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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fantasy Fulfillment

When my partner Karen and I had the opportunity to bid on a large automotive project that would involve fulfillment, we decided that if we were awarded the project, we'd set up our own fulfillment company.  We would stock the merchandise and then pick, pack and ship assembled kits to vehicle owners.

Karen was working with the customer and I was flying around visiting other rep firms who ran fulfillment companies so that we could learn from other's mistakes.  We did get the program, set up our fulfillment business and decided to call it Fulfillment Force.  Our attorney thought a better name for the company that two 30-something women were running would be Fantasy Fulfillment - he had no idea how prophetic that would be (and he never referred to that company by any other name...).

After the automotive program ended (I'll circle back to this in another post), Karen retired and I had 30,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space to fill.   At the time, we were doing national fulfillment for World Kitchen (Pyrex, Corningware and similar brands) and handled customer service in addition to shipping the product.

Our Operations Manager, bless his heart (isn't that what people say when efforts are just a little misguided?), was very ambitious and to his credit, always looking for new fulfillment projects.  One day he brought me a company that sold, um, recreational products for consenting adults (okay, sex toys).  Naturally, I was apprehensive - this was a little outside of the premium brands that we were currently carrying for corporate incentive program use.  The Ops Manager assured me that we would only be doing picking and shipping for their internet business - no customer service.  (I could not have the phone operators talking about Corningware on one line and features and benefits of dildos on the other....)

One of my picker/packers was a southern bible-carrying grandmother.  She pulled me aside one day in the warehouse and said in her Tennessee drawl, "Now Barb, you know I love my job but I just can't touch that stuff".  (She got a pass and we moved her to World Kitchen only).

As it turns out, this company had no marketing plan whatsoever and apparently believed that if you build it, they will come (I'm so very sorry for that one).  Eventually, orders trailed off and the company stopped paying their bill.  We were left with pallets full of sex toys that made for very interesting bachelor and bachelorette party gifts for many years.

This is a cautionary tale about letting desperation be the boss of you - it's better in the long run to pass on customers that aren't a good match for your business - even if you need the revenue at the time and it's tempting. Our sex toy experience taught us a valuable lesson about being true to our brand and also caused us to step back and define the types of clients that made sense for us:  those with marketing plans! (If there is no marketing, there are no sales and nothing to fulfill.)  I've made many more mistakes that I'll be sharing along the way, but none as fun as this one.

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