Fulfilling Board Game Orders Yourself vs. Hiring an Order Fulfillment Company
Brandon Rollins is a game designer, publisher, and fulfillment specialist. He’s done it all when it comes to shipping and fulfilling a Kickstarter campaign, so I asked him to write an article on his experiences fulfilling a campaign himself and working with a fulfillment company. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot from this article. Make sure to check out his bio below and his amazing blog at Fulfillrite!
You’ve launched your board game on Kickstarter and it’s successfully funded. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and something to be very proud of!
The only trouble: you’re eventually going to have to fulfill your board game Kickstarter.
Kickstarter fulfillment is difficult, to the point where some creators are even scared of it. After all, in order to fulfill a Kickstarter, you have to find a game printer, book freight or find a freight broker, and then ship the games to backers.
That last part – order fulfillment – can be done one of two ways:
- Ship the games yourself from your home, perhaps with the help of some friends and family.
- Hire an order fulfillment company to do it for you.
Despite writing this post on behalf of an order fulfillment company, you might be surprised to see me say that you can fulfill orders on your own. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
In this post, I’ll cover when it makes sense to ship on your own, and when it makes sense to hire help. There are pros and cons to both ways, and the most important thing – from a strategic standpoint – is making the right call.
Fulfilling a Board Game Yourself
It’s completely possible to fulfill your own board game Kickstarter orders. For inventory receiving, you can have the bulk shipment of your orders sent directly to your home or to a nearby warehouse where you can pick it up.
You can buy boxes, mailers, bubble wrap, and packing tape in bulk from Amazon or even ULINE for packaging. If you have a printer, you can use PayPal to purchase and print discounted postage for both USPS and UPS.
With the inventory and supplies in hand, all that’s left is packing the boxes and sending the right rewards to the right addresses. It’s a simple enough process, though time-consuming. I’ve done it before myself.
There are a lot of pros to fulfilling your board game on your own. For one, it’s a dead simple process. You don’t have to vet fulfillment companies or send them CSV files with backer addresses. All you have to do is have the inventory shipped to your home where you will prep packages to go out. Then you can drop them off at the post office or a UPS location.
There’s also a home-spun charm to this style of order fulfillment that larger Kickstarters don’t have. You have the chance, for example, to put handwritten thank you notes in packages. You can also directly handle customer service inquiries, such as by sending replacement copies for the 1-3% of games that will inevitably be lost in the mail.
Of course, the problem with fulfilling your own orders is that it just doesn’t scale well. For one, receiving inventory at your home might be a problem. Getting 100 games in the mail might take up your kitchen table. Getting 1,000 games will take up your living room. Receiving a lot of games just doesn’t work well for people who live in small apartments or even folks who generally live in urban areas.
On top of that, postage and supply costs add up quickly. Fulfillment companies get really steep discounts on both of these expenses, which often far exceed the amount they charge in labor. If you fulfill on your own – especially more than a few hundred orders – it’s likely to both cost more and take up more time.
Lastly, it’s just plain stressful. It’s not just the cost, the demand on your time, or the fact that boxes will be consuming much of your living space. Order fulfillment as a process, while easy enough to understand, is still very error-prone if you don’t have a system in place. That means it’s very easy to get addresses mixed up or send the wrong rewards to a backer. Especially if you’re tired!
When It Makes Sense
Fulfilling your own orders makes good sense when you have no more than 250 orders to ship. That’s both the point at which you will be making multiple runs to the post office or UPS store AND starting to spend an unnecessary amount of money.
Hiring an Order Fulfillment Company
When working with an order fulfillment company, you have two main responsibilities. First, pick the right company or companies to work with in the first place. Second, once you choose them, communicate clearly about when inventory is going to arrive and where it needs to go.
As soon as you have information on freight, you’ll want to send it to the order fulfillment company so they can work with it. Once you have a list of backer addresses, send those along to the order fulfillment company as well.
Many of the issues with self-fulfillment disappear when you hire help. Overall, hiring an order fulfillment company means inventory won’t take up space in your home and you won’t have to stress about shipping items yourself.
At scale, hiring an order fulfillment company can save money on bulk supplies, namely boxes, bags, bubble wrap, and especially postage. When shipping several hundred orders or more, it is often cheaper to hire help than to fulfill on your own for this reason alone.
Hiring an order fulfillment company does remove the personal touch from shipping, but they are better prepared to handle customer service issues at scale. When shipping 1,000 orders, 10-30 will be lost in the mail. That’s a lot of upset customers when you’re working on your own! For an order fulfillment company, sending out an additional 30 replacement orders is essentially no extra work.
If you have lots and lots of orders, hiring an order fulfillment company is very useful for ensuring a good backer experience.
Of course, hiring an order fulfillment company won’t fix all your problems. For one, if you’re only shipping a couple hundred orders, it will probably cost more. The cost savings start to kick in when you’re shipping several hundred orders or a high percentage of international orders.
Another issue is that your stock is being handled by someone else. This can be uncomfortable because often order fulfillment companies are nowhere close to where you live, so you can’t actually see your stock. For some Kickstarter creators, this can create a lot of anxiety.
Lastly, if you don’t vet your order fulfillment company well, you could really run into trouble. Nothing can derail a Kickstarter campaign quite like a bad fulfillment company. Bad fulfillment companies can send stock to the wrong people or ship items badly, leading to damage. Make sure you look out for red flags when choosing a partner!
When It Makes Sense
When shipping more than 250 orders, it makes sense to hire an order fulfillment company. That’s roughly the threshold where self-fulfillment becomes very burdensome.
If you live in a small apartment or are going to be sending a lot of international shipments, you may choose to hire an order fulfillment company when shipping between 100-250 orders. International shipping comes with a lot of time-consuming paperwork, and the costs are steep, meaning it can make sense to hire help earlier. And, of course, if you don’t have space to receive your own inventory, you really don’t have a choice!
It’s possible to fulfill your own board game Kickstarter orders, and sometimes it even makes sense to do so! But knowing when it’s time to hire help is critical.
If you’re shipping more than 250 orders, have a lot of international orders, or live in a small apartment, it’s a good idea to hire an order fulfillment company. You can provide a better backer experience while saving a lot of time, stress, and maybe even money by doing so.
Overwhelmed with your Kickstarter? Check out our free Kickstarter checklist. It lists everything you need to know to get your Kickstarter campaign shipped.
Need help fulfilling your orders? Click here to request a quote from Fulfillrite.
Brandon Rollins is a Marketing Consultant at Fulfillrite. His main areas of expertise are online marketing and supply chain management.