SIX THINGS TO CONSIDER IN PICKING THE BEST THIRD PARTY LOGISTICS OUTFIT
Logistics is the lifeblood of commerce and e-commerce. For companies that have built their foundations and business models in the process of producing, selling, shipping and delivering goods, it is arguably the most vital cog in the entire machine.
Get logistics right, and a business can thrive. Get it wrong, however, and the effects on any company’s brand reputation and bottom line can be catastrophic.
The challenge for many firms looking to deliver goods to customers is the simple fact that they will lack the resources or know-how and are unable to effectively handle large-scale logistics in-house. To maximize commercial opportunities, products must be deliverable across large geographies, yet this is almost impossible to achieve singlehandedly.
As a result, many will turn to third-party logistics (3PL) providers–supportive organizations specializing in the provision of cost-effective fulfillment and distribution services.
Indeed, logistics is big business. According to estimates, roughly 10% of the United States’ $21 trillion annual GDP can be attributed to the industry.
Given the size of the opportunity, the market continues to become increasingly competitive, resulting in rampant logistics-centric innovation among 3PL providers who today provide a range of highly effective, bespoke services.
For those seeking the help of a 3PL, this innovation is hugely beneficial. Yet not all 3PLs are created equal. Within such a crowded environment, the challenge for many companies is finding the right provider that is capable of unlocking as many otherwise unattainable benefits as possible.
Here are six things to consider when choosing a third-party logistics provider.
While many services a company utilizes can be somewhat transactional, a 3PL-client relationship must be built on trust. Such providers will become a vitally important part of your business’s success, so it is important that you know they have a proven ability to support your specific needs.
There are a variety of ways in which you can determine this track record:
-Are they an established player in the market?
-Do they hold accreditations from recognized industry bodies?
-Do they have case studies with example success stories working with companies similar to your own, in your regions of interest?
-What sort of results are they delivering for those clients, and how do these compare with your expectations?
-Take the time to understand a potential providers’ areas of strengths and weaknesses to ensure they are able to deliver upon their promises.
Despite broadly catering to the same demands, the individual offerings of 3PLs will often vary. While one provider might offer a limited number of services but specialize in your specific industry and/or geographies of interest, another might offer an expansive range of services that could help to make your supply chain more scalable, yet only do so on a generalized basis without the ability to meet a stringent set of bespoke needs. Rarely will one company’s model mirror that of another.
Consider your specific business needs and goals, understand how logistics will best support these, and then you can work to understand what kind of 3PL provider and services you will need. In following these steps, you are more likely to benefit from 3PL services that are relevant to your organization.
The footprint of a 3PL is just as important, if not more so than its services. The best providers will have a well-established network that is able to uphold a seamless logistics operation across multiple locations, either regionally or perhaps globally.
Indeed, this is a further question: Are you looking to sell your goods locally, regionally, nationally or internationally? One 3PL may have an unrivaled footprint in one state, but not be able to compete with others who specialize in country-wide services.
Again, consider your own needs and find a 3PL that can meet those requirements.
While cost will often be the primary factor worth considering for any company, it should not be the be-all and end-all. Cheaper doesn’t always mean better value. With 3PLs, it is equally worth considering the company’s cultures and values to understand how they work with your business and cater to your customers.
-Are they willing to communicate with your company on a regular basis?
-Are they a good cultural fit?
-Do they demonstrate a willing commitment to data sharing that can demonstrate your ROI?
-Do they have a track record of going the extra mile for their customers?
It is worth remembering that your 3PL provider will be an extension of your business, and the quality of their offering will reflect on your own brand. Ensuring you create a truly embedded partnership with a close working relationship is, therefore, vital.
With the support of a good 3PL, it is likely that your business will be able to grow more quickly. But does that same 3PL have the flexible and agile characteristics necessary to support that growth?
Scalability is a fourth important element to consider when selecting such a provider. If the answer to the above question is no, then you may find that you will be forced to change 3PL provider in the near future, causing unnecessary administration, stress, costs and disruptions.
Equally, it is not just about whether a 3PL can scale with your business, but what impact this might have.
-What would this mean for your costs?
-Will the services and value for money improve, reduce or stay the same?
Place your roadmap front and center and ask yourself whether a 3PL would be able to support this.
As has already been mentioned, competition in the logistics space continues to spur an ever-increasing amount of innovation among 3PL providers who are deploying state-of-the-art technologies and cutting-edge services to both cut above the noise and benefit their customers on a daily basis. Some 3PLs will be more committed to innovation and technologies than others, however.
To identify those that will value innovation and bring plethora of benefits to your business not only now but in the future, consider their current offering.
-Will their software and systems integrate with your own?
-How do they track metrics, data and deliver analytics? Can they provide this information to you easily?
-How usable and up to date are their website, dashboards and alike?
Those that can deliver positive answers to these questions will likely be companies that are committed to continually enhancing the service they bring to their customers and will likely maximize industry innovation to the benefit of your business.
Ultimately, it is important to do your research. Don’t just settle on the cheapest provider. For something as important and integrated as a 3PL, which will become an extension and representation of your own brand and business, it is important to focus on quality in all aspects.
By considering these six simple factors, you will be well placed to find a more suitable, more relevant 3PL capable of meeting your organization’s needs.