24 August 2017 | 14 Comments
Recently I’ve heard a lot of great things about the fulfillment service in the US called Quartermaster Logistics. I had the opportunity to meet their director, Seth, at Gen Con, and from our brief interactions, I can tell that he’s someone worth working with.
But for Kickstarter backers looking for fulfillment solutions (in addition to the others I strongly recommend), you need some more information. So I reached out to AJ Porfirio at Van Ryder Games, as he worked with Quartermaster on his recent Kickstarter project, Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave (in stores in September). AJ is preparing for another campaign (Detective: City of Angels on October 10), so the topic has been on his mind, and he shares a lot of really helpful information below. Thanks, AJ!
You’ve run several Kickstarter projects now for your company, Van Ryder Games. Roughly how many rewards would you say you’ve fulfilled at this point? Have you used fulfillment centers for all of them?
I would guess we have fulfilled 10-15K rewards at this point across our various projects. We didn’t always use fulfillment centers though, we shipped our first two projects, which were smaller box games right out of my house.
Have you ever made a key mistake while shipping Kickstarter rewards that other creators might benefit from knowing about?
Great question! I always tend to freak out about the files and if all the addresses are correct. I’ve caught more than a few times where certain things got moved around and could have screwed up the entire thing. My advice is to spot check your files before sending them over and make sure there is a record that is correct at the beginning, middle, and end of the spreadsheet.
I guess the biggest issue we’ve had was during Saloon Tycoon when I had the fool’s gold and burlap sacks made independent of the company making the game. Everything went fine but I had to send those things over to our EU fulfillment center. Well they went all the way to France and sat there.
Our former partners Ideaspatcher were unsuccessful at getting the product from customs for some reason that still baffles me (though I think it might have to do with the fact that they were outsourcing). They said the address was wrong and didn’t match the company. When it got back to me I looked and everything was correct (I was thankful they made it back but you can imagine how much time passed). I bent over backwards to try to keep them in France and get them to Ideaspatcher but ultimately to no avail.
All this was around the same time you were fulfilling Scythe and like you and others, we were having some real challenges with Ideaspatcher around then. So we ended up shipping them over to Happy Shops in Germany who did a wonderful job so ultimately we just lost out on time, and the extra shipping it took to get it back over there. So I think the lesson here for me is to try to avoid doing extras and rewards that can’t be done and sent by your game manufacturer. There are so many challenges and headaches trying to do things separately.
Quartermaster Logistics fulfilled your latest project, Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave. How did they meet your needs in turns of ease of use, communication, customer service, speed, packaging quality, and pricing?
So I don’t make any secret about my adoration for Quartermaster and what they have been able to do for us. After this project they have solidified me as a customer assuming they can continue to deliver the same or better service as they have for this first project. Right now, I have little doubts that they will. Before I go into answering your criteria questions, let me tell you about how I got hooked up with Quartermaster…
So I NEVER answer or respond to cold call emails or messages and, as I am sure you know, they are junk 99.9% of the time. But when I got an email from Seth, the Director of Quartermaster, and scanned it I saw that they were affiliated with Cool Stuff, Inc. They’re a very well known online retailer of board and hobby games and myself and my friends order games from them all the time. They do a ton of volume so I know they know logistics. And it just so happened that some things had developed with Fulfillrite that I wasn’t thrilled about (mostly rising prices, fees, etc.) and we were looking for a new fulfillment center in the USA to work with. So I decided I would hear what Seth had to say.
Right from the start his communication in both quality and clarity was excellent. I liked what I was hearing! We decided to give them a shot! And not only that, they coordinated with OTHER reputable fulfillment centers around the world like, Gamesquest in the UK, Aetherworks in Australia, and Coyote in Asia. These were all companies we were looking at using anyway, so this was fantastic for me to hear. I would have a single point of contact with Quartermaster, and they would handle everything else with the partners. It all sounded amazing… so how was it?
Ease of Use: Quartermaster is really easy to work with and they set clear expectations up front about what to expect. They do however have a few areas to improve here. For one, I had to prepare the shipping files differently for each fulfillment center as some liked multiple line orders and some liked one line orders with quantities by sku. Our files from our pledge manager are exported as multi-line orders so that meant I had to do some massaging of the data to get everything right. I have shared this feedback and from what I understand the team is already working on a solution for this. Secondly, I like to be able to drop ship from our fulfillment center and got used to that with Fulfillrite. With Quartermaster I am able to do this but it is a bit less robust and is driven primarily using a google form. This is a secondary function though that doesn’t impact KS fulfillment, but I think it is worth mentioning as you will be left with product after the KS delivery is completed.
Communication: Oh how does Quartermaster shine here! Top rating. Seth is usually responding to me within minutes during business hours and nearly always within 24 business hours worst case. And he is just a phone call away if I need to get a hold of him. Not only that, there are other members of his team I can get in touch with if need be, I can interact directly with the other fulfillment centers if need be (but I usually don’t have to!). Really top notch communication and this is one of, if not THE most important things when it comes to KS fulfillment. When backers want updates fast, I am able to get them to them thanks to the great communication from Quartermaster. Oh and here is another bonus, because I know you work with OTX as well… Justin (OTX Logistics) and Seth worked together like they were old friends! I can’t tell you how much stress was taken off my back by these two coordinating everything.
Customer Service: Goes a bit hand in hand with the above, but any customer service issues have been handled quickly and efficiently. The partners are great and Aetherworks in Australia has an incredible reputation with backers there. We are in the midst of the US an EU customer service “part of our program” as rewards have just recently delivered, and some of the Gamesquest packaging seems subpar, but otherwise it’s fine.
Speed: Quartermaster had fully shipped everything within 3 business days of receiving the product. Granted we are one of their first clients so we will see how this goes as they scale the operation, but I am very pleased with how quickly they got our rewards shipped to backers. Because they are in Florida, packages take a little longer getting to the west coast, but that isn’t anything that is Quartermaster’s fault, but something you might want to be aware of.
Packaging Quality: As of now nearly all of our customer service requests are for missing components and virtually none are for damage. Quartermaster sends a picture of each packing configuration that I got to approve prior to beginning fulfillment. All fulfillment companies should do this, it protects them and gives the client peace of mind. As part of CoolStuff who obviously wants to minimize damage as much as possible, I feel like we got the same attention and quality and they treat the games as if they were their own.
Pricing: If your readers skipped down to this one… yeah I caught you ?, you really need to read all of the above because it is important. Anyway, what I will say about the pricing is that I feel it is competitive. I think we end up paying about in-line with what we would have for Fulfillrite and we will have fewer and less ongoing fees. The partner rates are good and I am sure you may be able to save a little bit working with each one directly, but the value (at least to me) of having a single point of contact is worth it in time saved alone, not to mention the extra peace of mind. The good thing is, Seth and team can give you a solid and conservative quote based on your backers’ locations, so you can make an informed decision – and remember it is not only for USA but your worldwide shipping estimate all at the same time.
Would you work with Quartermaster Logistics again? If so, what’s one highlight of their fulfillment service that you’d like them to continue to do, and one element you’d like them to change/improve?
I am planning to continue our relationship with Quartermaster and hope we can grow together. One thing I would definitely like them to continue to do would be to continue to manage worldwide shipping and the various fulfillment centers. That is such a valuable thing to me and it is win-win for all parties involved. The biggest thing I’d like them to change is just the cohesiveness of the files needed and my understanding is they are working on a program or some kind of data mapping macro in excel that will do just that.
Your company sells products through its website. Do you have any insights for other creators about how to continue to facilitate individual order shipping (opposed to mass fulfillment)?
We are definitely still learning in this area and are trying to figure out what works best as far as direct sales go. I think the best advice I can give is to know how you are going to handle the shipping – will you do it yourself, dropship from your fulfillment center, or something else? We like to dropship from our fulfillment center for sales when possible, but usually do customer service items
Is there anything else you’d like to share with your fellow Kickstarter creators about shipping and fulfillment?
I think I would say to always strive to improve your shipping strategy and operations. It is such a critical part of the process and one that if mismanaged can cause huge headaches for you and result in disappointed customers. Also, it is quite easy when customers (especially friendly gamers from overseas) complain about the high cost of shipping to just shrug your shoulders and say sorry, shipping is what it is.
I’ve learned that it is better to use those opportunities to provide other options and suggestions, perhaps get them in touch with a group buyer in their country that you are working with, inform them if distributors in their country carry your game and that they might be able to get it at a later date, and maybe even go above and beyond every once in a while to make someone’s day that really wants your game (remember they wouldn’t be upset about shipping if they weren’t interested in your game!) by providing a little good will or coming up with a special solution – you can’t always do it, but you don’t have to never do it. You may just win a customer for life that way!
AJ, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on shipping, fulfillment, and Quartermaster Logistics! If you have any questions for AJ, feel free to post them in the comments. If you want to learn more about Van Ryder Games, please visit their website.
Also read my other posts about fulfillment.