What do you and Steve Jobs have in common? Besides the dashing good looks, Steve Jobs started Apple out of a garage. If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that this is also the approach you’re taking. Whether it’s a garage, basement, or cluttered living room, the greatest ideas always start off small.
If you’ve recently launched your eCommerce business, it’s possible you’re not quite ready to scale, which is totally OK! Trust us, we’ve been there too — bootstrapping is basically our middle name! That’s why we’re walking you through the bare necessities (the simple bare necessities…) when it comes to fulfilling your orders in-house. Surprisingly, you don’t need a million tools and apps, but a black turtleneck is always a plus.
Your Musts and Your Nice-to-Haves
Have you ever walked inside a store and come out with everything but the one thing you needed to buy? You might be attempted to do that when starting your in-house operation. However, your resources are probably limited as is, which means you will have to make the most out of the money and space available. Through trial and error, here are the tools we consider to be non-negotiable:
- Boxes or poly mailers
- Bubble wrap, crinkle paper, or packing peanuts
- Hand trucks or dollies
- Packing table
- Safety cutter
- Storage bins
- Tape and tape gun
- Tape measure
Easy peasy! These straightforward basics should last you a long time. Of course, as your business grows, so will your needs. While you don’t have to get any of the following items right away, they might be a great addition to your arsenal in the near or long-term future:
- Laser printer
- Sticker dispenser
But Wait… There’s More!
Thought your fulfillment journey was over? Nope — it’s only just begun! Besides physical products, your in-house fulfillment solution is going to need a few other essentials in order (pun intended) to keep things up and going. Here are your other considerations:
- Employees. Are you a one-man show? Or do you plan to bring on friends and family for a helping hand? If you want to fulfill from home, it’s important to be realistic about how much help you’ll need, and how often you’ll need it. If picking and packing is taking over the time you could be spending on marketing, product development, and customer service, it would be a wise choice to amplify your workforce.
- Software. This could be as simple as a spreadsheet or as complex as full-fledged order management software. Regardless, you’ll need a way to keep track of the orders and the inventory you have on hand, especially if you want to add barcodes to the mix. You’ll need to log customer information, products coming in, products going out, packing, and general expenses. If you’re not good with numbers, it may be worth hiring someone to help you.
- Warehousing. Whether you’re renting a storage space or packing and shipping straight from your home, you’ll need room to fulfill your orders. Think about where you’re going to fit a packing table, packing materials, and finished orders going out. A spare bedroom or your garage could be enough, but that could quickly change once your customer base increases.
As your business expands, it’s normal to make tweaks and adjustments to your day-to-day operations. For example, maybe you like your customers’ unboxing experience to have a little more flair, so you add stickers to the mix. In fact, you’ll likely go through several changes and restructures — from materials to warehousing space to software.
While in-house fulfillment is an important stepping stone, it’s an improbable permanent solution. Hundreds of orders might be manageable for you, but what about thousands or even hundreds of thousands? The goal of every eCommerce store is to scale and bring in income, which is why it’s imperative that your infrastructure is sound. If you find yourself running into snags with your in-house fulfillment solution, it might be the time to consider outsourcing. This decision happens at a different stage for everyone, but it’s a necessary one. If do find that it’s time for a change, you know who to call.
Spoiler: It’s not Ghostbusters. 😉