Talking Fulfilment with Jeremy Tan
For those who don’t already know, who are Airbox?
Essentially, we warehouse our brands stock and we fulfil their orders. This means that we pick and pack all e-commerce orders (all the orders made online), as well as to wholesale stores. Stores like Selfridges, Topman, ASOS, Harvey Nicks.
How did Airbox Fulfilment start?
It started with me working in freight forwarding and logistics. I did this after finishing my Law Degree and LPC (I wasn’t particularly interested in a legal career) and had worked with brands such as Money Clothing and DKNY. Seeing how the industry and service was run, I noticed that there were a lot that could be improved upon.
Focusing on fashion as a niche industry helped us obtain a few more clients which really sped our progress which enabled us to become an all encompassing fulfilment house. It all began from there.
How did you all (the founders) begin to work together?
Quite simply, I needed help. I needed more hands and brains to aid me and I think that in business, a big part of it is finding people that you can trust. It’s having people that you can assign a job and fully rely on them to deliver, so my first port of call were my school friends, this is where I got Chris and Ben on board with the company. It all began from there.
Are there ever any tensions?
No, surprisingly not! We spend every minute of the day together because we live together as well. So, we live and work together, and we see this as an advantage. Even when we’re not at work working, we are always together talking about work. We are always discussing the business, how we can grow the business. It’s very non-stop for us, it pretty much dominates our lives, but the best part of it is that work never feels like work, it is never tedious because you’re doing it with your best friends.
What is your role in the business?
My role pretty much entails overseeing everyone. It is overseeing every part of the business, I am less physically involved in the details of department, but I am deeply aware of everything that goes on. I make it my job to know exactly what is happening with each of our customers, making sure that everything is running how it should be, focusing on the direction of the company and what our next steps are. It’s a collaborative effort to be honest, all the decisions that are made are discussed beforehand and we are always bouncing ideas off one another.
We have a timeline of what we want to do, we have set targets and a path of what we want to achieve. We see our business as fulfilling the bits in our path to be the number one fulfilment company in the UK. My focus is on finding those checkpoints in the path, we all have ideas, but my focus is on ensuring the checkpoints are met on the path, we will then collaboratively try to achieve this. We get involved in everything, even if my title is managing director, you can still find me in the warehouse picking away.
How can you make fulfilment exciting for me?
This is probably the biggest problem we encounter when talking to brands about fulfilment, especially newer brands who may not necessarily see the value to begin with. We are dealing with a creative industry where our clients are mainly focused on the creative side of things, they are all about the front-end of the business, they don’t always see the value in the back-end. What we try to do is let them know how valuable our service can be to them.
In terms of making it exciting, we can see how improving the back-end and the backbone of the business has such a direct impact on improving the front-end and the creative side. Although the work itself is not particularly exciting – essentially all we are doing is picking and packing goods, the effect it has on the businesses is the exciting part for our clients. If you are my client, I would say this for you. Our clients have seen the fruits of what we’ve done for them, and they see the value in what we do.
What makes Airbox different from other fulfilment companies?
We were different from the very beginning. We are different because we come from a different perspective. I studied Law at university, both Chris and Ben studied biomedicine, it wasn’t exactly a natural path for us to go into logistics. We haven’t been tarnished by the way things have always been done, we come from a completely fresh perspective and outlook.
Everything that we do and how we do our work is devised by us. We have come up with, what we feel like, the best way to do things, the most efficient way to do things, the quickest way to do things, the most accurate way to do things. Of course, we learn from what has already been done and practiced, but we always put our little twist on it. What we’ve noticed is that the way we do things is a lot more efficient than the way other things have been done by other companies.
We profile our customers and we like to work with the brands we profile, and once we work with them we feel part of their business, so we integrate a lot more care and attention to how we do things. The better our brands do, there is a sense of pride attached to it, that makes us different as we don’t just treat our clients as customers.
As you grow and expand, how will you ensure that all the brands coming to you will get the same kind of care?
That rests heavily on how we recruit our staff members and how we assign our account managers to our brands. The fact that we are all extremely close as people and have a mutual unity amongst us, reflects throughout the company, we are a family. From the top down, we have an ethos of having a family-type environment, everyone that works with us embodies how we approach our clients, our work and we wouldn’t take anyone on unless they approach their work this way.
Even as we grow and I will no longer be needed in the warehouse picking orders, like I sometimes do now, I would expect all of the staff members to follow in the same vain. All of our account managers have the same idea, as we believe this is fundamental to the success of the company now, our growth and to ensure that this growth is sustainable over a period of time, it’s very important to us that this service level remains the same, otherwise we’re not going to improve.
What’s the biggest risk factor?
Our risk is the survival of our clients, and the lifecycle of brands. Nothing lasts forever, fashion in particular is very cyclical, what’s hot now, may not be hot in five years’ time.
This is why we take it upon our success to ensure that they don’t, we will always give suggestions on how to do things to market themselves better, so we’re not just a fulfilment house in this sense, we are, you know, trying to promote ways in which you can improve your business as a whole. We will never be imposing with our ideas, but we will never be shy to give our ideas.
What’s your plan for the next 12 months?
It’s hard to say where we’ll be in 12 months though as our rate of growth is much faster than we thought, so, we moved to this premise a year ago and when we moved in, we saw this space and we thought it was a really big space, we thought, how are we going to fill it? We didn’t realise that we’d fill it up so quickly, one year down the line, we have the same issue where we’re basically at capacity. In the next 12 months we are going to have to think about the next premise we’re going to move into.
A more abstract thing that I want to achieve in the next year is that I want people to know who we are in the industry. The thing is, the industry is pretty close knit, everyone sort of knows everyone. We want people to know who we are and our competitors in the industry to know who we are and to be weary of us in some ways. I want them to be aware of our presence. A year down the line I want the bigger and main competitors to know about us and be like, that’s Airbox, they do this brand and that brand.
We want brands to know that Airbox is the company to go to for fulfilment. That’s what I want.
What does success look like for Airbox?
To be the number one fulfilment company in the country and have the reputation as being the guys that do an amazing job. I want people to say – If you’re a brand who wants to grow and have the best platform for success, joining Airbox would be the best decision you could make.