The recipient of merch, whether it’s through an ecommerce store or from a wholesale order, doesn’t see all the work that happens behind the scenes. No, from the supporters’ point-of-view, it’s simple. Someone enters their information, buys something, and then the merch machine does its magic.
But there’s no magic merch machine. There’s a lot of complexity that makes it all happen. Individual merch orders from retail and ecommerce stores, though not without their own complications, tend to be a bit more straightforward.
Wholesale merch, however, is a bit of a different ballgame. Whether for a significant event, the campaign trail, or outfitting your entire team, bulk ordering and logistics present a different challenge. It’s easy to order a thousand units of product. But when that merch shows up on your doorstep … what’s next?
4 Complexities of Wholesale Merch
Merchandising operations have gotten more sophisticated. The speed at which you can place an order, receive a proof, and have items in hand has accelerated. The quantity and quality of offerings have increased. Your logo can appear on truly anything. (Though just because you can print it, doesn’t mean you should).
Customer demands have evolved along the way too. Expectations of cost, speed of production, and delivery timing are high.
And when it comes to bulk merchandise logistics, meeting these high standards is challenging because there are so many moving pieces.
It’s tricky to pull off wholesale logistics because:
1. Every package is a puzzle piece
Say you have 138 shipments, each with specific items thoughtfully chosen and carefully designed to support your campaign. These 138 boxes need to go to 23 locations — 6 boxes at each place. Unfortunately, one location only gets 5.
Each box contained the right mix of products; now, one location has a blank space in the corner of a finished picture. That box and whatever it contains are the #1 priority to someone on that campaign trail.
Each shipment is a puzzle piece, and the finished picture is your organization’s goal. Sure, you can make out the image if you are missing a few. A missing package won’t derail your initiatives. But it won’t really help them either.
2. Resources are slim
Campaigns, nonprofits, and labor unions all operate in an environment of resource scarcity. Because it’s about progress, not profits, there often isn’t a wealth of resources to manage a dedicated merchandise program. At the top, there may not be a staff member that can handle logistics as their sole responsibility. Usually, the person handling wholesale merchandise is wearing a few hats already. They don’t have the extra time to count items, pack boxes, create address labels, and ship items.
Plus, warehouse space is needed to store bulk orders. Most mission-driven organizations don’t have empty space readily available.
3. Timing is everything
Let’s go back to the example where 138 boxes are shipped to 23 different locations. Imagine this is for a series of events, so the packages need to arrive within a certain time frame. Many conference centers and event venues have strict parameters for when packages can be received. Each of these packages needs to arrive at the right time, despite being shipped to locations across the country. Shipping from abroad adds the potential for catastrophe should packages get stuck in customs or experience delays.
4. Quality matters
The purpose of merchandise is to bolster your cause. Get your message out there, build awareness, and raise funds. It’s difficult to do that with low-quality merch.
Even if you plan to give away the wholesale merch for free, or to outfit your staff at a rally, quality matters. Sourcing through multiple vendors or placing separate orders increases opportunity for mistakes and mismatches.
Who knows if the blue t-shirt you ordered from one supplier will have the same hue as the blue sweatshirt you ordered from a different vendor? And both of those have embroidered logos, but the v-neck shirt you got from yet another supplier is screen printed. Uniformity isn’t just nice to have — it makes your campaign or nonprofit look professional and polished, which affects how your audience and constituents perceive you.
How to Pull Off Wholesale Logistics
When the job is done right, users get what they need, right when they need it, without a second thought. Here’s what happens from the customer’s point of view:
First, the customer determines what items they need to order, what designs they want, and what quantities they need. Next, they look for quotes and compare pricing. Finally, they may choose options based on price or product mix.
After the quotes, the customer places an order. Before the items go into production, the customer receives mock-ups and proofs of the items to make sure the finished product looks the way they’ve envisioned.
Then, items are shipped to the customer with tracking, and UPS, FedEx, and LTL take over for delivery.
What Happens Behind the Scenes
From our perspective, there’s a lot more going on. Suppliers to negotiate with for the best price, sourcing USA-made products that adhere to our high ethical standards, and coordinating the shipping and delivery, so everything ends up right where it needs to be.
Sole Suppliers and True Cost
Partnering with F.I.I. allows customers to get all the merch they need through one supplier, saving time, and eliminating piecemeal pricing that sinks your margins. F.I.I.’s industry relationships and experience enable you to access the most competitive pricing on the highest-quality, ethically-manufactured products.
A streamlined process also lowers the true cost of your merch program. Shopping around and putting together a product mix from a variety of suppliers may look great on paper. But your budget should consider the other cost factors of running a merch program. While those great prices look good on paper, the additional challenges of coordinating more on the operational side can negate the benefits.
Streamlining the Small Tasks
F.I.I. helps you ascertain the products in the quantity you need and works with you to ensure your wholesale merch will be well-designed, polished, and professional. There are a lot of small, easy-to-overlook tasks that can make or break a merch program.
Like counting buttons. Seems simple enough, right? You’ve ordered thousands of buttons, which must be sorted, counted, shipped, and delivered across the country. F.I.I. has the logistics infrastructure and expertise that streamlines those tasks. Instead of putting that on your staff, we make it a hands-free process, so you can focus on the priorities: important fundraising, organizing, and campaign work.
Solving the Wholesale Puzzle
F.I.I. helps clients solve challenges around time, cost, and complexity by streamlining wholesale logistics. You’ve probably experienced logistics headaches in your personal life on a small scale. A package you needed to complete a home improvement project is delayed, and you’re left without a working kitchen sink for a week. That’s frustrating.
When it’s your job, it’s even worse. When half your campaign is left without important merch, it’s a tough problem to solve. So don’t open yourself up to the day-to-day turmoil of wholesale logistics on a large scale.
Your priorities are to make forward progress — not handle wholesale logistics details. The best way to ensure everything runs smoothly is to focus on the big picture, not each puzzle piece.