A dilemma often faced by value-driven independent small businesses is how to grow without losing sight of the values which inform how you operate. How to expand the business without abandoning the personality, love, ethics and independence which originally brought the business into existence.
Particularly at the point in its growth when a business needs to outsource services, such as warehousing, fulfilment and distribution.
Paperstarlights is an indie business, based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, UK. We specialise in traditional handcrafted paper star lanterns and have been sharing the light since 1996.
Our stars are handmade in India in small batches by a family business using traditional non-mechanised techniques – and we’re happy to have worked with the same family for over 25 years. We are great believers in ‘Share Trade’ - trade which is decent, fair and personal from source of production to point of sale - and believe that quality is the consequence of a creative and collaborative approach.
A quarter of a century later we’re still following the stars, and are proud to be known as the leading producer of handmade star lanterns, a product we love. We’re also ambitious and keen to grow our brand without compromising our values.
The pandemic presented us with an immediate challenge – how to reach our customers who could no longer attend our traditional, face-to-face, physical pop-up events and markets. And how to grow our market.
The situation added spurs to our ambition and speeded up our decision to develop our online retail presence. We decided that we weren’t going to go online ‘a bit’. We wanted to go online ‘a lot’. It was all or nothing and we were prepared to take it where it needed to go. This of course meant we had to be confident about the robustness of our supply chain. To build firm foundations to manage our hoped-for success.
But how could we add links without weakening the chain and losing sight of the values which originally forged it? How could we scale up without watering down what we had created? The need for growth and the necessity of reaching a customer base no longer able to come to us meant adding more links to our supply chain by sourcing 3PL (third partner logistics) partners who were sympathetic to our values.
We cast our net wide looking for joined-up fulfilment solutions with personality. And then we found Cloud9 Fulfilment, based just up the road in Sheffield. As we navigated our new digital landscape we became increasingly aware of the importance of the human faces behind the digital revolution, and the importance of keeping it personal by sourcing the right collaborators.
We were happy to find that, as a company, Cloud9, like us, were ambitious and eager for growth whilst being firmly rooted in the local area and driven by their values.
So – without further ado - here’s our 5 tips for choosing the perfect fulfilment partner:
- Compatibility. Find out what makes you both tick and whether your business values are compatible
- Ambition. Does your potential 3PL partner have plans for growth? And, if they do, do they see you as part of it? Are they also ambitious to help you grow your company?
- Personality. Do they have the personal touch? Can you put faces to names? Are they interested in getting to know you and your business and creating a bespoke package suited to your needs? And – a big one - do they answer the phone?
- Robust and Bespoke. Is their personal touch and hands-on approach teamed with the assurance of a reliable fulfilment system? Are their systems robust? But flexible enough to evolve with your changing needs? Is there a human face behind the system? Can the inevitable teething problems be resolved through human intervention?
- Collaboration. Has your potential 3PL partner been successful in creating and maintaining partnerships with other logistics providers? And are they willing to pass on the benefits to you, their most recent collaborator and partner?
Cloud9 have taken our business to new heights and enabled us to take our products to new markets. We’re excited to find out what’s next. The sky’s the limit.
Thanks for reading. Share the Light!
Love from the Paperstarlights team