Blog Inventory Scaling Up: Challenges and priorities of the 3rd business growth stage
14 May, 2024

Scaling Up: Challenges and priorities of the 3rd business growth stage

You’ve gotten your business off the ground and have started to grow. Now what? Every stage of your business brings new challenges and risks that can test the mettle of even the most seasoned entrepreneurs.

In our ongoing series on the stages of business growth, we’ve covered the first two stages:  Beyond Basics and Unifying Operations. Now we’re looking at the Scaling Up stage, where you must balance new complexities from expanding your sales channels to maintaining operational efficiency and improving customer satisfaction. 

This phase also sets the groundwork for sustained success. You need a strategic approach to make sure that your expansion efforts enhance (rather than disrupt) operational efficiency and the customer experience.

What is the Scaling Up stage?

Scaling Up, the third stage of business growth, is where business gets more complex. You focus on a scaling strategy including expanding your operations and increasing your market presence while still ensuring your business remains efficient and customer-focused.

Characteristics of the Scaling Up stage include:

  • Expanding distribution channels
  • Need for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
  • Infrastructure investments
  • Operational complexity

Infographic of the scaling up stage

Challenges of scaling a business

As you scale your business, you’ll run into some challenges. If you don’t handle them well, they could slow down your progress to the next growth phase. Therefore, you need to plan carefully, adopt scalable systems, and be ready to evolve with changing market conditions and customer needs.

The most common challenges small business owners face when scaling their business processes are:

Managing increased complexity

As you scale, the number of processes, systems, and partnerships you manage grows exponentially, which leads to increased complexity in operations. 

You’ve developed a group of systems, including departments like inventory management, production, staffing, payroll, and sales. Each of these most likely has its own multiple software packages that don’t connect well. 

For example, your accounting package might not automatically pull hours from your time clock system, or your warehouse system might not talk to your inventory ordering system. This makes it challenging to maintain the same efficiency and control as a growing business that you had at a smaller scale.

Maintaining customer satisfaction 

As you expand, you’ll encounter new customers with different expectations regarding communication, support, and delivery speed. Consistently meeting these needs requires adaptable customer service strategies. 

Plus, you’ll likely have to beef up your customer service team to keep up with all the extra customer interactions. As a result, you’ll need to allocate more resources to hiring and training new team members, so they have the skill set to handle whatever comes their way.

Integrating new systems

Each new system must mesh seamlessly with your existing operations — whether a warehouse management system (WMS), third-party logistics (3PL) providers, or point of sale (POS) systems. Any disruption can lead to operational delays, increased costs, and customer dissatisfaction.

Investing in infrastructure

To handle increased demand, you might need to invest heavily in infrastructure, such as warehouses, advanced inventory management software, or more robust e-commerce platforms. The initial setup costs, ongoing maintenance, and potentially higher staffing requirements can add up quickly.

Priorities for the Scaling Up stage

The business scaling process requires careful prioritizing so that you can manage your company’s growth while enhancing productivity.

Common areas you need to tackle head-on to prepare your business for long-term success include:

1. Expand your sales channels

Expanding your sales channels allows you to capture a broader audience, which increases your revenue potential and reinforces your brand’s presence across new markets.

Partnering with big box retailers, like Target and Costco, is one of the best ways to expand your sales channels by tapping into their customer base and established market presence.

However, to make this work, you need integrated EDI systems to synchronize data like orders and invoices directly from the retailer. This reduces manual entry errors, streamlines operations, and keeps data flow consistent.

Embracing e-commerce also widens your reach. According to eMarketer, businesses will conduct 20.1% of retail sales online in 2024. Managing your online shop efficiently with e-commerce solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce helps you compete online.

Using online marketplaces can help increase your reach, much like big box partnerships increase in-person reach. You can target niche buyers on specialty sites like Etsy and Newegg or reach global shoppers on major online marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart.

2. Warehouse management and 3PL integration

When scaling up, you must make an important decision: Manage your own warehouse, outsource to a 3PL provider like Fulfillment by Amazon or SOS Logistics, or both. 

Each option has its own benefits, and the right choice depends on your business needs and growth strategy. 

Let’s explore the three options.

Option 1: Warehouse management

Managing your own warehouse gives you complete control over inventory and operations. You directly oversee inventory management, order fulfillment, and shipping processes, helping improve response times when restocking and addressing customer inquiries. In addition, you can tailor warehouse operations, layout, and technology specifically to your business needs.

However, you must hire new employees, invest in warehouse management software (WMS), and manage day-to-day operations. This requires significant time and capital but gives you complete control of internal processes and business strategy.

Option 2: 3PL integration

Using a 3PL provider can be advantageous, particularly if you’re looking for flexibility and expertise in logistics.

3PLs can easily adjust to your company’s fluctuating demand without the need for you to manage physical space or staffing levels, making it easier to scale operations up or down based on seasonal changes or market demands.

You also avoid the capital expenditure often associated with warehousing. You pay for logistics services as you use them, which can help you manage costs more effectively.

Plus, 3PL providers bring specialized knowledge of logistics and a vast network of resources, which can enhance your supply chain efficiency. They often have established relationships with shipping carriers and can negotiate more favorable rates on your behalf.

Option 3: Hybrid approach

Having your own warehouse and partnering with 3PL services offers a blend of control and flexibility. You can keep some inventory in-house for quick access and direct management while using 3PL services for overflow inventory and complex logistics tasks.

This approach is also handy for dealing with seasonal spikes and reaching new target markets where you need an established distribution infrastructure. With a hybrid approach, you can maintain core operations in-house while leveraging 3PL expertise and infrastructure to scale operations efficiently.

Whatever you choose, you’ll need a robust WMS system and/or 3PL integration. You’ll also need a POS system to sell through a brick-and-mortar store. 

Ensuring these systems work together seamlessly without disrupting your existing operations can be challenging. A 2024 Warehouse Management Report by Hopstack found that 85% of experts believe that an integrated WMS is crucial for warehouse growth and efficiency. 

Cin7 provides an integrated solution that combines inventory management, POS, warehouse management, and 3PL services, which is critical for successful scaling and sustainable growth.

3. Enhance the customer experience through operational excellence

Every interaction customers have with your business impacts your brand reputation. Operational excellence ensures these interactions are positive, which builds a strong brand image.

These five best practices can help enhance your processes.

Streamline your supply chain

Ensure every component of your supply chain works efficiently. Use a platform like Cin7 to automate processes, track inventory in real time, and manage orders with precision. 

This reduces manual errors for more accurate shipments to avoid problems like short deliveries and speeds up delivery times so packages aren’t late.

Optimizing your supply chain also helps you adjust to changes in demand without having to increase your staff. This makes it easier to scale up operations during peak seasons or scale down when necessary.

Implement quality control systems

Regular checks and balances throughout your product lifecycle ensure that shoppers receive the best quality products, which minimizes returns and complaints and reinforces your reputation for reliability.

Invest in excellent customer service

A 2024 Consumer Trends Report by Qualtrics shows that customer service support is one of the biggest drivers of customer purchase decisions. That makes it vital to equip your team with the tools they need to respond to customer inquiries and issues quickly and effectively. 

Tools include chatbots, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and customer feedback tools. A responsive and empathetic customer service approach can significantly enhance the overall customer experience. 

Build a customer-centric culture

Embed quality customer service into your company culture and core values and ensure every employee understands this during onboarding. This will help them make better decisions aligned with customer needs across all touchpoints.

Use data to personalize experiences

According to HubSpot’s State of Marketing 2024 Report, 75% of marketers believe personalized experiences boost sales and encourage repeat business. Collect and analyze customer data to understand buying behaviors and preferences. 

That data gives you valuable information to customize your marketing strategies and product recommendations to individual needs.

How Cin7 helps you scale your business

Cin7 is an intelligent commerce platform designed to streamline and integrate all facets of your small business for maximum scalability. At its core, Cin7 excels in inventory management. It provides the tools you need to track stock levels, orders, and sales in real time across multiple channels.

Here’s how Cin7 helps businesses in the Scaling Up stage:

  • Advanced capabilities: With Cin7, you can store, sell, and ship your products efficiently, thanks to WMS, POS, and integrated shipping solutions. You can also add 3PL and EDI integrations that ensure your operations remain interconnected and streamlined as your business grows. 
  • Rapid channel expansion: Cin7 makes it easy to add new sales channels and marketplaces. You can reach shoppers wherever they are with just a few clicks; no need to overhaul your existing systems.
  • Predictable growth: Cin7 offers advanced forecasting tools that predict product demand so you can make better decisions that optimize your supply chain efficiency. By leveraging Cin7’s proven technology, you can expand into new channels and markets without worrying about whether you can handle that growth effectively. 

How Cin7 helped KARRICO scale up their business

When scaling your business to reach international markets, managing inventory and logistics becomes significantly more complex. This was the challenge KARRICO, an Australian storage and organization brand, faced when they wanted to expand into the U.S. market.

Initially, their focus was on product design and development within Australia, a process that didn’t require intensive inventory or logistics management. However, going global meant that KARRICO had to pivot from just designing products to managing a complex system of inventory and logistics.

That meant they needed a robust solution offering:

  • 3PL integrations
  • Compatibility with major e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Shopify
  • Capabilities for seamless automation across operations
  • A system capable of managing a diverse bill of materials and precisely calculating product costs

Cin7 fit the bill perfectly. Cin7 Omni served as a central hub for all of KARRICO’s inventory needs. It managed new 3PL integrations and calculated diverse costs, including freight, customs duties, and tariffs. 

This centralized approach allowed KARRICO to have real-time updates on inventory levels and make informed decisions using accurate business data.

The brand could also update order details directly from Australia and manage branch transfers and workflows even though they were in a different time zone from the U.S. fulfillment centers. This feature was particularly beneficial given the time zone differences. Operations continued smoothly without the need for constant real-time communication.

Scale your business confidently with Cin7

While scaling your business involves expanding operations, you need to plan carefully to avoid compromising product quality or the effectiveness of your systems.

Cin7 can be an invaluable partner as you navigate this crucial phase. 

Our intelligent commerce platform simplifies the complexities of scaling up — whether you’re expanding your sales channels, partnering with major retailers, entering new markets abroad, or enhancing your e-commerce presence. With its advanced capabilities, you can automate processes and manage data flow effectively, improving operational efficiency.

Schedule a free demo today to discover how Cin7 can help scale your business and set a strong foundation for sustained success.

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