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Marion business taking care of customers' customers

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Josh Walker stands in the 25,000-square foot warehouse of Pro Prep and Fulfillment in Marion. The company fulfills orders for a variety of e-commerce businesses.

When Josh Walker talks about pleasing his customers, he really means pleasing those customers’ own customers. That is how his Marion company is successful.

After all, if Walker’s business — Pro Prep and Fulfillment — does not properly and quickly process and ship orders to retail locations and consumers, his customers – the companies offering the items for sale – do not succeed either.

“We do not own any of the inventory that we process,” Walker, Pro Prep and Fulfillment’s president, explained. “We service customers that have online businesses.”

In essence, the company serves two types of business: those that want to place items on Amazon by correctly preparing those items for Amazon’s warehouses and those that sell directly to consumers from their own business' websites. 

The 10-employee company works with both individual online retailers – imagine boutique retailers with a website – as well as larger companies with items for sale on Amazon as a third party. Before those items can be distributed by the online retailer, they have to be bagged and labeled according to Amazon’s requirements.

“We have customers from all over the world,” Walker outlined. “A majority of our customers are international sellers so they can’t physically have those goods sent to their location and then sell within the U.S. market. They need a company like ours to physically take those goods, warehouse them and do the direct-to-consumer fulfillment for them.

 “Here’s how I explain it,” Walker said. “If I am a small business owner, selling items out of my home, do I want that product coming into my house or garage? or (do I) go rent a location for it? Or do I want to outsource to a company like us, where they never see the product outside of some samples? It just makes things easier for them.”

Inside the 25,000 square-foot warehouse, racks and shelves are packed with everything from Blu-ray discs and battery-powered heating blankets to hammocks and clothing. In all, there are hundreds of thousands of items. Walker said he wants more.

“We want to continue to capture branded companies,” he said. “Preferably companies that high-volume customer fulfillment needs or those that need some sort of bundling or kitting.”

He explained that kitting is the process of taking multiple components (or stock keeping units) and combining them into a final product that is sent to the customer.

“For instance, with the battery powered blankets, there are many components to that – the blanket, the battery pack, the accessory packs, the bags, the carrying bag and all of the other things that go into the box. We bring all of those together.”

For the process, Pro Prep and Fulfillment team members become a sort of human assembly line.

“All the way down to the end of the line where the final person is sealing things, putting the company’s branding on the box and adding their SKUs and palletizing all of the boxes,” Walker said.

He said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the company’s work was with sellers on Amazon. After a brief stoppage when Amazon focused on healthcare and essential items, things began to take off again, especially in the direct-to-consumer part of the business. Today, fulfillment for direct-to-consumer sellers makes up about 70% of the business.

“We went from doing a handful of consumer orders per day to sometimes as many as 1,000 per day,” he added.

The process is invisible to customers, placing orders for products at home. As they make an online purchase, a copy of the sale immediately goes to Pro Prep and Fulfillment for packing and shipping. Other than this automatic queueing of orders, the rest of the process is done manually.

“As we continue to grow, the next stage will be to automate some of those processes,” Walker said.

Most of that growth will continue to come from word-of-mouth, as it has since the company began. The speed of getting products to buyers is important, too, he said.

“Our location actually helps us with that,” he explained. “Most prep centers are in the coastal regions, but our central location makes lead time to us and to the end customer shorter and typically cheaper. Our location is a huge advantage and it shows in our customer’s reviews.”

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