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Entrepreneurs' logistics tips for small businesses

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Starting a company begins with a dream. While most small business owners are more than happy to commit to the long days and late nights that come with running a products-based business, few realized how much time, money and energy they'd need to spend thinking about and managing their supply chain logistics.

The reality, of course, is that second only to creating and selling an exceptional product, how your products ship to your customers and how raw materials ship to your workspace are vital to the health of your business. And if you don't seek out logistics help for your small business, you'll be missing out on important ways to optimize and streamline those processes.

If you're looking for small business logistics help, look no further than the hard-earned advice of these five entrepreneurs and shipping managers.

Bottlenecks can make or break your business

If Boston-based custom mosaic company Artaic could point to one important piece of advice for starting a small business, it would be to secure logistics help at the very beginning.

Because of Artaic's complex shipping needs -- raw materials like glass, stone and tiles ship from manufacturing plants in India, China and Turkey, and the finished product ships to restaurants, hotels and private residences around the world - Artaic was struggling to get the best supply chain logistics into place.

During a work session with UPS, Artaic quickly found a better way: instead of overseas shipments arriving first in Florida and then being shipped to Boston, UPS cut transit times by routing raw materials directly to headquarters. The result? The company has seen a 25 to 40 percent time savings in the fulfillment of raw tile.

Branding can make or break your revenue

When you're first starting a company, it's tempting to assume an excellent product will sell itself. Unfortunately, that's not always the case; you need to pair high-quality product needs with high-quality marketing and product branding to reach as many customers as possible.

For products that ship direct to consumer, how the package looks is a powerful part of branding. Customizing the outside of your product packaging, including custom shipping labels, can have a big impact on customer perception and satisfaction. At least, that's Liberty Bottleworks co-founder Tim Andis' experience from putting the company's logo on its WorldShip® label.

"It's an added level of sophistication that comes across to the consumer," says Andis. "The branded label brings in an additional two to three orders per week, or about $5,000 in additional revenue per year" for the Union Gap, Wash., business.

Track inbound supplies, not just shipments

Kathy Hartzell, logistics manager at Pennsylvania-based custom guitar maker C. F. Martin Guitars, quickly learned that supply chain logistics is about more than tracking customer shipments.

"Very early in the morning, a couple hundred people show up ready to make guitars," says Hartzell. "We need to make sure we have the materials available for them to get working."

To accommodate the company's craftsmen approach to building guitars, Hartzell realized it was incredibly important to know when each order of wood, glue, finish and strings would arrive and be available for use. By relying on UPS's logistics help for small businesses, Hartzell was able to accurately anticipate raw materials delivery and maximize the production time of her expert craftsmen.

Customize inbound shipments for greater efficiencies

Insightful logistics help for small businesses streamlines shipping processes to directly reduce costs and free up team members' time for more specialized work. This is especially important for businesses that receive shipments from manufacturers, like aftermarket marine engine parts manufacturer Pro Marine.

"Until I came onboard, there was no effort to control how product was sent to us," says Pro Marine's General Manager Tony December. "That was left up to the manufacturers, who were all using different freight forwarders, who all took a percentage."

Working with UPS, December took control of inbound deliveries and worked with manufacturers to unify how they ship products to Palmetto, Fla.-based Pro Marine. His efforts saved the company an estimated 35 percent on inbound shipping costs. Those savings will grow annually.

Start the shipping process before your busy season starts

Many small business owners start by selling products geared toward a particular holiday like Valentine's Day or Christmas. For those businesses, Ryan Novak, owner of the Chocolate Pizza Company in Syracuse, N.Y., has a few words of wisdom: take care of your non-time-sensitive shipping tasks outside of your busy season.

"We have a small window to get product out to people before Christmas, so we don't want to waste time doing things that should have been done ahead of time," says Novak. "We plan for each selling season, so that all our boxes are made, our bubble pack is ripped and our paper and peanuts are ready to go."

Supply chain logistics is more than scheduling and more than shipping; it's also how your customers experience your product. Look to other successful entrepreneurs and logistics managers for small business help that helps you run a more efficient and more profitable small business.

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