My Home Based Order Fulfillment and Distribution Company! How it all Began…
By: Denise Milette
I think that entrepreneurship can start at a very early age. I was the kid on the corner with a lemonade stand, doing puppet shows, haunted houses or whatever else we could come up with to make a little extra candy cash.
One time I even had the audacity to make mud pies, no not the chocolate ones, but literal dirt pies. I put them into my mom’s foil pans, garnished them with a flower and peddled them in my red wagon from house to house.
I sold only one and was immediately turned off by the many who said no thanks! It is hard to be rejected so I thought that perhaps I’d better give up the mud pie business. I admire those folks who seem to forge ahead even when they have stacked up the rejections.
I am not one of those people. I have attempted many businesses, some very silly ones and some not, but never felt that I gave it my all. I gave up so quickly on most of them I just didn’t think I could be a successful entrepreneur, ever!
Back in 2001 my sister and her husband were becoming very successful in their software development company, Digieffects. They were doing incredible things with software that let users do all kinds of cool effects with video plugins!
One of their marketing tactics was to offer potential buyers a free demo package. It included a DVD or VHS and literature. They were becoming overwhelmed with the amount of interest in their new products. They were spending precious time shipping these demos when time should be spent on development.
Back then I was working full time at our local hospital and had early hours. I would go in at 5:00 in the morning and was off by 1:00. I was always looking for something on the side to make extra cash. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Well, my sister asked if I would be interested in sending out these demo packages for them. Sure, why not! So they shipped their stock of DVDs/videos, literature, and a label printer to me, and off I went... my online order fulfillment services company was born!
The Start Up!
Things were pretty manual back then. I used stamps to send the demos out via Priority mail and even went to a post office most every day! I set up a small bookshelf in my home office to store their products and I made enough for my husband and me to go to Maui so that’s some good extra cash!
I continued to work only for Digieffects until about 2003. Time went by and I started to look a little further into what this type of service was. My thinking was if my sister and her husband had a need for someone to ship out their demos, than other businesses must need to outsource their shipping and distribution too.
My sister had informed me about what order fulfillment services are and would it be something I’d be willing to start up? Order fulfillment is a service that warehouses and handles product shipment for online businesses. We do not own their product.
I was still working at the hospital and it was a good job. But I was bored to tears with it... even though it was a good salary and secure! There was that nagging feeling again. Should I pursue a home business such as online order fulfillment services? Would I put in a little more effort into it this time and try to build it? What are the responsibilities to my customers? Can I do it? Can I get other customers like Digieffects? Could I make money at it?! The questions and doubts were pretty strong.
Well, what a better time to start a home business than when you are working right? What the heck. I came up with a business name and at the time it was E-fulfill. I got business cards printed, and more importantly got a website up and running. It was the plainest website ever, but I am frugal!
I then hired a company to submit keywords and phrases to the search engines and waited. Kind of funny to think now that I just waited for business! I was still doing the drop ship fulfillment for Digieffects and still working full time so I was in no hurry.
After proving my ability that I could handle their cd fulfillment (demo packages), they now asked if I would also handle the drop ship fulfillment of their high end software products!
Of course I would… And I would make many mistakes, but because I am the big sister I didn’t get fired or into too much trouble. I learned a lot of do’s and don’ts of 3rd party fulfillment and shipping!
I did not go to college to own an online order fulfillment services company. I had a lot to learn, and I did! All on my own. Luckily, Digieffects did not lose clients because of their new and inexperienced order fulfillment center!
In 2004, I get my second customer! I was actually ordering hair care products from their website and had to call her because her web site was unable to take my order! We had a nice long talk and she was maxed out! She was not only developing her own line of shampoos, but also running a beauty shop and then going home to fill orders for customers ordering her hair care products!
So, I told her about my new order fulfillment warehouse and shipping business and she was so amazed that there were companies like mine that actually did the warehousing and shipping for small businesses like hers! I had her product on my shelf in a month’s time and Razzamatazz stayed with me until 2009.
I then invited my other sister who lives in California and also an entrepreneur, to join me in my new, well sort of new, venture! She was glad to come on board so we split our 2 customer’s inventory. That’s right, half here in Grand Junction, Colorado and half in Temecula, California.
Obviously we did not think this thru and soon realized it was a logistical nightmare. We worked at it for a while, filling orders, responding to quotes from potential clients before we decided that it would be best for just one person to run the business.
I took back the inventory that was in California and proceeded to work the business by myself. I did hire a part time assistant to help with orders so I could have time off. That is very important to me, and I have been so fortunate in the people who have worked with me.
Changes & New Beginnings!
I then changed my company name to We-fulfill, improved the web site and looked for more customers. They were starting to email or call for quotes on my online order fulfilment services. People were finding me on the web, liked our services and prices… so I was able to sign on new customers.
We specialized in the new start up company and they liked the idea of having someone to work with them as they grew their business. All I knew was that I needed to be as customer service oriented as I know how.
Well now I needed more than just a bookshelf. With more clients I now have purchased the larger industrial strength shelving and have them in my 2 car garage.
Later in 2004, we moved into a larger home with a 3 car garage! We needed more room and my projections for the business were that I would need additional space for clients’ products. I wasn’t ready to move into an industrial warehouse space, and I really wanted to continue working from home.
My little home business continued to grow, so I purchased more shelving and ultimately filled up our entire 3 car garage.
I was now signing on customers who had their own home based businesses. Lots of them were stay at home moms and they not only lacked the room for their inventory but lacked the time to process and ship all of their orders!
My online order fulfillment services company was really starting to take off now, and I found it easy to get new customers. I was still only marketing by paying a company to submit keywords and phrases to the search engines! That was it! My marketing expenses were so small!
I was still working full time but as I gathered more customers, I was able to work less at the hospital. My supervisors were the most incredible and accommodating people. They knew exactly what I was doing and allowed me to work less at the job as I got busier in my home business.
By the time I left my position I was job sharing and only working about 20 hours per month. I think I was a little intimidated by totally quitting my job, but by July 30, 2006 it was time!
I hired a full time contract laborer and this allowed me to take time off and not have to do the day to day operations of order processing and the pick and pack and shipping duties.
When you own your own small business you wear many hats. Accounting, marketing, proposals to prospects are just some of the many tasks that need attention.
Yep, me and my little online order fulfillment services company make it into the local news. You can watch one of the newscasts here...
Actually, with all the layoffs around the country and all the other poor economic news right now, it's pretty big news around town... "Local lady makes good in her own home business!"
By 2009, I have a client base of 12 customers, and I’m still in my 3 car garage and still loving it! I have had some customers leave but have had other companies come in to take their place.
I do not want to move into commercial warehousing and have been working on other expansion models for my home business.
Running a business can be very rewarding and can also be an emotional roller coaster ride. Remember, a business is a living organism. You are dealing with humans and emotions.
There have been many times that I have thought of quitting and certainly have shed many tears. But those moments are the learning times. Instead of quitting I proceeded to fix the problems and just moved on.
When I first started this business, I actually kept inventory and billing on Xcel spreadsheets! Finally in 2006, I implemented an order fulfillment software program that now does the billing to my clients automatically and keeps track of all the inventory!
What a lifesaver! Many a night I would wake up worrying about someone’s inventory numbers and go into the garage to recount a stack of tee shirts.
I wanted to grow my company somehow. I looked into franchising and found quickly that it was very expensive to do and not only that, I did not want a cookie cutter version of We-fulfill.
I do not want to control others in how they will operate their own order fulfillment centers. Impossible! I was reading lots about franchises and business opportunities and the latter was the most logical growth model for me.
I now had a streamlined order fulfillment system with everything in place…
Yes, I still own my little ole online order fulfillment services company as this is my bread and butter. But now I am the proud owner of two successful home businesses.
So there it is. Not an overnight success by any means but certainly a home business idea that is available to anyone wanting to put in some effort. It can be scary being out of your comfort zone, but so worth it in the long run. Remember, you can’t fail at something if you never try. Good luck to all!
PS: And a special thanks to Joe and my family for their constant encouragement!
To learn more about Denise’s online order fulfillment services company, or her new business opportunity kit that teaches others how to start and run their own home based order fulfillment services business... click on the following link: Online Order Fulfillment Services Company. Or, go to our...