While most people store gardening tools in their backyard sheds, Diana Kingree housed a budding online retail business called Smartphone Experts. The 10-foot by 15-foot shed at her Florida home held containers full of cell phone accessories, such as chargers, headsets and screen protectors. The items were imported from China, packaged in the shed and shipped out to customers in the United States and around the world. As orders poured in and Kingree needed more space for products, she didn't move; she simply got another shed.
This scene piqued UPS driver Rich Strittmatter's curiosity as he delivered an increasing number of packages to Kingree's house every morning. "I called it, ‘the land of sheds," he recalls. "They had taken over her entire yard. Clearly, something had to change."
And change it did. Within five years, Smartphone Experts grew from an idea of young entrepreneur Marcus Adolfsson, the company's CEO, into a multi-million dollar business. Its hot-selling products for mobile phones, including TreoTM, iPhone and BlackBerry® brands, aren't the only reasons for Smartphone Experts' success. The company has developed a loyal following of customers through its online communities—such as TreoCentral.com—which offer independent news, unbiased product reviews and discussion forums. These sites funnel visitors into the company's online stores to place their orders.
In the company's early days, Kingree fulfilled every order as it came in, even though she is the company's senior vice president. Originally, this had been done by a third-party fulfillment company, but after it went out of business, Kingree was reluctant to trust another provider again.
When she told this story to Strittmatter, he stepped in to help right away. He contacted account executive Rob Fleischer, who met with her to determine the business' shipping needs and how UPS could help. This formed the basis of a solid partnership that has helped fuel Smartphone Experts' success, Kingree says. Today, the company is ranked as the fastest growing retailer and the 37th fastest-growing company overall on the Inc. 500 list of private companies in America.
"Rich and Rob are part of my team," Kingree says. "They always pick up and deliver right on time, catch any errors, and have even brought us pizza for lunch when we're really busy. Anytime I need them, they are here. They've gone above and beyond the call of duty to show that UPS wants to see us succeed."
Smart Shipping and Technology
To serve demanding customers that include Fortune 500 executives, CIA agents, consumer electronics buffs and country music stars, Smartphone Experts must deliver orders on time. Many of these customers want accessories for the newest products on the market, so it is essential that Smartphone Experts has a seamless process to distribute inbound and outbound goods, along with a reliable shipper that delivers orders on time, every time. This includes inbound shipments from China. Imported products are shipped quickly on UPS's direct flights from China, and UPS customs brokers help make sure there are no delays.
The UPS team immediately coordinated a trailer dedicated to delivering the inbound accessories early each morning. This special early delivery gives the company a head start on the day's orders, and UPS makes a timely, daily pick-up to get orders to customers fast. Since Smartphone Experts turned to UPS to handle all of its shipping, the on-time delivery rate for orders is 99.2 percent—exceeding industry standards.
Finding ways to save time and minimize errors is essential to handling a growing number of orders. Smartphone Experts uses UPS WorldShipTM shipping software in conjunction with its own software to process the order, invoice and shipment information simultaneously. When orders are processed, the shipping label and invoice are printed on one page, saving time and minimizing errors. "It's an all-in-one process," Kingree says. "You don't have to print invoices and labels separately and then fear that you've mixed them up. With a business that moves as quickly as ours does, anywhere you can make things more efficient is critical."
Technology that's user-friendly for customers is especially important for an online retailer. UPS OnLine® tools were integrated into Smartphone Experts' Web site, giving customers the ability to choose the shipping option that best fits their needs. So business travelers who must have a BlackBerry® charger before they leave for a trip can have it delivered UPS Next Day Air®, while those who just want to have an extra battery on hand when they need it can use UPS Ground for less time-sensitive shipping. If any order gets delayed by customs or other circumstances, UPS's shipping notification technology, Quantum View®, sends an e-mail to let Kingree's team know where an order is and when they can expect it to arrive.
A New Place to Call Home
Even as UPS was making Smartphone Experts' shipping much more manageable, one thing still bothered Strittmatter: those sheds in Kingree's backyard. One day while en route, he noticed that a company was moving out of a large office building that he thought would be a perfect location for Smartphone Experts. So he told Kingree, who immediately went to see it. The company moved there within the week.
Today, Strittmatter's picture is on the wall of the company's new office, alongside the 20 staff members of Smartphone Experts. Strittmatter says it's an honor to be part of the team.
"Theirs is a real Cinderella success story," he said. "It's nice to know that by doing your job well, you are helping another business grow and realize their dreams."
Kingree sums up her partnership with UPS succinctly: "We do whatever it takes. So does UPS."
Making Returns Easy
For an online retailer like Smartphone Experts, a reliable returns service is essential. According to a recent poll from Newgistics and Harris Interactive®, 69 percent of online or catalog shoppers said they are unlikely to shop with the same retailer again if its return process is inconvenient. *
"It's important that people feel comfortable that they can shop with us, try the product and return it if they're not completely satisfied," says Diana Kingree, senior vice president of Smartphone Experts.
When customers need a return or exchange, Smartphone Experts uses UPS Returns® services to make sure customers can send back the order quickly. Customers simply contact Smartphone Experts and the company e-mails them a UPS return label they can print out and attach to an envelope or box, and then ship the product back right away. UPS tracking allows Smartphone Experts to keep tabs on the package at all times.
Kingree says that a speedy returns service played an important role in helping the company retain a marquis client. Several years ago, Smartphone Experts shipped a large order to a government agency that needed an exchange. "They were able to return the products easily and we shipped them what they wanted fast."
Returns are equally important for individual customers, Kingree says. "Just knowing that it's easy to return something if they want to makes customers feel good about ordering from us."