Two engineering graduates James Strachan and James Hyde tell the story of how they came to start up an order fulfilment service built on the same technologies as the web-shops it serves and with which it integrates.
While not without its challenges, the time since has gone remarkably smoothly. Six hit break-even in August 2010 and to date reports a despatch accuracy of 100%!James Strachan and James Hyde
"We do find some glamorous jobs. Out of the muddy remains of our last business (Bloom Box gardening services specialising in zero-maintenance hanging baskets and planters) we now find ourselves in the gloomy surrounds of a warehouse in winter.
"The thermometer reads the ambient temperature at 12 degrees, but we're warm: fired-up by the joint delights of a burgeoning business and a two-bar fire. Where there's muck there's brass, and we had spied a glint.
"How did we end up here? There's a story to that, and to start we must go back to the brave new year of 2009 . . .
"At that time, James and I were hitting a bit of a low with our previous enterprise - it was the off season and there was little work to be found or done. After a fairly embarrassing round of the temping circuit - you'd be amazed how hard it is to get a temp job with a Master's degree - we fell in, quite by chance, with a local health food importer Green Bay Harvest who had big ambitions.
"As a mini-consultancy project, we started working a few hours a week for them refining and streamlining their processes and improving their e-commerce capabilities. Over the weeks and months, we got to know their business inside out and continued working with them as their company grew.
"It was in the course of our work with Green Bay that we first came across the order fulfilment industry - warehouses which specialise in the picking, packing and posting of products on behalf of sellers.
"Most consumers are unaware these even exist, and while many traditional sellers persist in running their own warehouse, the rise of online selling has created a considerable and growing demand for outsourcing this part of the supply chain. During our search for a fulfilment house to recommend, we became steadily disappointed by the services on offer.
"Dim sheds littered with stacks of boxes and scrawled paper were all too common, and even those in modern facilities still had oddly antiquated systems. These were not the high-tech, RFID'd and barcode-festooned wonderlands that the trade shows would have you believe. They were someone's spare space, filled with other people's goods.
"Entrusting all one's stock to another company is a very big decision to make - the reason why so many still muddle through in-house. The amount of visibility, control and reassurance provided by those facilities we visited was disheartening.
"Among claims of "97% accuracy" and offers of weekly stock reports we began to see that few of these companies were addressing anything more than the basic needs of the new breed of online sellers. Even those offering online services were doing so in a manner which seemed conspicuously bolt-on.
"We saw a gap. In the summer of 2009, we laid the foundations of an idea which would take eight months to materialise: an order fulfilment service built on the same technologies as the web-shops it serves and with which it integrates. A first class citizen of the cloud, benefiting from the huge advances in performance and practices achieved in the last decade online, and exposed using the same rendering engine that enables giants like Google and Amazon to share their data with the world.
"Jump to the present, and it's been over half a year since Six (a name mostly chosen for its brevity) fulfilment house opened its shutter doors in Foxton. Six offers a range of fulfilment services, ensuring the safe storage, picking, packing and despatch of its clients' products to consumer and trade customers. Orders are retrieved by Six's multi-channel fulfilment house automatically via secure cloud servers from online e-commerce stores, marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon and Play, as well as mail and telephone orders. Once received, orders are processed immediately for same day despatch. The system, has enabled outsourced fulfilment to offer clearer and more immediate stock and order information than sellers could achieve for themselves in-house. In the click of 'refresh' the complete, and up-to-the-second state of play can be viewed, queried and interrogated - with greater speed and accuracy than walking down to their own warehouse.
"While not without its challenges, the time since has gone remarkably smoothly. Six hit break-even in August 2010 and to date reports a despatch accuracy of 100%!"
There's a little bit more to the story so far - the two Jameses take the time to write about their experiences in the Cambridge News. You can catch up with previous articles at their e-commerce fulfilment blog.