What Scaling your Book Business looks like for your Warehouse

We have recently gotten several clients breaking the 25+ books per day barrier recently, and several who’d been doing it for a while, scaling up to 50+ per day.

So, it seems germane to provide some tips and best practices for what changes when you get to that level.

First of all, 50 books is a lot of books. If you haven’t prepped your own books before, then it’s hard to visualize.

Right sized shipment

This is about 200lb worth of inventory, and it’s a lot of work to stow and unstow them, multiplied across 10-20 shipments per day. Yes– we receive, sort, inspect and ship multiple tons of books per day.

Plus, since we like to keep shipments in the 40-60 book range, a 25/day bookseller needs to be shipped 3x per week, and a 50/day bookseller needs to be shipped daily.



Here’s what has to happen at 25/day:

You review check-ins religiously and immediately process any necessary returns or disposals.

Practically speaking, this means that you don’t have a lot of red lines hanging around, because you’ve aggressively sought refunds or partial reimbursements rather than trying to wrestle prepaid return labels out of your vendors. It also generally means you’re less nitpicky about conditions.

Most of our scaling sellers have either weeded out the majority of UA vendors, or they reduce drag by shipping everything that’s shippable and simply focusing on the next buy.

Ideally, we list for you and you authorize us to ship at our discretion.

Less ideally, you list immediately after close of business, and we have a shipment trigger waiting in the inbox the morning, before the new incoming books arrive and bury the books on their way out. This is an extremely tight window for most self-listers who are doing this part-time.

However, a 40-60 book shipment takes 30 minutes for us to retrieve from the stacks, stage, label and box.

A 100+ book shipment takes upwards of 2 hours, between the additional labeling friction, the greater amount of material to move, the more space it needs to spread out on.

That’s 50+% decrease in efficiency.

For people who are slow in booking shipments, we are often slow in getting them out, since we need to wait until late in the day when the mail sorting tables are free in order to have enough room to process the shipment. It is critical for the efficiency of our operations to have reasonable-sized shipments as the complexity and time increases exponentially with size.

Each shipment gets a gold star.

If you’ve never gotten a gold star, this is what happens when you’ve cleared out EVERY book at our location. (You get an email to commemorate.) Gold stars are important because it means that we don’t have a lot of deadweight inventory to haul out with every shipment and then stow away again after the shipment because of unprocessed returns.

I will say that at this point in the seller lifecycle we no longer deal with much gated inventory or unexpected inventory (except for automated Amazon removals), but there does seem to be a blind spot in some sellers where they got a refund but they didn’t actually tell us to dispose of the inventory. Self-listers can also be a problem when they lose track of what has been shipped and not shipped and they don’t clear their spreadsheet after each shipment.

Generally speaking you can send a returns ticket for each item as you see it and process it, or you can batch it and send it at the same time (but in a separate email) with your shipment trigger. Having the labels ready to go at the same time as your inventory is pulled out for shipment saves us time peering through the piles in the stacks. This is also why many of you smaller sellers will have seen us take a week to process returns tickets. Unless you have barely any stock here, we simply set aside the work until we have a shipment to process at the same time, so as not to duplicate labor.

All this is necessary for us to process your 150+ books per week and get them out of here and into Amazon in the most efficient manner possible.

Here’s what has to happen at 50+/day:

At 50 books a day, we’re shipping DAILY. If you’re getting close to this volume AND you routinely leave us with 100+ item shipments, you’re not our favorite customer. You probably have your own designated shelf and you get increasingly desperate emails to PLEASE let us ship for you because we know the process is going to suck more and more the longer it takes for you to trigger a shipment. Don’t be that guy.

In an ideal world, the mail gets here at 9:30, we’re sorted by 10:30, your stuff is checked in by 2pm, then your shipment gets created, and if Amazon uploads in a timely manner, your inventory is stickered and boxed before the 4:45 UPS pickup, or, worst case, before checkins start the next day.

At 50+ items, there is no point in wasting effort to stow the inventory for a few short hours. So, we give you a designated worktable. Your inventory is checked in there and left in situ for the shipment builders later in the day. At the end of the day, the table is empty and ready for tomorrow’s checkins.

In order for this happy, orderly existence to occur:

You must trust our grading implicitly.

Again, this is not usually something we see a lot at this point in the seller lifecycle, but emails like “Why did you grade this book UA? The seller said it was UVG!” is just going to grind production to a halt. It is what it is. Get a refund, black list the seller, do whatever you feel but don’t waste the effort in a bunch of back and forth emails. Just move onto the next buy.

You let us list and ship at our discretion.

There are only so many shipments we can get through building before checkins start at 10:30, so it would really be best if we could get that shipment processed the day before. But we do have some limited scope for self-listers, provided they are extremely punctual.

And if the mail delivery is light and what you have is not worth shipping? We’ll skip that day, no problem. Shipping at our discretion helps us smooth out our work volume as well, as it’s quite common for all the weekly or biweekly customers to put in their shipment requests on the weekend, which makes Monday and Tuesday extremely heavy days for us. (We generally have double the inbound mail volume on Monday as well)

The bigger you get, the more autonomy you give us.

This might be a little counter-intuitive, but we’ve found that our larger sellers have other things to worry about than what is going on at the warehouse. They aren’t here, they can’t see the merchandise, in general they are no longer involved at the daily operational level –most of the time they are THRILLED to let us recommend and carry out a course of action.

This is because every pause in production to get approval from someone who’s not on location affects the pipeline of merchandise heading into Amazon. A smooth supply chain smooths out sales peaks and troughs as well, or at least it removes confounding factors.

Plus at this point they have been building their team, and the ultimate goal of every leader is to have subordinates that can think for themselves and problem solve. Even though we’re contract service providers, we are the subject matter experts. So they are very happy to let us just handle this whole aspect of their business. In such cases we’re generally only in touch to suggest the odd process improvement, or if it looks like one of your VAs might be struggling.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Most people seem to realize that their buying behaviors, their repricing systems, and their admin routines all need to change in order to reach the next level of success in their business.

At CVAP, we see a large part of our role as hand-holding newbie sellers as they learn the ropes on Amazon and whether bookselling is the sort of business that they want to run.

However, just as important is showing you the prerequisites for scale, and especially the things that we require in order to be the most efficient and scalable ourselves.

After all, if you want to increase your business to high 6 figures or more, and still have the prep fees be affordable, WE have to run like a pit crew at the Indy 500.

3 Responses

  1. I will do my best to be on the pit crew with you. Thanks for keeping the engines running !!

  2. Anything I can do to make your process smoother with my inventory and shipping pattern, let me know. I’m still small potatoes but plan to scale and I want the satisfaction of knowing that my contribution to my team at CVAP is a winning combination for both of us. I invite you to review my patterns over time and let me know how I can improve.

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