December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Marketing Out-of-the-Box packs merchandising know-how with high-touch reliability

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To give itself an edge with clients, MOTB went software shopping. In its earliest days, MOTB simply used phone calls, faxes and e-mail to kept merchants up to date on inventory levels and order status. But even then, Haftl and Newberger longed for a seamless information system handling inbound and outbound communication. The company chose Oracle to develop software offering real-time access to inventory levels and order history. The new system went live in October. “It’s important to keep communication lines between us and our customers forever evolving into something more interactive,” says Haftl, “a system that can be further enhanced so we can exchange more and more information.”

Depending on the merchant, MOTB’s computer system receives orders in real time or in batches. In the warehouse, the system generates a pick ticket for each order, and a worker retrieves the goods using a hand-held scanner to input the order from bar-code ID tags. Pick tickets come with detailed instructions, such as whether an item needs to be grouped with other products or requires gift wrapping. Once those details are settled, the package is readied for delivery, the order closed on the computer system, and a tracking number assigned. If an order comes through for out-of-stock goods, the system automatically kicks it back to the merchant. At each stage, merchants can enter a secure Web site to review the status of their orders. The raw data is easily exportable to a text format so clients can manipulate it however they want.

The system sells

The system has become a major selling point for MOTB. This winter, the company has added a new client every week or two. What’s more, MOTB plans a major expansion that will increase the warehouse to half a million square feet. Beyond that, facilities on both coasts may come with time.

Plans such as that attracted Bluefly, which switched its business to MOTB last summer after dropping a fulfillment partner that could not accommodate its growth. “When we were first looking at fulfillment partners, we encountered quite a number of companies that had a pretty strict formula,” says Bob Stevens, Bluefly’s executive vice president. “You had to model your business to their formula. MOTB was far more customer-driven and flexible. They developed processes that fit our business.”

MOTB’s marketing roots also are proving to be another asset. Bluefly, for example, intends to consult Haftl and Newberger as it considers redesigning its packaging. Packaging is nearly as important as what’s inside to Send.com, which sells high-end personalized gifts arranged around fine wine, dining, golf trips, spa vacations and exotic cars. Each package may contain a gift certificate card, printed personal message, and other mementos, all of it hand-assembled and packaged. For such a highly personalized gift, it’s crucial to the success of the gift for recipients to get the right elements, says Kathryn Carroll, the site’s director of marketing and communication. “We’re very fussy about the details.”

Send.com hired MOTB largely because it appeared capable and committed to devising a custom process. “There were a few teething problems-just a few little hitches here and there,” says Carroll of the holiday season. “But they were willing to work with us to iron those out.” The glitches ranged from streamlining software links, as well as fine-tuning the assembly process.

Send.com asked three fulfillment houses to bid on its business. Visiting MOTB’s facility made all the difference. “They really did understand our business,” Carroll says. “We do so much work to create a fabulous Web site and gifts-the last thing we want is for a third party to drop the ball.”

More than anything trust is what fulfillment companies like MOTB must deliver, Haftl agrees: “There’s nothing worse than having your expectations fall through.”

 

Todd Savage is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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