From Idea to Web Start-up in 21 Days: Logistics (or The Site Isn't Everything)
WE CARRIED INVENTORY, and we shipped bacon. People didn’t believe us at first, but we did. We stored it in refrigerators inside garages and in our office. We got it from supply centers and direct from the farms. We packed it in ice packs inside insulated cold shields and shipped it via USPS.
We could have used a shipping facility, or found a place that would drop-ship for us, but we didn’t. We figured just selling bacon wasn’t interesting. We wanted to create a brand and a product. And since we weren’t making the bacon, we had to create something else.
So we shipped an experience. A wrapped-in-butcher-paper-goodness experience that people wanted to tell their friends about. An experience that, as with any excellent gift-giving experience, we wanted to receive in the mail ourselves. And in the beginning, the only way to affordably create this experience was not only to be in charge but to do every step ourselves.
When we started, we really didn’t know what we were getting into by actually deciding to do inventory and fulfillment. And we really didn’t know how it would work, we just figured, “Scott has a big garage, we can deal with it later.” This may have been a bit naïve.
When we saw what other people were doing in the bacon niche, it was obvious we could do better. Most of the products and brands were hastily thrown together, and few seemed to be shooting for true customer loyalty. And while we believed in our ability to create loyalty, we still had to get the logistics worked out.
For us to be successful, we had to figure out a) boxes, b) shipping material, c) actual postage, and of course d) delivery to point-of-shipping.
At first we went highbrow. We looked at companies that would make custom boxes for us, with our logos and message right on the side of the box. But that’s pretty expensive when you’re not buying in massive volume, so we had to put that on the “someday-maybe” list.
Then we looked at offerings from FedEx and UPS, but they all seemed to fall short of our needs; they were expensive and kind of painful to deal with. Eventually we looked into the USPS and realized it was a no-brainer.
Did you know that USPS flat-rate shipping is amazing? It’s cheap and you get free boxes. Let me repeat that. YOU GET FREE BOXES. It sounds trivial, but when you’re buying all of your shipping products, and spending hundreds of dollars on things like ice packs and heat shields just to send someone something, free boxes are awesome.
USPS has a flat-rate priority mail shipping method that gives you three options for boxes. You can fit up to 70 pounds in them, although in practice we rarely put in more than 20. Once we saw this, we knew USPS was the way to go.
Wrappin’ It All Up
We placed orders for many of the different bacon-themed products on the Internet, and found that most of the companies didn’t put much time in their actual shipping experience. You got a box with a Mylar envelope, and inside was a bunch of bacon and cold packs. It was a little anti-climactic. We wanted to deliver something a little more fun, and more on brand.
In early conversations, Jason had mentioned the idea of offering a butcher-via-the-Internet experience to our customers. The idea was to take one of those Mylar envelopes (that we unfortunately really needed to keep our bacon cold as it shipped) and wrap it with butcher paper and then stamp it with a big Bac’n logo.
We felt it was something our customers would appreciate, mainly because it’s how we would have wanted our bacon to come in the mail.
If you’ve never seen a Mylar envelope, it looks like a missing piece from some robot-from-the-future costume. It’s terrible.
However, when you take the bacon, wrap it up in a giant sheet of butcher paper, and seal it with a nice big Bac’n sticker, you start to get closer to a true butcher-shop experience. Stamping our logo on top gave it a physical, old-school feel that we felt made the experience a bit more enjoyable.
Design Everything—Even Packing Slips
We loved our logo and wanted it on everything we sent, so we formatted it for different stickers and sent them off to get printed at StickerGiant.com. We had two different stickers made, one of just our logo and another of simple instructions that helped our customers understand how to keep their bacon fresh and whether or not to be worried if their cured and smoked bacon showed up at room temperature. (Hint: You’re fine. It’s more aesthetically pleasing cold, but cured bacon can be stored at room temperature.)
We used these stickers as giveaways at events as well, and as a way to seal the butcher paper itself. Again, all part of the experience.
With most packages you get in the mail, it’s common to see some plain white packing slip made with a generic template. It usually looks like it was printed on some default template from Word. However, we saw this as another opportunity to push the branding, so again, Jason’s wife whipped up a great-looking packing slip that Michael was easily able to integrate into the fulfillment process.
“YES! BAC’N IS HERE!” What a welcome sight. After all, who isn’t excited about getting bacon in the mail? We also made sure to not include any of the pricing information (just what they got and the quantities) on the packing slip so folks could send it as a gift.
For all of our shipping supplies, we went to uline.com. ULINE was great for things like cold packs, butcher paper, Mylar envelopes, and so on. Not only that, since we had to order a bunch of stuff from the start, we gang-shipped a lot of it and lowered our initial shipping costs for our shipping supplies (ironic, we know). Ideally we would have sourced all of that stuff locally, because 1000 cold packs aren’t cheap to ship, but it was hard for us to find those materials in large quantities where we lived, so we went with ULINE.