packaged with bar codes
  • Listing the shipment or package tracking numbers

Many modern sellers may not even accept certain packages or shipments without an ASN, so you should implement this practice to help maintain accuracy and consistency. If someone identifies any error after a shipment label is scanned, you can immediately notify the supplier and quickly resolve the issue.

ASN can also provide efficiency with outbound transportation once the warehouse team is notified of incoming shipments. This procedure can help save time and reduce the likelihood of human error causing issues with sorting, unexpected delays and missing inventory.

 

3. Implement Automatic Data Collection

Automatic data collection, such as using bar codes, is more efficient than using manual processing. This implementation helps lower labor costs because most of the work can be done with technology.

You can also use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to help with this process, as they help prevent human errors in counting or data information. In this instance, utilizing a company like Crown LSP Group lets you focus on what you do best with the help of flexible and scalable automated solutions.

Removing the need to handwrite long tracking or shipment numbers significantly advances your tracking process, increasing order visibility. In warehouse distribution, tasks or steps you can replace with technology make it easier for management because they will have fewer trivial things to focus on. Utilizing automated data collection technology gives you more time to focus on making decisions and streamlining your turnaround process.

Additional examples of ways that automatic data collection can help improve productivity in your warehouse can include:

  • Providing shipping and label bar codes
  • Boosting efficiency with handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets
  • Giving you control over inventory loss
  • Enhancing management and count of inventory
  • Improving data accuracy and analysis
  • Providing access to lot tracking and expiration dates
  • Establishing software to help with order management and production consumption

Implementing automatic data collection can help your warehouse benefit from these services, letting you meet business goals and customer demands. It may be helpful to evaluate your warehouse to identify areas that automation technology can improve. When establishing automation processes, check your existing records to ensure information accuracy, which helps you anticipate challenges or difficulties if you are new to the process.

Once you can verify that there are no outstanding maintenance issues, you can expect increased productivity and, therefore, increased sales.

 

4. Minimize Touches

By utilizing automation technology, you can also reduce touchpoints in your distribution strategy. Minimizing manual touches in your warehouse can affect almost all elements of distribution processes. This can include eliminating packing stations and replacing them with automated ones or implementing print-and-apply technology for labeling processes. An order fulfillment company like Crown LSP Group can help minimize employee touches and improve pick-and-pack operations by reducing unnecessary steps for orders to go through.

For example, picking to a shipping carton rather than a bin or tote would be much faster and may lead to improvement in overall systems and cost reduction. Essentially, every time a product or shipment is touched, it creates room for more expenses, errors and time delays. When innovation is disrupted, it can lead to obstacles that hinder acceleration.

 

Help minimize employee touches

 

Some other ways that minimizing these physical touch aspects can improve your warehouse operations include:

  • Minimizing operational costs
  • Reducing the likelihood of errors and time delays
  • Improving storage capacity
  • Streamlining process handling and internal procedures
  • Meeting higher demand
  • Processing faster deliveries
  • Maximizing profit margins
  • Gaining a competitive advantage

Regulation requirements for many industries are rapidly growing and changing, so you can further benefit from these advantages by staying ahead of the game. While changing your traditional distribution model or system may seem challenging, staying up to date to deliver a reliable flow is important for your business’s efficiency and success.

Being proactive is an essential strategy in any business or industry, so it’s worth taking the time to locate where you can reduce costs and generate improvements. Minimizing product touches can also allow you to minimize waste and allocate the extra time, energy and labor to more important processes that cannot be automated. This may be very helpful for the efficiency of your warehouse operations.

 

5. Engage in Cross-Docking

Cross-docking is a method that can help improve order fulfillment and enhance competitive advantages in many ways. Cross-docking involves taking incoming delivery shipments or products directly to outbound transportation vehicles.

This practice helps with overall quicker processing for high-volume shipments by speeding up the flow of goods between distribution centers and consumers or store locations. There are several kinds of cross-docking, including manufacturing distribution, transportation, retail and other types that can satisfy vendor and customer needs.

This procedure has many benefits that help your warehouse operations run smoothly, such as reducing:

  • Material handling
  • Production to consumer turnaround time
  • Shipment delays and costs
  • Inventory management risks
  • Packaging and labor costs
  • Holding and storage costs

All of these advantages benefit your warehouse and optimize your supply chain by increasing customer satisfaction and lowering overall costs. Cross-docking terminals let your business consolidate packages and deliver them to one destination without additional hassle and excessive transfers or storage. Moving goods from one delivery truck to another can help maximize productivity and ensure your time and money are being used wisely.

When administering the practice of cross-docking, it’s essential to maintain inventory control processes to stay on top of accountability and invoices.

 

6. Record Movement as a Transaction

All steps and movements within the warehouse process should be recorded as transactions to help determine which procedures are necessary and which are not. This action commonly relates to inventory transfers — when stock or shipments are moved between warehouses — but it can also refer to good issues and receipts. This method may help eliminate certain steps that take up time or money that can be improved or altered to contribute to efficiency.

In warehouse distribution, these steps or movements that should not be part of the operation are known as turnbacks, which typically need to be reported to help enhance optimization.

Removing certain components such as damaged goods and issuing returns and transfers must be recorded in a stock account to help maintain count and transaction information. Continuously recording these movements as a transaction can help improve operations when products and assets are continually scanned to maintain the integrity of your inventory data.

This process may also help prevent any disruptions or deviations in the management system and identify solutions. Inventory transfer documents and movement transactions should also contain information on:

  • Inventory postings and offsets
  • Pricing and purchasing analysis reports
  • Materials that are moved from one storage type to another
  • Customer consignment
  • Invoices for needed items and quantities
  • Bin locations
  • Transfer request status updates

Recording all steps in the distribution process can help in many additional ways, such as making it easier for you to determine when to reorder as well as improving accountability. Having all information documented improves the inventory process and reduces human error during the movement of materials. The retrieving process is also streamlined because, with fewer inconsistencies, there will be more time to properly control and track essential warehouse procedures.

 

7. Utilize a Warehouse Management System

A warehouse management system (WMS) provides a framework for keeping all functions and operations organized and in line with compliance regulations. Your WMS can be tailored to fit your business’s specific needs and requirements, especially with logistics services like Crown LSP Group, making it easier for you to customize solutions to your specifications along with any updated changes or regulations.

This flexibility positively impacts warehouse procedures that need to be simplified while showing what processes can benefit from automation. A WMS can help you increase visibility and monitor aspects that may lead to inefficiencies, such as:

  • Overproduction
  • Defective or damaged goods
  • Excess inventory
  • Overprocessing
  • Time delays

Utilize a warehouse management system

 

When these issues, along with many others, are more closely monitored and observed, it may create more room for components that actually add value to the supply chain. Using a WMS, you can more easily eliminate challenges that interrupt your order processing time by reducing any unnecessary transportation or movement that doesn’t contribute to productivity.

Having this system in place can optimize overall warehouse performance by:

  • Increasing distribution center efficiency
  • Identifying and reducing risks
  • Organizing execution processes and systems
  • Integrating workflows that meet demands

For manufacturers looking to use 3PL distribution centers, companies like Crown LSP Group help you structure these practices into your warehouse. Using an experienced company to generate your WMS helps your business set new standards and reduce diversions in your packing or transportation process. A WMS will help ensure you consider all critical success factors and that key elements are configured to fit your existing approach.

Before implementing a WMS, it’s important to address any possible concerns or challenges with your vendors and associates so you’re better prepared to adjust to the new change.

 

8. Evaluate Requirements

Regularly evaluating certain practices in your warehouse or distribution center is essential for effective adaptation. Being aware of requirements for your customers and operations provides an excellent opportunity for growth once you recognize the areas that need improvement. After planning, designing and employing effective operations, regularly check in on them to see how needs and demands have changed. Customer requirements tend to change frequently, so evaluating them often can help you stay on the path to achieving the results you wish to see.

Some additional ways that can help you evaluate customer and industry requirements are:

 

  • Verify quality and validation criteria
  • Consider significant supporting processes
  • Keep up with market conditions
  • Understand your accessibility, space and workflow
  • Monitor regularly to make corrections
  • Integrate traceability
  • Estimate consequences with change effect analysis

 

Warehouse and distribution centers may need to consistently adapt to environmental or internal changes, which can relate to the goods themselves or the inventory layouts. In any business, it’s always a good idea to review system processes and performance to see how they measure up to expectations and if you can alter them for efficiency. Practice this method by generating a consistent evaluation schedule that will allow you to get a better look at what strategies are working best.

 

Contact Crown LSP Group for Warehousing Services and Transportation Requests

Crown LSP Group is a distribution and supply chain solutions company that offers flexible and scalable services for your warehousing and transportation needs. We strive to provide you and your business with operational efficiency, cost-savings and value-added services to address your concerns and improve productivity. Our experience will give you the quality you deserve and allow you more time to focus on manufacturing and selling products.

Our services act as an extension of your business so you can move materials or products at a lower cost and increase your profitability. At Crown LSP Group, we understand that your needs are unique, so we are proud to adjust our capabilities to find new, customizable ways that benefit you.

Contact Crown LSP Group

Contact us to learn more about the warehouse logistics services we provide or visit our website to request a quote today.

 

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How To Prepare Your Supply Chain For Winter

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How to Prepare Your Supply Chain for Winter

From blizzards to freezing rain to brittle cold snaps, winter weather can be hard on the supply chain. Cold weather can affect supply chains in many ways, including disruption in transportation routes, damaged cargo and sudden power outages. By planning ahead for the impact of winter weather on supply chains, businesses can prevent costly delays and fulfill orders efficiently.

This guide to preparing supply chains for winter discusses the importance of planning ahead for winter, as well as some of the top ways cold weather affects the supply chain. We’ll also provide tips on how to prepare your supply chain for winter weather and the benefits of partnering with a trusted third-party logistics provider for all your winter transportation and logistics needs.

Importance of Preparing Your Supply Chain for Winter

When entering the winter season, it’s important for businesses to prepare for the changes that come with cold weather, as well as changes in consumer behavior. By preparing your supply chain for winter challenges, you can ensure your business remains successful and can weather any storm ahead.

Here are some of the top reasons why it’s important to prepare your supply chain for winter:

  • Prevent increased overhead costs: As the season changes and temperatures drop, the ability to keep a steady supply chain is disrupted. These disruptions lead to companies needing to make additional expenditures to support their supply chain efforts, including additional labor. To minimize unexpected increases in overhead costs, companies must prepare for potential winter disruptions.
  • Keep goods secure: It’s critical to prepare your supply chain for winter to ensure you have enough warehousing space to store goods as needed. Disruptions in the supply chain can cause goods to become backed up at certain distribution points. Securing enough warehouse space can help protect your goods and keep them safe while transportation routes clear up.
  • Meet customer demands: Failing to prepare for winter supply chain challenges can lead to disruptions in customer service and maintaining customer relationships. To meet customer demands and expectations, prepare ahead of time for some of the potential challenges during the winter season.

Taking the time to plan for winter supply chain challenges will reduce impacts to your bottom line and improve customer satisfaction.

Supply Chain Challenges During Winter

To prepare for supply chain challenges during the winter season, it’s critical to be aware of the most common issues impacting businesses this time of year. The major difference between the winter supply chain and supply chain practices the rest of the year is the cold weather that causes freight transportation and delivery delays.

In addition to weather, there are other unique challenges that businesses face during the winter that can affect supply chain management. Knowing what to expect can help your business acquire the necessary resources and assistance for a successful winter supply chain.

Below are the top supply challenges during the winter.

Severe Weather

Severe Weather

The biggest threat to the supply chain during the winter is the risk of extreme weather. Though some regions face more extreme winter weather than others, cold temperatures and snowy conditions affect businesses across the country when the supply chain is nationwide.

Some of the major impacts of winter weather on supply chains include:

  • Road closures due to snow and ice that delay freight trucks
  • Extreme weather that grounds cargo planes
  • International delays in cargo flights, ground transport or sea freight due to weather in other countries
  • Power outages that affect distribution centers and warehouses

All of the above winter weather hazards can result in delays, accidents and safety risks that impact the supply chain.

Increased Holiday Demand

Another one of the challenges of the supply chain during the winter is the increased consumer demand that occurs ahead of the holidays, as well as in the months afterward. There is a general nationwide increase in demand during the holidays and an increase in demand for certain types of products that require unique warehousing and transportation needs.

It’s crucial to be aware of the type of demand your business can expect during the holiday season to plan for your increased supply chain needs. Using forecasting tools can help you predict holiday demand based on the records from previous years.

Longer Lead Times

The combination of severe winter weather and increased seasonal demand creates a ripple effect that impacts the rest of the supply chain. As a result, it’s important to anticipate winter’s impact on the supply chain timeline. Many businesses experience longer lead times during the winter, as it can take longer for trucks to turn over products to and from the warehouse and delivery points.

While it’s difficult to predict from year to year just how much winter weather and demand will impact the supply chain, you can mitigate the risk of these delays by setting the expectation of longer lead times.

Warehousing Shortages

When consumer demand increases in the lead-up to the holidays, it can create a shortage in warehouse space across the country. When companies fail to plan ahead for an increase in consumer demand, they often are left scrambling to find ways to warehouse goods strategically in anticipation of increased customer orders.

Additionally, when winter weather impacts major transport routes, warehouse turnover rates slow down, leading to a backlog of goods that would otherwise already be out for delivery. This creates a bottleneck in the supply chain that further impacts lead times and drives up supply chain costs.

Increased Transportation Costs

When winter weather impacts the supply chain, the net result is an increase in operational costs, particularly in the cost of trucking or transportation. When demand starts to exceed supply, this naturally results in an increase in the cost of all goods related to the supply chain. From fuel to labor to shipping containers, supply chain cost increases affect all areas of logistics.

Because the increased costs associated with a lagging supply chain get passed on to the customer, it’s important to prepare financially for the effects of the winter supply chain.

Tips for preparing your supply chain for winter

Tips for Preparing Your Supply Chain for Winter

Despite the challenges that winter weather and holiday demand cause for businesses and their supply chains, there are concrete steps you can take to mitigate these issues. Preventing winter weather from impacting your supply chain starts with preparation. Knowing ahead of time which issues arise during the winter and how to plan for them can determine business success.

Here are some of the top tips for preparing your supply chain for winter.

1. Monitor Weather Reports

Keeping your pulse on regional weather reports is one of the smartest ways to prepare supply chains in winter weather. By monitoring weather reports, you can be alerted to some of the weather patterns impacting key areas of your supply chain. You’ll become aware of weather issues such as extreme cold and ice that can delay truck traffic and cause collisions. You’ll also be able to anticipate any forthcoming blizzards that might interrupt the power grid.

If you rely on air cargo as part of your supply chain, then following commercial and cargo airline delays can also help you predict and react to any disruptions. As you continue to monitor the weather, adjust operations as necessary to accommodate for interruptions. This can include rescheduling workers or updating shipment tracking information.

2. Implement Time Management Practices

While you can’t do anything to change the weather or consumer demand, you can implement strategic time management practices that will help alleviate pressure from the supply chain. When shipping to regions with known patterns of inclement weather, set longer lead time expectations with customers. This allows you to buy time to explore other routes or logistics options without affecting the customer.

Because severe weather can cause closures at ports, runways and highways, it’s critical to have a flexible schedule that can incorporate other solutions that still meet customer demands. Setting realistic timelines can reduce the impact of delays and decrease the number of shipping errors.

3. Consider Freight Protection

How does cold weather affect the supply chain? Unpredictable winter weather does more than impact the ability to transport cargo. It can also impact the goods themselves. Certain types of goods may be more susceptible to damage with sudden drops in temperature. Cold and freezing weather can damage goods like precision instruments and appliances, perishable foods, chemicals and paints.

When preparing supply chains for winter, be sure to consider whether your goods are temperature-sensitive and what additional protection they may need to arrive safely. Most trailers aren’t temperature-controlled and cannot protect goods from freezing weather. Arrange to have sensitive products shipped in climate-controlled trailers for guaranteed freight protection.

4. Improve Communication

To ensure your supply chain functions properly in cold weather, businesses need to have excellent communication among their own staff, as well as with outside warehousing and logistics partners. It’s also important to maintain communication with the customer.

If extreme winter weather is anticipated, make sure each point along the supply chain is up to date with new procedures and contingency plans. Having transparent communication with your logistics partners provides you with peace of mind and more control over your operations. This allows you to update your customers in time should any shipping delays occur.

5. Create a Backup Plan

Though it’s hard to predict the impact of winter weather on supply chains, it’s still possible to prepare for potential delays by creating a contingency plan. When creating a winter weather supply chain backup plan, it’s important to know whether you will adopt alternate modes of transportation and logistics. Alternatively, you may be able to split your loads across multiple different modes of freight to minimize disruptions.

As part of your contingency plan, it’s important to budget for the possibility that you will need to switch to an alternate mode of transportation that costs more. By planning ahead, you can have the financial and logistics strategy to accommodate weather delays.

Benefits of a 3PL for Your Winter Supply Chain

For businesses to thrive, they need reliable systems and processes for streamlined order fulfillment. Efficient order fulfillment ensures businesses are able to meet their customers’ needs and continue to grow their sales. However, fulfilling orders can become increasingly more difficult to do in-house, especially during challenging winter weather when the supply chain is impacted.

Turning to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider like Crown LSP Group for help with order fulfillment can help businesses overcome winter weather supply chain issues. 3PLs provide an array of logistics and supply chain management services that support businesses in managing and moving goods to their final destination efficiently and securely.

Here are some of the ways 3PL services from Crown LSP Group can become an integral part of your winter supply chain.

Inventory Management

When you partner with a 3PL provider like Crown LSP Group, your business can rest assured that your goods will be properly managed and tracked at all times. When winter weather delays the supply chain, businesses need real-time information about the status of their goods to ensure open communication with the client.

3PL providers are able to transport your goods in safe and secure truckloads and track them at every stage using GPS technology. This ensures that businesses are always informed about the flow of goods and when shipments are delayed or on the way.

More Transportation Options

Part of winter supply chain planning is knowing what additional or alternative modes of transportation you may need to rely on when bad weather impacts logistics. 3PL partners can take on this responsibility, freeing up businesses from finding alternative transportation and logistics solutions on their own.

3PLs are experts in supply chain transportation solutions and can offer creative solutions in the event of inclement winter weather. 3PL providers at Crown LSP Group can offer LTL shipment solutions, which allow businesses to save money and maintain productive lead times.

3PL can provide additional overflow warehousing

Warehousing Overflow

If increased winter demand causes constraints on your in-house warehousing solutions, a 3PL can provide additional overflow warehousing that accommodates fluctuations in supply. Relying on a trusted 3PL for warehousing services helps businesses save time and resources, particularly with labor and management costs.

Additionally, 3PL warehouses are strategically located, ensuring your goods can be housed and shipped from a location that mitigates delays, including weather-related disruptions.

Improved Safety and Security

One of the supply chain issues that businesses face during the winter is the impact of freezing temperatures and hazardous conditions on the safety of goods. To ensure your goods are transported, stored and managed safely and securely, rely on a trusted 3PL.

Professional 3PL services from Crown LSP Group offer the integrated technology and systems to keep track of your goods and ensure their safe transportation and arrival. With warehousing services, 3PLs can provide the safety and security your goods need, including temperature-controlled storage.

Contact Crown LSP Group for Help Preparing Your Supply Chain for Winter

Preparing supply chains for winter requires advanced planning and effective logistics strategies and solutions. Knowing the common issues that impact supply chains in the winter can help you prevent logistics disruptions and delays. To keep your supply chain running smoothly in the winter, it’s important to get the help you need from a trusted 3PL partner.

Crown LSP Group is your solution for better winter supply chain management. We offer a range of transportation and logistics services to fit your supply chain needs. We have the flexibility and scalability you need to accommodate winter supply challenges. For more information on our personalized 3PL solutions, contact us today or request a quote.

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How Do Value-Added Services Add Value?

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How Do Value-Added Services Add Value?

Value-added services allow businesses to provide more comprehensive benefits, which has become an essential tool in increasing customer satisfaction. Using these services is especially vital in operations based on customer trust. Supply chain and logistics is one of the most competitive sectors, and adding value can give your organization an edge.

Whenever providers add value the right way, it affects the level of customer satisfaction, while indirectly increasing their bottom line. Service providers know the ins and outs of the business, and they can assist companies in responding to customers’ needs. Companies partnering with service providers can focus on their core business and work on being more competent in the market. Value-adding is not a one-time task — it requires continuous maintenance, and 3PLs are working toward providing value-added services in conjunction with their more traditional offerings.

Adding value to your packaging and transportation process can give your company an edge in the market and enable you to stand out from the competition. Service providers offer a range of contributions that add value to your brand, but how do they do that? And is it advantageous? Let’s look at some offerings and how they can benefit your organization.

How Do Value-Added Services Help My Business’s Supply Chain?

Forward-thinking companies use their supply chain to gain market share and get ahead of their competitors. Spending time and resources to keep this supply chain smooth has become a notable trend in the industry. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs work toward maintaining supply chain excellence, and it has become a widely accepted business strategy in today’s market. Value-added services are not only for customers, but also for management. Consider these reasons behind the importance of common supply chain value-added services.

Staying in the competition and emerging on top will require a redesign of supply chains and traditional methods.

Increased Price Pressures and Competition

Previously, brand recognition and product features were more than enough to set companies apart but things have shifted. After commoditizing several products in the market, organizations need better methods to stand apart.

Brand equity and product innovation are no longer the only tools that can allow a business to set a higher selling price. Staying in the competition and emerging on top will require a redesign of supply chains and traditional methods.

Companies are using two methods to adapt to this trend. First, they assess cost-reduction strategies, and create new techniques to build a more efficient value chain. These changes will allow them to retain a competitive edge. Second, companies are searching for strategies to provide value-added services that will enable them to meet savvy customers’ demands.

Outsourcing

As the market evolves, many companies are taking a step back to evaluate their core competency, and some organizations realize that outsourcing part of the supply chain can be beneficial.

The marketplace continues to revolve around three pillars:

  1. Cost and quality of global manufacturing and distribution
  2. Information mediums and systems
  3. Product design capabilities

By outsourcing their supply chain’s operation, companies can breathe new life into their business. Still, without the correct systems, processes or organization management, the risk can rise to unmanageable levels. When their business model relies too heavily on outsourcing, companies must implement solutions to make up for off-site supply chain capabilities. The need for details becomes the foremost priority in an outsourced supply chain environment.

More Complex and Shortened Product Lifecycles

Companies are under significant pressure to develop cutting-edge products and launch them to market quickly, without maximizing or compromising the integrity of their high-demand existing products. To meet this ever-growing need, companies require streamlined product lifecycle management processes, which emphasizes new product launches, product discontinuation and design.

The primary benefit of product lifecycle management technology and processes is that it helps companies design products that can share components, operations or materials — reducing the risk of obsolescence write-offs, ensuring optimal use of all infrastructure investments and limiting increased costs when buying essential materials. In addition to all these benefits, it will also shorten the time to market. Companies can focus on product lifecycle management efforts in all these areas and buffer themselves against the risk of any unexpected cost increases, spontaneous obsolescence write-offs and underwhelming product launches. These practices will also enhance customer perception of your company and establish yourself as an innovative reformer.

Top benefits of using value added services

Top Benefits of Using Value-Added Services for Your Business

You can find several positive reasons to consider a 3PL provider for value-adding services. Here are a few notable benefits of value-added services that can readily translate to a competitive advantage for your business.

Flexibility

The most significant benefit of using a 3PL provider is flexibility. Partnering with them will allow you more flexibility in labor, space and equipment. They can offer all these components to enable you to meet your customers’ requirements more effectively. Some 3PL providers also offer extra physical space for a specific time as a value-added service, which could be a warehouse for storing rush inventory or a meeting space for discussing on-the-fly software updates. Labor resources are also available as part of value-added services. If any of your product campaigns require a more hands-on approach to attract your audience’s attention, a 3PL can quickly shift their staff to your project and keep your labor cost to a bare minimum.

Quality

A 3PL’s added-value services department is primarily a team of specifically trained staff who can assist you in executing specialized projects. With the assistance of a dedicated professional team working or overseeing any customization, you can focus on quality and work efficiency. The value-adding team provided by a trusted 3PL provider might collaborate with customers. They can outline the project, ensure accuracy and precision and take the necessary steps to complete the project on time.

Ease of Integration

Partnering with a 3PL provider’s value-added services enables the seller or company to work with one partner for all their logistics needs. A reliable 3PL can assist you in managing warehousing, transportation and all the value-added services you need. This help can make the process more seamless to integrate any updates or changes along the way. Keeping the product in a single fulfillment center can also minimize the cost of moving products and transportation.

Types of Value-Added Services That Improve Your Competitiveness

Types of Value-Added Services That Improve Your Competitiveness

In warehousing and distribution, value-added services go further than normal operations and can set you apart from your competition. Among these types of services are cross-docking, transloading, palletizing, kitting, and return processing.

Here are some value-added service examples that decrease your costs and impact your business operations.

Cross-Docking

A cross-docking system allows companies to move products directly from the receiving dock to the shipping dock. This streamlined method saves space and eases manual handling in the distribution center. Cross-docking requires close synchronization of all outbound and inbound shipping movements, and reduces the cost by decreasing stockpiling. Cross-docking also involves re-packing, inspection and labeling.

Transloading

The process of transloading requires more than one transport mode. Businesses primarily use this solution when one mode of transport, like land, air or sea, is insufficient to deliver the goods from the origin point to the destination. International shipments, which require multiple modes of transportation, are the best example of transloading. The international shipment process usually begins with air or sea, followed by a truck.

Transloading lets you arrange and sort the shipments before delivering them to the distribution center or warehouse. This streamlined process removes any expensive or unnecessary land transportation. All shipments get grouped upon arrival, eliminating the need for any distribution center.

Transloading also enables your business to save money by removing any less-than-truckload costs. In addition to benefiting the companies, the process is also speedier, thus bringing your customers more satisfaction. You can reach different areas with transloading by using various local and international shipment methods, increasing business possibilities and growth.

Palletizing

In palletizing, you place items or goods on pallets. Depending on the business and product, you may use manual, semi-automated or fully automated methods to put the shipments on pallets. Moving palletized products is more efficient, with a quicker delivery turnaround. With palletizing, you can move perishable goods faster and decrease the risk of spoilage. The palletizing process also reduces labor requirements.

With standard pallet sizes, you can optimize warehouse workflow and operations. Palletizing significantly reduces the risk of worker injury. Since the pallets are more durable than other shipping containers, they can allow you to carry more products at a single time.

Order Fulfillment Services

Order fulfillment services provide the highest customer satisfaction among all the value-added services, and it is one of the top value-added services in logistics. These services can simplify your supply chain and allow you to move your products faster. The order fulfillment services can help you delight your customers with a streamlined process and faster deliveries. This service includes in-house packaging with the latest technology tools. Order fulfillment services perfectly handle labeling and new product launches. When you employ a trusted partner’s help, you can increase your efficiency in handling operations and save a substantial amount of money on purchasing and maintaining expensive equipment.

Return Processing

Returns can cause financial and logistics problems, but they are an unavoidable part of doing business. Returns can require substantial effort and time, and sometimes companies can get themselves in trouble trying to handle them. With value-added services, you can outsource your return processing. These service providers have dedicated warehouses and ample personnel to process and manage the returns as required. When a return arrives, workers scan it into the system to determine whether it’s possible to resell. Quick action can keep your business reputation intact and monitor the return patterns for insights.

Pick and Pack

Pick and pack is part of the order fulfillment process, but sometimes you need to pay some extra attention to ensure uniform packing and delivery of all products. A pick-and-pack service can streamline all your packages and deliver them before the expected date. Value-added service providers have technology that assists them in finding the best route and double-checking the delivery address to reduce any chances of mistakes.

Kitting

The kitting process includes combining multiple products into a simple and easy-to-pick package. The process works in many ways, whether it’s banding two similar items or creating an integrated solution by pairing two commonly purchased products. This solution can significantly reduce transportation costs and delivery time. It can also slash your company’s combined costs.

What Are Customized Value-Added Service Solutions?

Value-added services can transform your supply chain, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Service providers must understand a supply chain’s business model and weak spots. With an effective solution, you can optimize your supply chain’s operations.

Besides solving logistical challenges, an expert service provider can also provide other long-term benefits. Customized value-added services can build delivery models that will improve inventory and transportation costs, enhancing your operations and saving time and money.

Value-added service solutions can work on distribution channels to address your company’s trucking capacity and assist you with time-sensitive deliveries. Service providers can offer consultations and innovative solutions to address your trade landscape and warehousing requirements.

A significant benefit of customizing value-added services is an improvement of the supply chain by finding discrepancies in the process and taking corrective measures to improve them, so you can focus on customer satisfaction by providing optimum services.

Crown LSP Group Can Be Your One-Stop Solution for Managing Your Supply Chain

Crown LSP Group Can Be Your One-Stop Solution for Managing Your Supply Chain

When you go toe-to-toe with your competition, it’s essential to partner with service providers who take care of your fundamental requirements while offering insights on distribution best practices to help you stand out from the competition. Value-added services have become the latest norm in the constantly evolving market. Partnering with a reliable logistics service provider is paramount in optimizing your supply chain and distribution channel. Your partner should understand your business’ unique needs and deliver on them to achieve quantifiable results.

Crown LSP Group can assist you in getting ahead of value-added service trends and establish your business in the market. Take a look at the wide range of solutions we provide, and get in touch with us for a customized value-added solution.

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Guide to the E-Commerce Fulfillment Process

In This Article

 

Guide to the E-Commerce Fulfillment Process

To rake in consistent sales for your e-commerce business and remain profitable, you need more than a stunning website. You need a rock-solid and efficient e-commerce fulfillment strategy. By 2024 e-commerce will account for 21.8% of total retail sales worldwide. As more customers move online and e-commerce becomes very competitive, customers’ satisfaction will shift from product availability to speed and accuracy of order delivery. One poor experience and they may never return to your store.

According to a study by Retail TouchPoints, 88% of customers say they’ll pay more for same-day delivery. And Amazon set the standard for e-commerce fulfillment with their addition of the next-day delivery option.

What does this mean for e-commerce businesses and the consumer goods supply chain?

To satisfy your customers, stay competitive and profitable, you need a reliable and effective order fulfillment plan. A fulfillment warehousing service company, like Crown LSP Group, can help you establish fast and cost-effective order delivery anywhere in the United States including North Carolina and the Norfolk, Virginia, area.

Discover what you need to know about e-commerce fulfillment below. Find out how to select a fulfillment method that suits your unique business needs and how Crown LSP Group’s e-commerce fulfillment services can satisfy your warehousing, transportation and distribution needs.

what is e-commerce fulfillment

What Is E-commerce Fulfillment?

E-commerce fulfillment — also called order fulfillment — refers to the process involved in delivering online orders to customers. The entire process consists of several stages that include receiving and storing inventory, order processing, picking and packing items, delivering products to the final consumer, and handling returns.

There are various methods of fulfillment, and the method you adopt for your business depends on the following factors:

  • The size of your business
  • The volume of orders you process
  • The nature of your products
  • The size of your products
  • The location of your customers

Those five factors influence which of the following basic e-commerce fulfillment methods you adopt:

  • E-commerce self-fulfillment
  • E-commerce dropshipping
  • E-commerce third-party logistics (3PL) fulfillment

3PL fulfillment companies, like Crown LSP Group, operate what is known as a fulfillment center to help e-commerce businesses fulfill orders. A fulfillment center refers to the physical location from where a 3PL provider satisfies customer orders for e-commerce businesses.

From receiving the order to handing off the product to your customer, the e-commerce fulfillment process has many moving parts, no matter the method type you choose.

e-commerce fulfillment process explained

The E-Commerce Fulfillment Process Explained

Whether you partner with a 3PL e-commerce fulfillment company, like Crown LSP Group, work with a dropshipper or fulfill your orders by yourself, the process follows the same pattern.

Order fulfillment starts from when a customer places an order on your e-commerce site to when you deliver the accurate order to the customer. Typically, it includes the following:

Inventory Warehousing

This stage of the fulfillment process ensures you have the space to house your inventory to fulfill customers’ orders later on.

Inventory warehousing involves moving your products to an e-commerce fulfillment warehouse or a self-run warehouse — a process called inbound logistics —  and storing the products awaiting your customers’ orders. For small businesses, this could be a garage or a small store for storing products and accessing them to fulfill orders. But for a big and growing e-commerce brand that processes hundreds of orders daily, you need dedicated warehousing space or to partner with an e-commerce fulfillment center.

Effective inventory warehousing ensures the safety of your products. You can also consider your warehouse’s proximity to your customers for speedy and cost-effective order fulfillment.

Inventory Management

This stage of the fulfillment process ensures you always have products on the shelf. Inventory management involves monitoring, forecasting and restocking inventory. The goal is to maintain an optimal level of product in the warehouse.

Inventory management is essential because too much inventory leads to poor cash flow, more payment for storage and selling outdated products. On the other hand, too little inventory leads to backorders and unsatisfied customers.

Order Management

Order management covers everything about receiving and tracking orders from your customers. Proper order management involves integrating your sales channels — whether Shopify, Amazon, eBay or other merchants — with your warehouse management system to ensure real-time notification and processing of orders.

Order Fulfillment

Order fulfillment involves picking, packing and shipping the right product to your customers.

This step kicks in immediately once a customer places an order. Once the order is received, the correct product is picked from the warehouse, packaged and handed off to logistics for delivery. Proper fulfillment ensures picking and promptly delivering the accurate product.

Fulfillment is the most important part of the e-commerce process because it puts you in direct contact with your customers. According to a study, 54% of customers would not place an order because of high delivery charges. And 25% of customers won’t place an order if the delivery will take too long.

Efficient and satisfactory last-mile delivery leads to happy customers and positive word of mouth. Those benefits translate to more customers and revenue for your business.

Small e-commerce businesses can easily pull this off with self-fulfillment or partnering with a dropshipper. But big e-commerce brands who want a predictable and accurate order fulfillment process can guarantee this with a third-party e-commerce fulfillment company, like Crown LSP Group.

Return Management

Also known as reverse logistics, return management involves processing returned products, redelivering the product or refunding your customers and returning the product to the store for reselling.

Thirty percent of everything sold online is returned, either because of damage or wrong product delivery. How you handle reverse logistics influences customers’ satisfaction and their desire to keep buying from your store.

For example, 92% of customers say they would buy more from a store with a satisfactory return procedure. And 79% of customers say they appreciate free shipping for return products.

E-commerce stores receive the most returns because customers often do not have physical contact with the product before buying. But a laid-out return policy can mitigate product returns for your business.

Return logistics can become complicated. While small e-commerce businesses can easily process returns in-house, big e-commerce brands would need to dedicate plenty of time and resources to effectively handle return products. Working with Crown LSP Group frees you from this burden and creates more time for you to grow your business.

Warehouse with variety of timber for construction and repair. Delivery concept

Choosing the Best E-Commerce Fulfillment Method for Your Business

The e-commerce fulfillment method you adopt depends on your unique business needs. For big and growing e-commerce companies, dropshipping and in-house order fulfillment pose various challenges.

Disadvantages of In-House Order Fulfillment

With in-house fulfillment, you do everything by yourself — warehousing, inventory and order management, order fulfillment and return management. You own your warehouse, purchase the needed insurance, software and equipment and hire and manage the staff needed. This process works well for small businesses but presents challenges for big and growing e-commerce brands.

Here are the disadvantages of in-house order fulfillment for big and scaling e-commerce brands:

  • Operating a fulfillment warehouse is expensive: For a big e-commerce business processing lots of orders daily, you’d need significant warehouse space, warehouse staff, equipment and tools to operate an effective and smooth in-house e-commerce fulfillment strategy. You’d also need to purchase workers’ compensation, fire insurance, auto, professional insurance and other insurances to protect your workers and inventory in the event of an accident or incident. Those necessary extras require financial and managerial resources that can otherwise be used in expanding your business.
  • Running a fulfillment warehouse demands time: Receiving inventory, storing, managing stock, packing and delivering orders accurately in-house demands excess time that can otherwise be used for marketing, working on your product or hiring the best talents for your business.
  • Scaling in-house fulfillment is expensive and slow: Scaling an in-house fulfillment warehouse to meet your customer orders demands funds and takes time. To meet increasing customer orders even with a dedicated warehouse, you’d need to build or lease a larger warehouse, hire more staff and purchase the needed equipment. This process can take time and may not be fast enough to meet your growing customer orders. If sales drop, you’d end up paying for warehouse space and tools that you may never use. That model is not scalable or cost-effective.

Disadvantages of Dropshipping

Most e-commerce businesses go for dropshipping as an alternative to self-fulfillment. With dropshipping, you don’t buy or store inventory. Instead, you simply put the product up for sale on your site. When you receive an order, you channel it to the dropshipper that operates a fulfillment center and delivers the product to your customer.

Dropshipping is a very fast e-commerce fulfillment method for small businesses, but it poses various disadvantages for large and growing businesses. With dropshipping, you have zero control over:

  • Product quality: You do not control the quality of product delivered to your customers or the quality of services your customers receive. In cases of poor customer experience, you, not the fulfillment centers, bear the heat.
  • Customization and branding: Since another company handles the fulfillment operations, fulfillment warehousing and order fulfillment, most times you do not control the customization and branding of the product.
  • Inventory: You do not control your dropshipper’s stock level. If the dropshipper does not have the inventory needed to fulfill your customers’ orders, you may leave a lot of money on the table and grow a pile of disappointed customers.

why you should choose 3pl fulfillment warehousing

Why You Should Choose 3PL E-commerce Warehousing Service

With 3PL e-commerce warehousing, a third-party fulfillment company stores and manages your inventory, receives and fulfills your customer orders and handles return logistics.

Here are five reasons you should outsource your order fulfillment to a 3PL company, like Crown LSP Group, that offers warehouse fulfillment for e-commerce businesses:

  • It’s cost-effective: With a 3PL company, you only pay for the space you use and for orders processed. All other expenses are covered by the 3PL order fulfillment center and factored into your fees.
  • It’s easy to scale: As your sales and inventory volume increase, you can easily pay for more space and staff. If sales decline, you can easily cut down on your expense. At every point, you pay as you use.
  • It’s easy to move your fulfillment warehouse: You can easily move from one fulfillment warehouse to another to get closer to your customers, deliver faster and operate more cost-effectively.
  • It gives you access to skilled professionals: A 3PL company like Crown LSP Group hires and manages warehouse and order fulfillment professionals so that you do not have to.
  • It gives you more time to run your business: Outsourcing your order fulfillment to Crown LSP Group carves out more time for you to focus on marketing, stocking the best quality product and growing your business.

Partnering with a third-party fulfillment company like Crown LSP Group ensures your inventory is properly stored and managed. You get up-to-date information on your inventory to ensure you have the right amount to meet your present and future customer demands.

Top 4 Trends Influencing E-Commerce Fulfillment

E-commerce fulfillment is undergoing a lot of changes. Here are three trends influencing e-commerce fulfillment now and moving forward:

  • Increased significance of e-commerce fulfillment: As more customers prefer buying online and getting their orders delivered to their doorsteps, the efficiency and speed of order delivery will become a major e-commerce success factor.
  • Rise in automation and robotics in fulfillment: As the demand for fast order picking, packing and delivery increases, robots and automation are helping to meet this demand.
  • Increased adoption of augmented reality: More augmented reality (AR) in e-commerce order fulfillment is helping warehouse operators navigate products, pick orders and fulfill orders easily and making the landscape more competitive.
  • Better decision-making with data: Customer and market data is helping retailers and 3PL companies make better inventory forecasting decisions. And businesses that gather and make use of data will win.

At Crown LSP Group, we provide the resources to help e-commerce businesses stay flexible and responsive to trends and changes in their customer and market needs.

work with a trusted 3pl provider

Work With a Trusted 3PL Provider Today!

Crown LSP Group is your true distribution solution company. We provide customized supply chain services like warehousing, transportation and logistics, value-added services and on-site warehouse operations for your unique business needs. Our North Carolina location ensures cost-effective inbound logistics and speedy delivery to your customers anywhere in the United States.

We have been providing the best warehousing and last-mile delivery services for retailers like you for over 30 years. We provide all the inventory management and order fulfillment resources you need to run a successful e-commerce business. Our goal is to become your long-term logistics partner.

We know your business needs are unique. We’ll work with you to provide a customer e-commerce fulfillment strategy that benefits you and your customers in the long and short term.

Contact us today to discuss your order fulfillment strategy and request a free quote.

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