Anyone might tell you to fully research a 3PL (third party-logistics) company before hiring one as a partner, but how often does that due diligence include in-person research? Chances are, you regularly monitor manufacturing sites, but you might not think to visit 3PL facilities. After all, as long as your shipments arrive on time, what difference does it make? Here are a few key reasons you should consider touring a 3PL’s fulfillment centers, and or facilities, before contracting them to do your shipping and logistics.
Get a Feel for the Place
There is only so much you can learn from a verbal description. Pictures or a video virtual tour may help, but they only scratch the surface—plus they can hide a lot. Only by being there can you get a real feel for how the business runs. Is it clean? Do people seem satisfied at work? What kind of atmosphere do they have? —laid back yet efficient, high-stress but they love it that way? Knowing the dynamics of your 3PL can help you decide if it is the right fit for you and your company.
Meet Your Potential Business Partners
If you live or work a considerable distance away from your 3PL, it helps to meet the team you will be working with in person at the onset of your partnership. Ideally no one should feel they have to be at the warehouse often, or at all, but if it’s near impossible for you to visit the warehouse, touring it once is a good idea.
While you are there, spend time in casual conversation with your account manager and anyone else you may interface with in the future. Getting to know them will make it easier to sift through challenging moments when they arise, because they will inevitably come up. Good relationships and solid communication are key to any business partnership; forming strong interpersonal relationships can make the difference between a serious problem and no problem whatsoever. In addition, you may find that you simply do not “click” with your new partners—which might help you make a stronger case for a team that you fit with better.
Familiarize Yourself With Their Processes and Procedures
If you ship goods that require special handling, such as food, medical supplies, or sensitive technology, you need a 3PL that holds to the regulations and guidelines that fit your business needs. This will show up in their procedures. Regardless of how you run your personnel and company operations, your 3PL must follow the rules for your product. Finding a 3PL that works with similar products as yours will give you a good idea of the procedures they already have in place. Although a company that appears to work well on paper, may not match up to your expectations in person—it’s still good to check out their processes.
For example, if you have a high value product that requires a specific level of security while being stored and handled, it’s important to visually inspect these areas. Many facilities have secure storage areas that are gated and only accessible by certain employees. It’s important to know how accesses to these areas is managed, what procedures are in place to ensure the area remains secure, and other security precautions, including closed circuit security cameras.
Working with an experienced 3PL might also open your eyes to new ways of working that could improve your own processes. After all, these facilities specialize in one aspect of the business, storage and shipping. Seeing the ways they operate in person might give you a different outlook on how it can be done.
Play Through Some Scenarios
On your way to and through the facility, you will have a chance to ask yourself if it looks like a good fit. Observe how packages arrive, how they are handled, and how they leave.
Make sure to explore the surrounding area, and take a broader look at the entire experience of visiting. If you fly into the area, is the route from the airport easy enough? You’ll want as little friction as possible should you need to come to the fulfillment center. Imagine that you are a carrier here, in this place. Visiting a facility and playing through a few scenarios can give you an appreciation for how the logistics will work and can help you decide if you are comfortable choosing this facility.
The Comfort of Knowing
Whatever the size of your business, whatever your product, it helps to know who you are in business with.
Seeing the facility, meeting your team in person, can give you great reassurance and the comfort of knowing your logistics partner thoroughly. If there’s ever an issue, you will have a better understanding of your 3PL and face-to-face relationships in place to help quickly correct and come to a resolution.
One last point of note—if you can’t walk through the facility, at least see if you can get video footage of the operation. This is fairly common common, and serves as a good way to virtually “walk through” a facility that may be too far or cumbersome to access in person.
If you’re seeking logistics support, or thinking about switching 3PLs, touring a 3PL’s facility is highly recommended. Not only will it give you a better idea of your potential partner, their processes and procedures, it will solidify a good or bad fit with the team you’ll be working with.
For more questions on selecting the right 3PL provider for your business, from someone with an inside view of the 3PL industry, contact us today.