Shipping/Receiving: How-To?
April 18, 2006 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me everything about shipping and receiving for small business...

Furniture store, fwiw; it would surprise me if we topped a much more than a million in sales the first few years.

I'm looking for general information, tips, hints, best practices, ideas, experiences, whatever. I'm certain the job isn't at all difficult, but I see no need to start off on the wrong foot.

Thanks in advance!
posted by five fresh fish to Work & Money (7 answers total)
not that i have anything to really add but is that 1 million dollars in sales or 1 million widgets shipped?
posted by phil at 2:09 PM on April 18, 2006

Here's a great article from Joel on Software: How to Ship Anything (in which we cut the amount of labor it takes to ship orders from 3 minutes to 35 seconds). Also check this blog entry.
posted by zanni at 2:11 PM on April 18, 2006

If the furniture is being packed and shipped directly from your location then give UPS a call and ask them to send a rep over and explain their process to you. You'll need a heavy shipping scale, computer, printer, and internet connection so you can print shipping labels and schedule pickups.

Otherwise if you're a reseller and the furniture is being ordered from a manufacturer then have the manufacturer ship directly to the customer.
posted by StarForce5 at 2:22 PM on April 18, 2006

It's been a while, and I've only done this for one small company selling to very large companies, but:


You will want to get a business account with the companies you'll be using to ship. A lot of places have the option of scheduling shipments and printing labels online. If you're shipping large quantities/weights, a freight company will probably be your best bet. Some buyers may have an account with a company that they'd prefer you use, and will give you that information.

In addition to shipping labels, include a packing slip for each box. Shipping supplies companies sell little stick-on plastic windows for this which work beautifully, but you can also put it directly in the box. The packing slip should have the following information (not all of this will necessarily apply to your system): your order number, buyer's order number if applicable, order date, part number, part description, part quantity, part cost, shipping cost, total cost, shipping method, shipping weight, shipping date, tracking number, shipper's name and address, buyer's name and address, (deep breath) and other bits I'm sure I've forgotten.

Keep a record of each shipment in a central location, with the same info.

Buy shipping supplies/packaging in bulk quantities to save money. Pack it well. Keep your shipping area ergonomic for efficiency.


Keep a record of incoming shipments in a central location. Info that will be handy to have for each receipt will be much along the same lines as for shipping, only it will also include the shipper's part info, etc. If you're receiving inventory, you'll need a system of integrating the information into the inventory system (and inventory tracking really is a whole other subject). Don't let things sit; get them in and recorded and properly put away.

In general, paperwork is your friend. The more information you have available, the better off you'll be in the future. Having an electronic system for tracking all of this is great, but you'll want hard copies of everything.

I'm sure there's a ton I'm leaving out; it's been a little while.
posted by moira at 2:27 PM on April 18, 2006

In choosing and setting up your account with a specific carrier (UPS, DHL, FedEx Freight, etc.) definitely push them to give you a discount. In my experience with UPS, they will lower rates as your business grows, but not unless you ask. You will probably have a sales person assigned to you and they will sometimes set up a face-to-face meeting. Your salesperson can help you in setting up software, scale, labels, and pretty much everything you need to get started. They can also be extremely helpful in getting everyday customer service questions answered.
posted by elvissa at 2:34 PM on April 18, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry, guys, I apparently worded things poorly:

This is a furniture store. I'm taking in furniture, putting it on display, etc, then delivering it to local homes.

I'm not shipping, say, craftsman furniture out to Sears. Indeed, quite the opposite: we'll be getting our furniture from a variety of sources, including a big-name national supply chain.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:21 PM on April 18, 2006

I worked in a friend's small furn/knickknack story for shy of a year and I'll tell you what I remember as the biggest pains.

#1 problem over and over again that exceeded all others was that we did not have a receiving area with a raised loading dock and that delivering agencies would completely disregard our warnings that they HAD HAD HAD to send a truck with a lift. Unfortunately this puts you in the bad position of having to be an asshole to the person who likely isn't the bad guy, the driver.

For the most part we'd shrug and say "sorry" and send them away, which sometimes helped short-term. Sometimes the driver would pressure us to help him lift stuff down and sometimes we'd do it if it was small enough. However saying "sorry, no, can't - I don't have insurance to cover if one of my guys is injured lifting this stuff" was our refrain more often than not.

The far distant second problem was that delivery companies had the same kind of bullshit delivery window times that the cable company does with even lower accuracy. If you're trying to keep your staffing costs low by only scheduling when something is coming in, watch out - they will show up earlier than you expect or not show up at all.

Having written all this, I'm not sure from the reading if you're joining up as an employee of an existing place. If so, the best advice I can give you is DON'T HURT YOUR BACK. It's the only one you have got and no job it worth permanent injury, state sponsored health care or not. Lift with your knees and be careful.
posted by phearlez at 4:49 PM on April 18, 2006

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