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How a fishing tackle retailer reels in more online buyers

Photo of FishUSA Founder, Dan Pastore with President and CEO Jeff Parnell.

There's something remarkably satisfying about floating on a placid lake or wading in a mountain stream, using a rod and reel to cast for walleye, bass or rainbow trout. It's a great pastime, even if all you catch are "bottle bass." Just ask one of the 46 million or so licensed U.S. anglers; any one of them will likely tell you a story about "the one that got away."

Avid angler Dan Pastore isn't one to let a savvy business opportunity wriggle off the hook. He launched FishUSA in 2000 as a pure online play, using his home garage as a warehouse. "We packed orders on my workbench and stocked product on shelving along the walls," Pastore says. "The UPS driver came to my house every day to pick up outgoing orders."

Now billed as "America's Tackle Shop," FishUSA has tapped both national and international markets, and it has enjoyed double-digit annual growth rates. "We are currently growing in excess of 30 percent per year," says President and CEO Jeff Parnell. The company's office/warehouse space, located outside Erie, Pa., now totals 30,000 square feet and holds just over 40,000 SKUs.

"A lot of factors contribute to that growth," Parnell says. He cites an expanded merchandise assortment, a growing reputation for quality and expertise, and superior service levels. "People know us and realize they can trust us," he adds. "People on staff know this sport, and it's their passion. That comes across both online and on the phone."

Leveraging technology

Advanced technology and logistics expertise from UPS has helped FishUSA compete not only in the United States and North America, but also globally," says Parnell. According to Pastore, FishUSA has relied on the UPS team in Erie, including local IT specialists, to integrate UPS technology tools such WorldShip® and Quantum View Manage® with its in-house order-entry and accounting systems for more efficient processing and reporting.

Maria DeLuca, UPS senior account manager, also based in Erie, points to Fish USA's savvy use of UPS-approved third-party technology providers that have helped the company get even more mileage from its digital marketing efforts. "NetElixer.com has helped with search engine optimization (SEO)," says DeLuca. "Similarweb.com is a service that compares what FishUSA is doing on the web with competitors in their space, and FishUSA also chose a technology partner that helps optimize email and social media efforts," she says.

Another technology benefit: the UPS Customer Technology Program. This program provides UPS customers with computers, peripherals and software from UPS Ready® providers at either deep discounts or with volume-based subsidies. "We used the Customer Technology Program to upgrade the computers and hardware at the workstations in our shipping department," Pastore says. "Anything you can do to streamline things is a big help."

Maximizing warehouse efficiency

UPS consultants from the Customer Solutions Group visited FishUSA to analyze ways the company could optimize its warehouse operation to streamline throughput and make the pick-and-pack operation more efficient. With more than 40,000 SKUs, that's certainly a worthy goal - especially with Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up fast.

UPS experts recommended implementing a pick-to-ship approach, where workers use packing lists to pick products directly into correctly sized pre-labeled boxes to save time and improve quality control.

Another recommended change FishUSA is implementing (and something nearly any shipper can do) is to identify fast-moving "A" and "B" products and position them as close as possible to shipping stations to eliminate unnecessary steps. The payoff can be significant. "Although it's tough to pin down precise numbers, I'd say conservatively we've seen a 20-30 percent improvement in throughput," Parnell says.

Gearing up for peak season

Pastore and Parnell agree that the most important thing other retailers can do to have a positive peak season experience is to plan for it in advance - and be ready to adapt on the fly as needed.

"We are carefully reviewing our revenue forecasts and translating that into expected package volume," Parnell says. "The next piece of the puzzle is headcount needs. Without planning you are absolutely flying blind - that's not something anybody better be doing for peak season."

Pastore adds that the company is "openly exploring our options in terms of working hours." That means beginning shifts earlier in the day and ending later in the evening. "We are looking creatively at everything we can do to be more efficient," says Parnell.

A final word of advice: Partner with your vendors. "Work together with them," says Parnell, "because it is a team effort; you cannot operate in a vacuum. You need their support, and you need to be there for them as well."

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