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How to Negotiate a 3PL Contract with E-commerce Expert Jesse Kaufman
On this episode of the Quiet Light podcast, we have the opportunity to speak with Jesse Kaufman, the CEO and founder of Shipping Tree. Though Amazon sellers often use that company’s fulfillment services, some people engage a third party. 3PL’s can do everything from start to finish or they can merely be used as a prep center. Regardless of how you use a 3PL, there are ways to optimize your expenses. Tune in to hear our discussion about how to negotiate with a 3PL.
- The typical Shipping Tree client.
- Deciphering quotes from 3PLs.
- The best integration models for 3PLs.
- How using a 3PL can save money.
- Commerce zones.
- Different types of Amazon seller accounts.
Mark: So within the world of Amazon FBA, a lot of sellers rely on Amazon’s fulfillment services and simply ship all the product over there but there are other sellers who utilize a 3PL either to fulfill the product and do everything from beginning to end and there are also those that use it just as a prep center before sending it off to Amazon in a way to try and save on some of the fees. And I think we can all agree Amazon’s fees for fulfillment are pretty high compared with a lot of other solutions out there. Joe, I know you had somebody on who owns a 3PL and you guys talked a lot about how to negotiate the rates with that 3PL and how you can optimize some of your expenses by using a 3PL as opposed to just sending everything carte blanche over to Amazon.
Joe: Yeah, these are my favorite kind of podcast guests when they go on and they talk about everything that they do and give it all away for free on podcasts like this. He’s not pitching their services. He’s just like, if you’re negotiating with a 3PL look for this, don’t do this, throw that contract away, if you have recurring revenue shipments, this is how you save on your shipping cost. If you have a 3PL located in Southern California, here’s the benefit; monetary benefit by way of example of shipping from Ohio and things of that nature. It was fascinating. We’ve had a lot of people over the years say hey can you recommend any 3PLs and that was the point of having this person on knowing that he would give it all away for free. I think it’s going to be very helpful for those that currently have 3PL, very helpful for those that ship exclusively through FBA because it’s convenient, and some of the benefits of having a 3PL for kitting, for doing so fulfill Prime to avoid what happened during the pandemic where there were delays from Amazon shipping because of shipping medical supplies first; all sorts of different things that I think will really help the current e-commerce business owners and those that want to buy improve their bottom line and improve their customer experience as well.
Mark: Yeah, I think this is all about control, right? I think the pandemic is a great example. Those that were 100% reliant on Amazon often saw; many of those guys saw delays and disruptions in their supply chains and also their ability to fulfill orders. Those that were using 3PLs didn’t because they had that outlet for everything. So this is an interesting topic and this is where a lot of ROI is made in acquisitions, is learning how to optimize the expense profile and especially on that Amazon side so I’m excited for this one.
Joe: Me too and just as a teaser it gives away one example where I, based upon the numbers you gave me, probably added a million dollars in value to the company. Obviously a very large company but if it adds $10,000 or $100,000 in value just by doing little things that make a difference, it really adds up to the overall value so let’s go listen.
Joe: Hey folks Joe Valley here from Quiet Light Brokerage and Quiet Light Podcast. Thanks for joining us again. Today we’re going to talk about 3PLs, how to save money on shipping, all sorts of different things in that regard. And today, we’ve got Jesse Kaufman from Shipping Tree. Jesse, welcome to the Quiet Light Podcast.
Jesse: Thanks for having me.
Joe: Good to have you here. As I said earlier, we don’t do fancy introductions, so I don’t have a big bio on you. No one knows you better than you so why don’t you tell everybody listening who you are and what you do?
Jesse: Yes, my name is Jesse and I’m the CEO and founder of Shipping Tree. A 3PL based in Los Angeles with facilities across the country. I’m Canadian and got my start in the fashion distribution business and quickly realized that the 3PL world wasn’t where it should be, at least in North America, and that’s why started Shipping Tree.
Joe: And is your typical client an e-commerce client with lots of different SKUs like from your fashion background?
Jesse: Yes, our typical client now are e-commerce direct to consumer-focused companies in the CPG supplement cosmetics space, actually.
Joe: Wow. Okay, so lots of people picking, packing, and shipping. That’s great.
Joe: Okay, so let’s jump into it. A lot of people; I’ve worked with 3PLs myself, I had a nutritional supplement company that I sold a decade ago if you can believe that; almost a decade ago, before I joined the Quiet Light team and I don’t know if I negotiated the greatest deal with my 3PL because he was a friend of mine.
Jesse: Impossible, yeah.
Joe: We did recurring revenue shipments and the owner was a friend of mine and because of that probably either I got an amazing deal or I got a terrible deal; probably nothing in between.
Jesse: You’ll never know.
Joe: I’ll never know. No. And I was just going to go on the craziest side there but people do not need to hear that history. Let’s talk about, first and foremost, what’s the best approach to reaching out to a 3PL and not just simply accepting the boilerplate prices that you give or should they or is there a way that you can professionally negotiate so it’s a really healthy deal for both parties?
Jesse: Yeah, totally. So, I think most important in your 3PL search is kind of put as many feelers out there as you can, get your internal data together, and organize before you put out those feelers so you could give those prospective 3PLs the data they need to give you pricing quickly.
Joe: What kind of data are we talking about?
Jesse: It’s really like shipment data. So like a pretty basic Shopify export of your orders that includes the dimensions and the units in the order. That should give any 3PL the ability to quote you really accurately. Then once you start getting those quotes back right away, it’ll be pretty evident. Some 3PLs their quotes will have 30 line items. Others like mine and some of our closer competitors will have more in the neighborhood of three to five line items. So right away, all those 3PLs with 30 line items of potential charges throw those proposals in the garbage. There’s no use even negotiating with those guys. The other ones with simple line items, three to five, maybe up to 10, those are the ones you want to focus on because, in my opinion, those are the ones that have the most merchant focused approach to the way they do business. And then areas where you can negotiate with 3PLs, in my experience, would be the initial processing fee on an order. So typically speaking, the most labor-intensive and expensive part of the work that we do are the individual picks. So 3PLs are rarely going to have margins to negotiate on the pick fees for your orders.
Joe: And the pick is literally someone walking around and picking your product off the shelf and putting it on the proper conveyor belt to have the label put on.
Jesse: Yeah, so you want to negotiate on the larger items on that list. So things like storage, processing fees, get rid of any minimums and stuff and kind of like frame your business as one that’s even if you’re just starting, it’s ready to scale you’re a smart team, you’re going to scale it quickly, get rid of those minimums, focus on things like storage, processing, packaging, and you could kind of dwindle those down a little bit.
Joe: Are there startup fees in most cases with 3PLs that I have to pay you $5,000 for the pleasure of doing business with you and that’s just the setup fee and then it’s going to be a monthly pack and ship fee?
Jesse: If that comes across your desk, throw it in the garbage.
Joe: Just throw it in the trash, okay.
Jesse: Yeah, throw it in the trash. If you have really complex integration needs like an ERP system like NetSuite and a ton of different marketplaces, then there might be; you could expect some sort of integration fee and tech fees for that. But if you’re just running like run of the mill, Amazon, Shopify, Walmart.com, maybe an accounting system; like all of that should be out of the box with the 3PL that you work with.
Joe: Can you just dumb down what an integration fee is?
Jesse: Yeah, so you’re going to want your 3PL to plugin with whatever systems are running your business on the shopping cart side or the marketplace side of things and so you that you don’t leak your sales channel. You want the 3PL to plug into there so data flows back automatically, your team has very little to do, that really is going to take the weight of shipping and fulfillment off your plate. And some companies charge for these integrations really like a setup fee, which isn’t right because for Shopify, for example, we’ve built the integration already. We enter a couple of lines of code and the integration is done in five to 10 minutes so why would we charge you $500 for that? It’s just not right.
Joe: Good markup, $500 for five minutes of work. I like that.
Jesse: I do like that markup, but we don’t do it.
Joe: Not if you want to keep the customer long term, I suppose, right?
Jesse: Yeah. So, we’ve built out; and you want to find a 3PL that owns their tech stack. So what I mean is they kind of own their platform and they own the integrations. So we’ve built out these integrations so we’ve done the work upfront already and it’s ready so we could just deploy it for the merchant.
Joe: That makes a lot of sense because that’s probably where the $500 charge comes from, is because they’re using somebody else’s software that somebody else is charging them and they’re passing it on to the product owner.
Jesse: Exactly, yeah.
Joe: Is there a particular; I know that within Shopify, within the different websites platforms, there are different integrations for processing shipping. Is there a favorite integration that most 3PLs are comfortable with? And I cannot think for the life of me of a single one of them right now and I’ve used them before in the past but is there any particular integration that people like in terms of that processing of the order and having it ready to be shipped just to be shared with a 3PL or am I a little off track here?
Jesse: A little off track. A little, so that’s like if you just had a regular Shopify store, you would actually install the Shipping Tree app in your Shopify store.
Joe: Okay, so you’ve got your app that you would install.
Jesse: But you’re talking about a product like Ship Station.
Joe: Yes, that’s the one I was trying to think of. Thank you. All right.
Jesse: So Ship Station is great. We integrate with them also. Ship Station is great if you’re selling on a ton of marketplaces like Etsy, Groupon; like if you’re really marketplace heavy grand Ship Station is great because it brings all that in one place and then that’s just one integration for us to run and manage.
Joe: Okay, for people that are selling on Amazon is the largest marketplace and some of their own Shopify sales as well is there a benefit to using a 3PL to store inventory before shipping it off to Amazon, and do you provide those types of services?
Jesse: Yeah, totally. So we do that a lot for our customers. We kind of run in parallel to Amazon like the verticals and the brands we serve and everyone needs to work with Amazon these days especially in CPG and cosmetics and supplements and stuff. So, yeah, our storage rates are generally cheaper than Amazon and more flexible.
Joe: You can probably do kitting that Amazon’s not doing, right?
Jesse: Yeah, so we could help prep your stuff to go to Amazon. So if your factory isn’t putting the Amazon FNSKU barcodes on the boxes we could do all that work for you.
Joe: And you happen to be in Southern California so if it’s coming off a boat it just have to go very far, which is kind of a strategic location, I would imagine.
Jesse: Exactly, yeah.
Joe: I had a guy named Rocky Cliburn on the podcast in the last, I don’t know, maybe it was a year ago and Rocky was just this great buyer in his 60s. He was a general manager of car dealerships, if you can imagine, for his entire life and then he bought a jewelry business; an e-commerce jewelry business from Amanda here on the team. And Rocky and his daughter ran the business and within months improved the margins by like $8,000 to $10,000 a month by working with their fulfillment center in terms of shipping rates and packaging and things of that nature. You and I chatted prerecording here about saving on postage in terms of improving the value of a business and so you understand we always talk about the value of a business and it’s really based upon profit, which is actually called seller’s discretionary earnings. It’s not about topline revenue. It’s about what you get to keep. And a lot of folks don’t focus on the 3PL potential savings as they prepare an eventual exit of their business. So how do you end up saving thousands of dollars on your shipping and postage like Rocky did if you’re working with a 3PL, what kind of recommendations have you implemented for clients of yours?
Jesse: That’s a great point; a great question. So there’s two things there. One is choosing the right shipping methods and another is the packaging that you’re choosing. So I’ll start with the packaging and for example, a jewelry company they might have one standard box size for all their orders just to they think it’s a good solution that’s like a catch-all. Every order ships in the same box so it either might be too big or it might be too small. If you optimize that, especially for smaller weight items, every ounce is almost 20 cents with the Postal Service. So if you could figure out a way to ship in a smaller box, maybe a more efficiently sized box, even though you think it might be it’s a bigger inconvenience to have to source two different sized boxes or whatever it may be, you’re going to knock 5%, 10% off your postage just right there optimizing for box size especially for orders under a pound.
Joe: How much do boxes really weigh I mean if we’re talking about the size of a shoebox?
Jesse: So a shoebox is quite like half; almost half a pound, I would say.
Joe: Okay, so if you can save a couple of ounces, you might be saving $400 or $500 a month if you’re shipping a thousand orders a month or something like that.
Jesse: Easy, yeah.
Joe: Back in the day, when I was doing what most folks do that are listening, we had a fulfillment center up in Maine, which is just crazy because I was shipping all over the country but that’s where I was from at the time. But they had a subcarrier. It wasn’t the US Postal Service. They had somebody else that was sort of a cheaper version of that that would take it to the US Postal Service and then the US Postal Service would deliver it for that last mile or so. I forget what that’s called but is that something that a lot of 3PLs can utilize and how do you find out about it if you’re working with a 3PL now?
Jesse: Yeah, so those are called shipping aggregators or an aggregator service. A lot of the major carriers offer that these days. The FedEx one is called Smart Post, and then there’s a DHL product called DHL E-commerce. So those guys would pick up from your 3PL, bring it as close as they can kind of to the customer, then USPS finishes it. So those are good and bad. They’re great for saving money. They’re bad for making first impressions.
Joe: So they take a little longer to ship, right?
Jesse: Yeah, exactly because there’s more touchpoints. But I think what we spoke about was; like we have a lot of subscription-based companies.
Joe: I think we did that. I think that’s what we did, is did it on the recurring revenue aspect of it where it didn’t need to be there in two days, you could get it in five.
Jesse: Exactly. Yeah, so we could set it up. And always look for this in a 3PL to have flexibility with mapping your shipping methods. It’s really important that they don’t just like put all your orders like this is it, this is what you have to use because we work with all the carriers. We probably have over 100 available methods and we work with our customers to make sure they’re using the best ones. So for a subscription-based company, that first-order should go out with like a fairly premium single carrier option like USPS Priority Mail or FedEx Ground or whatever it may be so that is quick and the tracking is seamless. And then once they get into that subscription funnel; the customer, you could set it up programmatically so that instead of the order shipping on the anniversary date, you ship the order like three days in advance and you use one of these slower and cheaper methods. So that way the order is going to arrive within one or two days of the correct window for the subscription renewal, you’re going to save easily 30%, 40% on your postage that way, and yeah, everyone is happy.
Joe: That could certainly add up, that’s for sure. That subcarrier method, is there tracking with it as well or not?
Jesse: There is tracking, but it’s known to go dark the tracking sometimes.
Jesse: It’s not as reliable as a single carrier because yeah.
Joe: Okay, do you have; actually location, does it really matter? As I just said a few minutes ago, my fulfillment center was up in Maine. I was shipping all over the country.
Jesse: That might be the worst place, Sanford Fulfillment Center.
Joe: Oh really? Okay [INAUDIBLE 00:19:30.4]. Why would that be the worst? Is it just zone wise is the best place inside of the country or is the best place in Southern California where you are?
Jesse: Okay, so if you could only choose one fulfillment center or one location, middle of the country is best unless obviously, all your customers are west. Like, if you’re a surf brand and all your customers are on the West Coast choose a West Coast 3PL. But if you’re just a normal run of the mill brand and you could only have one facility choose something in the middle, that way shipments are never really going to go to the outer edges of the zone map. So if you just Google search a zone map, the country will be split up into kind of columns like a heat map with the further you go, the further the zone and it goes up to nine zones. If you’re in the middle of the country, the furthest zone is like six or seven possibly. And so with Maine, the reason why Maine is not so great is New York, historically one of the biggest population centers in terms of e-commerce orders going to that area, that’s a zone two or three for Maine. So you’re not even getting the benefit of being that close to New York geographically and then everything in L.A. is a zone nine.
Joe: Let’s talk dollars, though.
Joe: And you’ve seen this with clients that you’ve brought in. How much are we talking about? If somebody is; and I know it’s hard to quantify, so maybe we’re only talking percentages but…
Jesse: I could give you an example.
Joe: Please. Yeah. Thank you.
Jesse: Yeah. So we opened our facility in Ohio last year and we had a customer; one of our better customers, the supplements company, they were shipping everything out of our L.A. warehouse, obviously. Right away they probably spent close to $100,000 a month on postage.
Jesse: Or they did when we were; they still do it [INAUDIBLE 00:21:34.4]. Right away when we started shipping out of Columbus and Los Angeles; so now you cut it down to furthest the package is going is zone four. Right away they started saving $15,000, $20,000 a month.
Joe: Holy cow.
Jesse: Not changing anything and the shipping speed…
Joe: I hope everybody is listening to this far just because in that situation, $100,000 a month, even if all you spend is $10,000 a month on shipping, you’re saving 15% to 20%.
Joe: Go ahead.
Jesse: And your customers are getting their orders quicker.
Joe: So they’re happier too; you’re getting no return rates, higher customer satisfaction.
Joe: The value that adds to the company in terms of customer satisfaction is huge but the value in terms of the sellability of the list price of the company for that one spending $100,000 and it drops to $80,000 a month, that’s $240,000 of real cash saved on an annual basis.
Joe: The size of that business, I’m going to guess maybe it’s at a four-time multiple. They just added nearly a million dollars to the value of their company by saving $240,000 a year. That’s that net worth. It’s pretty incredible. So as whatever, it’s just shipping, I’m going to focus on revenue, just stop focusing on revenue alone and look at some of these other things, because it’s just math and logic saves a tremendous amount of money. That’s awesome. What other tips and tricks do you have here Jesse? Come on, keep throwing them at us.
Jesse: Yeah, so splitting up inventory; that’s a big one. So using multiple facilities and find a company that has a few facilities and if you could afford it, there’s a lot of fulfillment consultants out there who aren’t terribly expensive at all. But it could be a really daunting process for brands going through their whatever they use Excel or the ERP or their inventory systems and be like, how am I going to split up the inventory between two warehouses? I don’t know where demand is, all that stuff. There’s people out there and software tools out there that could help figure that out for you.
Joe: It’s not something that a 3PL will do when they’ve got multiple centers or you’d refer them on to these consultants?
Jesse: Yeah, we could do it. For inventory planning, we’re building tools for that. It’s really complicated to do and to do properly. It’s not our core competency. And it’s a big responsibility to do that properly. We could totally look at your shipping data and tell you how much you would be saving by using Facility A, Facility B, or them in conjunction.
Joe: Okay, so splitting up inventory to the right fulfillment centers you’re saving like your client did 15% to 20%.
Joe: Any other sort of immediate thoughts come to mind in terms of somebody that either let’s assume that they don’t even have a 3PL now what should they; I know obviously you want them to go to ShippingTree.co and work with you but if they’re already in a relationship with somebody, how do they improve that relationship and any other tips that you can think of?
Jesse: So always think of your 3PL partner not just as another vendor, but really as a partner and part of your business and kind of put yourself in their shoes when it comes to the way you send them inventory, the way you keep them in the loop on sales or promotions you’re running. Like really consider them like an outsource or your shipping department that’s just outsourced. So if you were doing your fulfillment, you wouldn’t run like a flash sale and then call down to the warehouse 20 minutes after the flash sale launch and be like, hey, buddy you have 15,000 orders coming down the pipe. You would tell your people in your own company a few days in advance. So do that with your 3PL, help make their jobs a little easier, send them stuff that’s barcoded, clearly divided. We deal with a couple of hundred customers and you could imagine how many different items we have in the warehouse. All our merchants are really passionate, but like, I can’t tell the difference between print like bandana print 1 and bandana print 2 you know?
Joe: Yeah, we always hear stories of Amazon messing products up. I’m sure it happens in 3PLs as well. It’s not you.
Jesse: It happens but there’s things you could do to mitigate that. Like work with them as a true partner and if you sense any pushback in trying to improve the relationship, I would look elsewhere.
Joe: Yeah. Can 3PLs do fulfill by merchant with Amazon Prime?
Joe: And are you in that situation or is it not a 3PL, in general, it’s more of the product at the 3PL, how does that work?
Jesse: Okay, so fulfilled by merchants we could do no problem. And then there’s Seller Fulfilled Prime, which is that is actually on the merchants. They have to get their accounts authorized for Seller Fulfilled Prime.
Joe: Even if they’re using a 3PL?
Jesse: Yeah, so their specific Amazon seller account has to be authorized for Seller Fulfilled Prime.
Joe: Is that a daunting task or something?
Jesse: Yeah, it’s at least 90 days, and yeah.
Joe: And what’s the benefit to that in your opinion?
Jesse: So the benefit there is you get the prime badge on your Amazon listings, you kind of get all the benefits of winning the buy box that you’d get with using FBA but the package could be sent out in your own custom packaging. You control the whole process and generally, it’s a little cheaper than Amazon; storage wise and stuff like that.
Joe: You still have to abide by the terms of services I would imagine. You still don’t own the customer, even though you’ve got all the customer data minus the phone number, I suppose. Is there any advantage to doing Seller Fulfilled Prime using a 3PL in terms of customer data that you get to keep versus just using FBA?
Jesse: I don’t think so. It’s more like a flexibility piece.
Jesse: So those sellers that were set up with Seller Fulfilled Prime when COVID hit and FBA stopped allowing shipments in, they didn’t skip a beat, they kept their Prime badge, all that stuff.
Joe: Yeah, okay.
Jesse: It’s a little bit more secure.
Joe: Having control as opposed to letting Amazon have full control of it, yeah. Okay. This has been great. We’re up against the clock here, but this is fantastic stuff. I think that anybody out there listening needs to dig deeper into their expenses on the 3PL side. If all you’re doing is fulfilled by Amazon, you might want to look at at least a 3PL like Shipping Tree to do kitting and prepping and getting it shipped off to Amazon so you’re not paying exorbitant storage fees at Amazon and then as your offline Amazon sales grow running a Shopify side so on and so forth, I think is great to do. So any last-minute thoughts in terms of other things that people could do to benefit themselves with 3PL negotiations and working with them before we wrap this up?
Jesse: No. Just be aware of this. Like I said I think the biggest red flag are those proposals you get back that are like two or three pages long with a ton of line items. That’s going to be a headache of a relationship for you to manage. Find someone that keeps it simple for you. It’s a complicated process. It’s my job to simplify that for our merchant customers and find someone that will do that for you.
Joe: I got you. Okay, how do folks reach you and your firm, Jesse?
Jesse: If you’re going to reach out you could email me directly [email protected] or go to our website and fill out the form there.
Joe: Awesome. I appreciate your time. We’ll look forward to a lot of folks reaching out to you as well.
Jesse: Cool. Thanks, man. Take it easy.