Seeds - A 60%:40% Consumer/Worker Cooperative
CR Lawn, 2009
Should Fedco Seeds outsource its order fulfillment?
So advised an article I read recently in one of those trade journals
with horrid names like Multichannel Marketer. For a business growing
rapidly like ours (about 50% in the last two years) into that awkward
medium-size range, that's the conventional wisdom.
Outsource? Order fulfillment? The very lingo is cold
and distant, conjuring images of Orwellian newspeak. To outsource
order fulfillment is to hire someone else for a fee to do the dirty
work of pulling and shipping orders for you, leaving you with the
supposedly more fun tasks of picking and pricing your products and
writing your catalogs and promos.
For us, that advice couldn't be more wrong. Why?
Because we've achieved success by doing as many of our own jobs
as we can–even those routinely farmed out by other businesses
to consultants, specialists, or outside experts with big machines
(and bigger egos).
Did our roof need repairs? Gene put together an in-house
crew with sufficient interest and skills, giving our workers an
opportunity to do something outside the normal routine and to grow
on the job.
Did we want to accept internet orders? Other companies
hired a webmaster. Gene and David became their own dreamweavers,
creating a nearly seamless system in a couple of years for no outside
Employ an outside payroll service? Not a chance.
As our sheaf of checks has grown, five different persons on our
staff have handled the job. Now we use payroll software instead
of my head to do the math, but we still do it ourselves.
Seed packing machines to fill the more than half
million packets of seed now ordered each year? No, our packers have
disdained them. The machine is their hands, scooping rapidly. We
like to touch and smell the seed.
How about that annual bugaboo of all small businesses–the
dreaded form 1120 corporate income tax return? I learned on the
job and have been filing ours for more than 20 years, not only saving
Fedco many thousands of dollars in accounting fees but also developing
a deep understanding of our inner financial workings. From routine
postings to elaborate financial statement preparation, I see all
the details. No Bernie Madoff or even a petty cash version thereof
could ever emerge from within given that close scrutiny.
Who do you think will do a better job of collating,
pulling and shipping orders accurately–workers who have built
up personal relationships with customers over 30 years or firms
of hired gun consultants far removed from their real clients? The
answer lies in caring and taking responsibility. For it to work,
we must all be one community: gardeners, farmers and group-ordering
customers, workers, managers and even many of the growers of our
seeds and trees. We all have the same interest in delivering and
receiving excellent products, accurately pulled and packed and backed
by good information and decent fair service. If we can concoct creative
catalogs and have a few laughs along the way, so much the better.