There’s a funny sequence in an old I Love Lucy episode that ends with Lucy and Ethel on roller skates, loaded down with jars of “Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing.” Their idea had been to “skate down” their shipping costs by hand delivering the product to their customers. As absurd and funny as the idea was, it highlighted a very real problem — the cost of overhead often shaves off a company’s profit margins, and finding ways to reduce that overhead can make or break a business.
Here are some suggestions for cutting your shipping expenses (while still offering your customers excellent service) by using all of your business’s available resources:
- Organize a shipping routine. Map out each of the steps you currently take when shipping products to your customers. Be sure to include the supplies — boxes, mailing labels, tape — you use to complete each step. Once you’ve finished, look for steps that you can eliminate. The idea here is to work toward making the shipping process more economically efficient. Once you’ve streamlined the process to your satisfaction, create an operations manual that outlines the steps for your employees who handle shipping. In addition to having an outline of all your steps, you’ll also have a complete list of your shipping supplies.
- Keep a running total.Next to each supply, write an estimate of what you use, how much of it you use, and how much it costs, both monthly and annually. This process gives you an overview of your expenses in terms of your various shipping supplies. Be sure to check out How to Prepare, Track, and Manage Your Small Business Shipments Online for some good advice.
- Shop sales and buy in bulk. One of the most basic ways to cut shipping expenses is to shop sales and buy in bulk. Now that you know what you’re using and how much of it, you can check discount office supply stores and inquire about wholesale or business rates. Every savings, no matter how small, adds up in the long run. You can sometimes get discounted or even free shipping supplies from the company you use for shipping. For example, both UPS and FedEx offer free packaging and labels to businesses that use their services. The U.S. Postal Service also offers some shipping supplies at no charge, depending on how you ship. Free supplies include priority mail flat-rate boxes, express mail envelopes, and a variety of forms and labels.
- Recycle. Another great way to save on shipping costs is to recycle your supplies. Some of the items you can reuse include boxes; padded envelopes (particularly the large ones); bubble wrap; Styrofoam packing peanuts; cardboard mailing tubes; and CD and DVD mailers. Recycling requires that you save shipping items until you reuse them. Boxes store best by breaking them down and stacking them flat. Garbage bags are an excellent way for storing packing material, such as packing peanuts. Shredded paper also works well as a packing material. Recycling is great, but don’t get carried away with it. The idea is to cut expenses without cutting your level of service.
- Print it yourself. Another great idea for saving money on shipping supplies is to print things like mailing labels yourself instead of outsourcing the job to a professional printer. Printing can be costly, and writing labels out by hand is both time consuming and unprofessional looking. Computer software and color inkjet printers are available for every application imaginable. You can print the labels right from your mailing list, which will save you both time and money. Also read Outsourcing Your Shipping Needs for some good insight on when it’s better to go that route.
Don’t forget to check out Minimize Your Shipping Expenses for more good advice on this topic.