The Posthuman Studios (PS+) online store has been running for just over a year-and-a-half now, with fulfillment being divided between two locations: Atlas Games handles our fulfillment for large books and backstock books and I personally ship out many pre-order books, merchandise like t-shirts and enamel pins, special cases, etc.
Currently there are renovations happening in the shipping office, so while the Atlas-fulfilled stuff is active, the rest of the store is unavailable until the office is finished and I can move back in, do updated inventory counts, and all that fun stuff. A bit of downtime gives me the chance to reflect on things I’ve learned, mistakes I’ve made, and ways that I could improve operations over the next year-and-a-half!
So here’s some things I’ve learned so far, with more to come later this month. You’ll see that I frequently say “take notes” — make yourself a living document on how the store operates.
Beyond your stock, keep an inventory of everything else: all of your shipping supplies, mailing labels, the bonus things you throw into orders, etc. Sometimes this can be very simple — for example, I order mailing labels in quantities of 12 rolls, so I order another set when I place the second-last roll in my printer.
Take notes on when you should re-order items and in the case of envelopes/boxes/etc, notes on what/how much you can fit in each type of packaging. Stocking more types of packaging means more investment up-front, but being able to efficiently ship things in the least packaging as possible can save money in the long run.
Have a Backup of Everything
In an ideal situation, no piece of missing/lost/out-of-stock equipment/supplies shuts you down.
I don’t own two label printers: but if my Dymo dies I can print out labels on a regular printer and tape them to envelopes (this was how I started out, but the math on how long it took vs. how long a label printer takes is very favorable towards a label printer!) If my good knife goes missing, I can use another knife and a pair of scissors, but the good knife was inexpensive so I bought two. Take some time to sketch out your “backup plan” and in those notes, include links to re-ordering items if you need to..
Make Friends with your Postal Worker
Whether you’re dropping stuff off or your postal worker picks things up for you, get to know them a little bit! If you’re dropping packages off, it can help to ask them what a slow time of day typically is. If they’re picking up, ask them if they have a day of the week that’s normally less stressful, and check if there’s anything specific you can do to help them. I was told that scheduling pickups (it’s free with USPS as long as your regular worker picks them up!) helps my postal worker plan their day. A little gift around the holidays won’t hurt, either!
If you leave packages out for multiple services, label them even if only one of them is out per day. I use milk crates for leaving groups of packages outside, one for USPS and one for UPS. Milk crates are useful for all sorts of storage, and you probably already have some kicking around that you can repurpose. These fancy collapsable ones have caught my eye.
Organize According to Your Needs
Your workspace and storage space will likely be close together, so think about how they interact. It may be tempting to store all your envelopes and boxes on the same shelf, but if you have a certain envelope that you only use to send a particular item, you may be best off storing them right next to each other! Filter your orders down to orders for those items only, pick and pack them, then move onto more complex orders. We use these bubble mailers only for USB drives and enamel pins, so the open pack of mailers lives in the same box!
Experiment with different ways of picking/sorting/packing to find one that’s right for you. Personally I prefer doing as many simple orders as possible before tackling more complex ones. Seeing the number of orders to fulfill going down makes me want to keep on trucking through them, and there’s less chance of error when you’re printing off a bunch of labels and packing slips for identical packages.
Document these procedures. A flow chart is great especially if someone helps you pack orders.
You will Make Mistakes
You’ll pack items incorrectly. You’ll damage some books. You’ll lose track of an order and ship it weeks late. You’ll charge someone way too much or way too little shipping.
Tell people that you’re sorry, admit that you made a mistake, fix it, and move on. There are new mistakes to discover, so don’t dwell in the past!