An interview with Orderflow WMS
We recently interviewed one of our valued partners - Orderflow WMS. They offer a powerful Warehouse Management Solution for ecommerce companies and 3PLs.
Their Managing Director, Charlie Armor joined us for a chat to talk about all things fulfilment.
The insights are fascinating, so we encourage you to read to the end. There are plenty of nuggets of wisdom in this one.
And without further ado - let's get started!
Charlie, thank you for joining us today.
You’ve been the Managing Director of OrderFlow WMS for over 17 years. You’ve built up a vast knowledge of trends, innovations, and challenges in the fulfilment industry.
Today, we’re here to bring some of your knowledge to the keen ears of our audience - a collection of fast growing ecommerce companies, agencies and technology partners.
Without further ado - let’s start with some of the unique fulfillment challenges facing brick and retailers. Can you talk us through some of the innovations you’ve seen in this space?
Charlie Armor, OrderFlow WMS
I’ve worked with a lot of different customers over the years, multi-channel retailers that run a mix High Street stores and websites, pure-play etailers and large 3PLs who might support twenty or thirty clients. It’s always interesting to try and discern industry-wide trends within all the different projects we work on.
- In the last couple of years there’s been an acceleration in the trend to merge B2C and B2B fulfilment, freight haulage companies are feeling pressure to offer B2C services and B2C specialists are being asked to handle pallet distribution. The days when it made sense for a retailer to ringfence a proportion of their stock for eCommerce are long gone but many operations are still struggling with systems that struggle force them work that way.
- For UK based companies, I get the feeling the recent supply chain disruption and post-Brexit uncertainty about new customs arrangements is making partnerships with continental fulfilment houses look far more attractive. Either holding stock in the EU with a continental fulfilment partner or line-hauling pallets of packed B2C shipments.
- For the last decade robotics has been a sci-fi pipedream for everyone but the very largest players. I suspect there are only a handful of SME warehouse implementations in the UK but there’s a general acknowledgement that it’s an inevitability. We saw the same thing with warehouse handhelds twenty years ago, although companies had no immediate plans to introduce the technology it was right at the top of their check-list of must-have functionality that they considered when looking at new WMS suppliers. We’re seeing the same thing with robotics, people want to know their WMS is ‘robotics-ready’.
Fascinating stuff, thanks Charlie. Fulfilment is a complex business, and you’ve told us that many of your clients come to you because they’ve outgrown their existing warehouse system.
What are some of the reasons that your customers choose Orderflow WMS?
Charlie Armor, Orderflow WMS
Mostly it’s about the level of service they get. Fundamentally what people are looking for is a long-term partner they can trust. Particularly for an eTailer, the backend WMS is the unsexy bit that just works. We understand what a key part of their operation OrderFlow is and we take seriously the trust they’ve placed in us, I want our customers to think of us as part of their own team.
Most people we meet have outgrown their existing systems, at the entry level there’s a distinction between inventory system and WMS - an inventory system will tell you how much stock you’ve got and perhaps where it is. A WMS allows you to control the workflows in the warehouse and optimise the decisions that are made to make sure the warehouse is running efficiently. If you have a couple of dozen SKUs and a very simple fulfilment process an inventory system may be all you need, there are some very successful businesses that despatch thousands of orders a day that way.
However most operations are more complex than that. They find that as their volumes grow there’s scope to make some very significant savings by being smarter about what they do. When the volumes grow there is a very clear cost justification for introducing processes that are tailored to the particular requirements of their business. Product slotting logic, optimising the picking processes for different segments of their order pool and of course, from a Patchworks perspective, tighter integration with the other systems with the business.
The other common denominator for companies with inflexible systems is a complete dependence on a few key members of staff. This was brought home to lots of businesses during lockdown when people would suddenly have to isolate. As a warehouse operation grows and becomes more complex there’s a continual temptation to add layer upon layer of manual workarounds and little rules that experienced staff who have been with the business for a while just absorb over time. If this is left to run its course it can make it really difficult to take on new members of staff and almost impossible to take on seasonal staff in peak periods. One of the real attractions of OrderFlow is the flexibility it gives our customers to bake all those little business rules into the process configuration so new and temporary staff can start adding value straight away.
And of course, you don’t just serve ecommerce brands. You also sell to 3PLs, who manage stock for their clients.
What are some of the challenges which 3PLs are facing at the moment?
Charlie Armor, Orderflow WMS
3PLs are busy at the moment, the good ones are fielding lots of enquiries from new prospects. Again I think this has something to do with Covid, I suspect there are a lot of eTailers who are thinking about ditching the office completely or moving to a mix of office and home working. The only part of their operation they can’t do this with is the warehouse, so there’s a lot of interest in 3PL services right now.
One of the things 3PLs constantly have to wrestle with when talking to prospects is the temptation to try and be all things to all people. They have to have the discipline to offer a well defined set of processes to smaller clients and not deviate from that unless or until the volumes build.
The challenge is to be able to offer a range of very well defined, price competitive services to small prospects when you don’t really know which of them might take off. OrderFlow gives them the ability to support smaller clients with a suite of well defined processes but also offer complex flexibility to larger clients where the volume of business justifies a more tailored service.
As I mentioned before a growing number of companies are now looking for a 3PL who can support both B2C despatch and bulk shipping of wholesale orders from a shared stockholding. There are all sorts of complexities around that model that most systems will struggle with.
One long standing challenge that all 3PLs have is ensuring they have visibility of what their staff are doing and where time is being spent. This is important for all warehouses but particularly for 3PLs who need to pass those costs onto their clients.
It certainly feels that it’s important to not just choose the right software, but also set efficient processes for your fulfillment.
What advice can you give to our audience, who are scaling up ecommerce businesses?
Charlie Armor, OrderFlow WMS
Choosing the right platform is fundamental. We have lot of experience in implementing systems but whichever way you look at it, it’s always a significant undertaking. However the features and sophistication of the software are only part of the story.
- Recognise that your WMS supplier is going to be working with you for years. All the leading players offer similar features, what sets us apart is our service levels and response times.
- Bear in mind that as your volumes grow you have an opportunity not just to do the things your already ding more efficiently, but to do things differently. The processes that are optimal for one hundred, one thousand and ten thousand orders a day are very different and you need a partner that can get you from one to the other as you grow
Excellent stuff. And finally - what is your experience with integrating with couriers?
Charlie Armor, OrderFlow WMS
- I think we integrate with 28 carriers at the moment
- The delivery environment is competitive - some clients use 8 or 9 carriers and want to be able to move their volumes between them as rates change.
- Bear in mind that not all carrier integrations are created equal. The backend API offered by a carrier may be the same for every WMS supplier but the way in which its implemented will impact functionality offered at the packing desk, in post pack sort processes in fact throughout the despatch process. Again it comes back to finding a WMS partner who is willing to take the time to understand your business.
Charlie, thank you so much for joining us. The insights gleaned here are invaluable for us and our customers.
Naturally we'd encourage everyone looking to integrate their WMS to have a chat with us here to learn more.