How To Get Started With A Fulfillment Center (Before Your Games Ship)
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 about how to work with a fulfillment center to get your games delivered. Make sure to check out his bio below and his amazing blog at Fulfillrite!
Seems like every board game Kickstarter ships late, doesn’t it? And it’s not just because of the pandemic or the supply chain crisis – it’s been that way forever!
Some of the delays and frustrations are totally unavoidable. But a lot of them are – so let’s talk about preventing those problems.
In this article, we’re going to talk about how you can improve your odds of shipping your board game Kickstarter on-time and within your budget.
Spoiler alert: a lot of it comes down to communicating all the important information to your fulfillment partner to make their job easier!
Before we get started, a quick note: this article assumes two things. First, that you are working with a fulfillment center instead of shipping your own orders. Second, we’re assuming you’ve found a good fulfillment center to work with.
For that reason, you might want to check out these posts first:
- Overview of Kickstarter Fulfillment: The 7 Steps to Delivering Your Kickstarter Board Game
- DIY vs. Hiring Help: Fulfilling Board Game Orders Yourself vs. Hiring an Order Fulfillment Company
- Finding a Fulfillment Partner: How to find board game fulfillment partners and keep your shipping costs down
With that in mind, let’s talk about how to make your Kickstarter fulfillment as smooth as possible!
1. Build a relationship with your account manager early in the process.
If there’s one thing you can do as a Kickstarter creator to try to ward off fulfillment issues, it’s to build a relationship with your account manager. Not every fulfillment center has dedicated account managers, but if yours does, it’s worth getting to know them.
For all the technology and processes that make up order fulfillment, it’s still a human process. Associates who don’t know better might just put a board game in a polybag instead of a rigid box, leaving your customers to receive a game box with dinged corners on their doorstep. You might add separate items as stretch goals at the last minute, but forget to list them on the receiving order.
The point is: weird things happen in business. Having someone you can call or email will make it much easier to troubleshoot unforeseeable problems. No call center, unhelpful chat sessions, or week-long email chains.
While good fulfillment centers will often run without your direct involvement, if you’re looking to take initiative and be extra sure things go well, this is a big part of it.
2. Submit your warehouse receiving order.
Your average fulfillment center will be visited by dozens of trucks everyday, and sometimes even hundreds. Workers in the warehouse don’t know what’s coming and when – they just know that boxes need to be unloaded from the truck. Information about the content being unloaded is stored in the computer system.
One of your primary responsibilities as the client of a fulfillment center is to submit paperwork – usually called warehouse receiving orders (WROs) or advanced shipping notices (ASNs) – on-time. This paperwork will include information such as:
- The quantity of items to be shipped
- Information on the weight, height, and HS codes of the items to be shipped
- Information on how the items are packed
- Contact information for the trucking/freight company
Failing to submit this information means the warehouse is caught off guard by the inventory when it arrives. They might unload the truck and spend a lot of time and money figuring out what inventory has been received. They might even turn the truck away.
But as long as you share this information with the warehouse when you have it, the warehouse will be ready to start working with your Kickstarter rewards as soon as they arrive.
3. Provide accurate product information.
In order to make sure they provide you with accurate postage rates and delivery estimates, your order fulfillment center needs the following information:
- Product weight
- Product dimensions
- HS code (when shipping internationally)
Fulfillment centers will typically weigh and measure items before they go out in the mail, but if their scales don’t match what you enter into the system, postage might cost a lot more than you think!
Telling you to make sure you provide accurate weight and dimensions information might sound obvious, but it’s actually really easy to mess up when fulfilling a Kickstarter campaign. Almost every stretch goal – including the last-minute ones – can change product weight. And sometimes, an extra ounce can make a huge difference, such as when you’re going from a 1 pound, 15 ounce package to a 2 pound package.
As for HS codes, these are needed to ship internationally. An HS code basically tells customs agencies around the world what you’re shipping. Pick the right code and items pass through borders without too much trouble. Pick the wrong code, and your board game might get seized, thrown away, or sent back.
4. Specify packing and shipping instructions.
Not every fulfillment center specializes in shipping board games. A lot of times, fulfillment centers will default to the most cost-effecient way to ship. For those most part, this is a good way to save the client money.
However, if you’ve ever gotten a board game that shipped in a bag, you can see how this might backfire. If you’re running a Kickstarter, you want to try to prevent this – and other similar problems – from happening.
The easiest way to do this is to go into the fulfillment center’s software and leave explicit instructions on how to pack the item. You probably won’t even have to write instructions, but rather just select from a list which packing materials are acceptable, which postal carriers are acceptable, and so on.
5. Enter in order and backer information early.
Here’s a simple way to reduce the stress that comes on the day your inventory arrives. Enter order information way before you need to. There are a couple of advantages to this approach.
First, if you enter all order and backer information early, you can see postage and supply cost estimates. This can help you set aside the funds you need to complete the shipping process. It can also help you identify places to cut costs if you need to.
Second, if you enter the information early, you don’t have to do it on the day of fulfillment. Whether you’re using Kickstarter or a pledge manager, exports and integrations can be confusing. It’s stressful to try to troubleshoot technology when backers are waiting to receive their rewards.
How soon should you do this? Personally, I’m a fan of entering order and backer information as soon as most of the surveys receive responses. And I’m a fan of sending those surveys out several weeks prior to fulfillment and locking them after a couple of weeks.
You will occasionally have backers asking to update their addresses or orders. And it’s true that you would have to manually update their address both in your pledge manager and the fulfillment center’s software. But to me, in return for not having the stress of delayed fulfillment, I consider it a worthwhile trade-off.
6. Keep information up-to-date.
In eCommerce, when a customer places an order, what happens next is pretty simple. The fulfillment center takes that information, packs the box, and sends it where it needs to go.
Crowdfunding is different. You collect the addresses well before you need them, people often adjust their orders, and even the product itself is subject to change.
When you’re running a Kickstarter campaign, it’s really important to make sure that you keep the following information up-to-date in your fulfillment center’s system:
- Backer addresses
- Product information like weight and size (which can change subject to stretch goals)
- Order information (which can change with add-ons)
- Estimated inventory arrival time (which can change based on manufacturing, freight, and customs)
If nothing else, just make a reminder on your calendar every 2-3 weeks to make sure that your fulfillment center is still working with up-to-date information. That way, the subtle tweaks and changes of Kickstarter fulfillment won’t sneak up on you and make a lot of chaos all at once!
While many Kickstarters ship late, a lot of the problems that creators run into are preventable. Of those preventable problems, so many of them boil down to making sure the fulfillment center has the information it needs to succeed.
This is good news for you as a Kickstarter creator! Fulfillment doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. It doesn’t have to be a source of delays and uncertainty.
With a little care and initiative, you can give your fulfillment center what they need to succeed, so you can give your backers the games they always wanted to play!
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.