Every company that goes through an RFP to find a fulfillment provider knows that one of the final stages of the process is to tour the Fulfillment Center of the finalists. This is a critical phase in selecting a provider, but knowing what you are looking for can be difficult. This blog will outline some of the things you need to know and see when you are touring a distribution center to finalize selecting a new 3PL partner.
One of the number one things you should be doing when visiting a fulfillment center that you are looking to partner with is to do a reality check on what was said or written in the RFP response versus what is actually happening in the facilities. Before arriving at the facility make a list of everything that was stated in the RFP as a capability and the fulfillment provider show you the process currently. I know this might seem like a no brainer, but I cannot tell you how many times I have given tours to prospective customers and they did not bring up certain processes that were critical to their business.
Clean and Organized Warehouse
For the most part a 3PL should look clean and organized especially if you are not an auditor or someone who tours a lot of Distribution Centers. With that said there are few things you should look for that can help uncover a seemingly organized warehouse to show a very unorganized warehouse.
You want to make sure there are clearly marked off walking paths and areas for pallets/product. This is a good check to see if the fulfillment center is LEAN. Any unmarked or unlabeled pallets or locations be sure to ask the person giving the tour what location that is. If they don’t know or it is not clearly marked it probably means the product is not in a correct location and could lead to inventory issues.
Ensure that they have a sanitation crew and cleaning process for the warehouse. This should all be documented especially if it is a food grade facility. Warehouses have a certain amount of dust it is just the nature of a warehouse, but large amounts of dust piled on boxes or racking is never a good sign.
Finding the right culture fit is extremely important. Working with a fulfillment company that has the same values, drive and passion that you have for your business can be extremely beneficial in the success of the partnership. Make sure to meet everyone that you would be dealing with on a day to day basis. Get introduced to everyone that you can to get an idea of their personality and how it would match with your team.
When walking the warehouse floor talk with the employees. Engage them to get a sense of how happy they are to work for the company. Ask questions about what they are doing. These are the people that actually do the work rather than the sales guy behind a desk. It is important to know they are important to the success of your operation.
Ask about customers who have similar processes or products that you do. It is great to for ensuring that they are executing on some of the process that might have been outlined in the RFP, but it could also give you some ideas on what you can do with your product. Many companies have some creative looking boxes, fun inserts or other things that could help operations or give a better customer experience.
When touring a fulfillment center it important to keep an eye out for the details. Hopefully this blog will give you some different way to look at a fulfillment center when you are on your tour. And don't forget to check out this tour of an IDS Distribution Center.