DTC Dive #6: Scaling in-house logistics with Nathanael Ziegler, apfelband

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Nathanael Ziegler, the founder of apfelband, a company known for its stylish Apple Watch bands. In this exclusive interview, Nathanael delves deep into the logistical challenges and triumphs of running an e-commerce business.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Nathanael Ziegler, the founder of apfelband, a company known for its stylish Apple Watch bands. 

In this exclusive interview, Nathanael delves deep into the logistical challenges and triumphs of running an e-commerce business. He offers a candid look at his journey from starting as a solo entrepreneur in 2020 to managing a bustling team and a growing inventory by 2021. Nathanael's insights are particularly valuable for anyone grappling with the decision between in-house logistics and outsourcing, a dilemma many growing e-commerce businesses face.

He shares his experiences, mistakes, and learning curves, providing a unique perspective on what it takes to handle logistics efficiently. His story is a testament to the evolving nature of e-commerce and the importance of adaptable logistics strategies. Whether you're a budding entrepreneur, a seasoned business owner, or simply curious about the behind-the-scenes of an e-commerce operation, this interview is a must-read.

Join us as we explore the world of e-commerce logistics with Nathanael Ziegler and discover the critical decisions that can shape the success of an online business. Let's dive in!

Scaling DTC In-House Logistics and Fulfillment

Sascha Krist, E-Commerce expert: Hello everyone, welcome to a new episode of D2C. Today, we're joined by Nathanael Ziegler, founder of apfelband. Hi Nathanael, thanks for accepting our invitation.

Nathanael Ziegler, apfelband founder: Hi, thank you for having me.

Sascha: For those who aren't familiar with you yet, could you share who you are at apfelband and what your business is about?

Nathanael: Sure. At apfelband, we specialize in selling bands for the Apple Watch. We started our journey in 2020, and initially, I was handling everything alone. Since 2021, we've been managing all our shipments from our own warehouse located in Rheinzabern, between Mannheim and Karlsruhe. We have grown to a team of 20 members at apfelband.

Sascha: That's quite impressive! Today we want to shift our focus from the usual marketing and sales to discuss logistics and fulfillment, a topic often overlooked. To start with, could you share your perspective on in-house logistics versus outsourcing?

Nathanael: Absolutely. The choice between in-house logistics and outsourcing really depends on various factors. I personally favor in-house logistics due to the specific nature of our product and my own background. However, I am not against outsourcing. If someone has compelling reasons to outsource, it's entirely justifiable.

Sascha: Interesting choice. Can you elaborate on why you opted for in-house logistics and your experience with it?

Nathanael: Certainly. In 2020, apfelband started as a dropshipping store, which is essentially the extreme form of outsourced logistics. However, in 2021, I wanted to bring our inventory to Germany. We established a fulfillment center here, but unfortunately, the center didn't meet our expectations. They failed significantly, which negatively impacted our brand. Faced with the decision of finding another fulfiller or handling it ourselves, I chose the latter. Despite many people telling me it was impossible, we managed it successfully, and I don't regret that decision at all.

Sascha: How did you start setting up your logistics framework?

Nathanael: We began by renting a warehouse of about 250 square meters, an adequate size for our initial needs. This space also included an office. We've utilized our storage space efficiently, storing about 200,000 bands. Our logistics team comprises 10 members, capable of handling around 1000 to 1500 packages daily.

Sascha: With the busy season approaching, how is your current setup coping?

Nathanael: We are currently operating at 200% capacity. We've resorted to placing containers and using additional space from a neighboring vacant hall for storage. We're in the process of moving to a new location, which will offer a warehouse 10 times larger and a significantly bigger office space.

Sascha: What advice would you give to emerging brands concerning logistics?

Nathanael: It really depends on your starting point. If you're initially packing orders from home, you gain some practical experience in logistics. If you find that you enjoy this process and prefer having control, then moving to a rented warehouse and managing logistics yourself is a good step. However, if this process feels overwhelming and you would rather focus on areas like marketing, then outsourcing would be the preferable route.

Sascha: How did you approach recruitment for your logistics team?

Nathanael: Initially, I hired a full-time employee to assist with packing and managing the warehouse. As our needs expanded, we hired more staff, including a logistics manager. It's crucial to have a dedicated, full-time team from the start.

Sascha: Now, let's talk about your podcast, apfelbox. What prompted you to start it?

Nathanael: The apfelbox podcast is an extension of our goal to establish ourselves as experts in e-commerce. While it offers insights for our direct customers, it's also aimed at other businesses and entrepreneurs. We discuss various aspects of running an e-commerce business, sharing experiences and insights. It's about creating a knowledge-sharing platform within the industry.

Sascha: Thank you, Nathanael, for sharing these insights. Any closing thoughts?

Nathanael: If you have a passion for logistics and are considering managing it yourself, I highly recommend giving it a try. It allows for great flexibility and control. And if anyone has questions or needs advice on e-commerce logistics, we at apfelband are more than happy to help.

Sascha: Thanks for joining us today, Nathanael. It's been an enlightening discussion.

Nathanael: My pleasure. 


The Crucial Role of Logistics in the Success of D2Cs

For most DTC businesses, logistics is not just a supporting function but a critical driver of success. The efficiency and effectiveness of a D2C company's logistics operations can significantly impact its customer satisfaction, brand reputation, and overall profitability. Here's why logistics is such a vital component in the D2C model:

Customer Experience: In a D2C setup, the end-to-end customer experience is paramount. Logistics plays a key role in this, as it directly influences the speed and accuracy of order fulfillment. Timely delivery and the condition in which products arrive significantly affect customer satisfaction and loyalty. A positive experience can lead to repeat purchases and word-of-mouth referrals, which are invaluable for D2C brands.

Brand Perception: Logistics is a tangible touchpoint between the brand and the customer. Efficient logistics operations can enhance brand perception by ensuring products are delivered in perfect condition, with attractive and sustainable packaging. This attention to detail in the delivery process can elevate a brand in the eyes of consumers.

Cost Management: Efficient logistics can be a game-changer in controlling operational costs. Optimizing supply chain processes, reducing shipping expenses, and minimizing wastage can significantly impact the bottom line. For D2C companies operating on thin margins, effective logistics can be the difference between profit and loss.

Scalability: As a D2C business grows, its logistics operations must scale accordingly. The ability to handle increased order volumes, expand into new markets, and manage a larger inventory is crucial. Companies with robust logistics are better positioned to scale smoothly and meet growing customer demands.

Inventory Management: Effective logistics is key to successful inventory management. It involves forecasting demand accurately, preventing overstocking or stockouts, and managing warehousing efficiently. Good inventory management ensures that products are available when customers want them, without tying up too much capital in unsold stock.

Agility and Responsiveness: The D2C model often requires a business to be agile and responsive to market changes and customer preferences. A well-structured logistics operation allows for quick adaptation, whether it’s introducing new products, changing suppliers, or responding to seasonal demand fluctuations.

Data Insights: Logistics operations generate valuable data that can provide insights into customer behavior, product popularity, and potential logistical bottlenecks. Analyzing this data can lead to informed decisions that improve customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Sustainability: In an increasingly environmentally conscious market, logistics plays a key role in a brand’s sustainability efforts. Efficient route planning, eco-friendly packaging, and waste reduction in the supply chain can significantly reduce a company’s environmental footprint, appealing to eco-conscious consumers.

Risk Management: Effective logistics also involves risk management dealing with transportation risks, supply chain disruptions, and fluctuating customer demands. Proactively managing these risks ensures business continuity and consistent customer service.

Why D2C Brands Might Opt for In-House Logistics Over Outsourcing

D2C brands often face the critical decision of choosing between in-house logistics and third-party fulfillment. Opting for in-house logistics involves managing the storage, packing, and shipping of products internally, rather than outsourcing these tasks to a specialized fulfillment service. There are several reasons why a D2C brand might choose in-house logistics:

Control Over the Process: In-house logistics allows for complete control over the entire supply chain process. This control can be crucial for maintaining the quality of packaging, ensuring the accuracy of orders, and tailoring the delivery experience to the brand's standards.

Customization and Branding: Handling logistics internally gives brands greater freedom in customizing packaging and inserts, thereby enhancing the brand experience for the customer. This can be vital for building brand identity and customer loyalty.

Cost Savings: For some businesses, especially smaller ones or those with a manageable volume of orders, in-house logistics can be more cost-effective than outsourcing. It eliminates the need to pay third-party fees, which can be significant, especially for high-volume businesses.

Faster Response to Issues: In-house management means that any issues with orders can be addressed and resolved more quickly, as there is no need to go through a third party. This can lead to improved customer service.

Flexibility and Adaptability: In-house logistics provides the flexibility to adapt processes and strategies quickly in response to changing business needs, market trends, or customer demands.

Data and Insight Control: By managing logistics internally, a company retains full access to and control over its data, including customer information, shipping analytics, and inventory levels. This data can be crucial for strategic planning and improving operational efficiencies.

Inventory Management: In-house logistics allows for more hands-on inventory management, which can lead to a better understanding of stock levels, turnover rates, and product demand.

Reduced Transit Times: For some businesses, keeping logistics in-house means they can ship products more quickly to their customers, especially if they are located in a region close to their primary customer base.

Niche Product Handling: Some D2C brands deal with products that require special handling, storage, or packaging that might be better managed in-house to ensure the product's integrity.

Learning Opportunity: For new or growing businesses, handling logistics in-house can provide valuable learning opportunities about the logistical aspects of the business, which can be crucial for long-term strategic planning and decision-making.

However, it's important to note that in-house logistics also comes with its own set of challenges, such as the need for sufficient space, investment in logistics infrastructure, and the requirement for skilled personnel to manage the operations effectively. The decision between in-house logistics and outsourcing should be made after carefully considering the specific needs, resources, and goals of the business.


Reverse Logistics and Returns Management in Direct-to-Consumer Businesses

One aspect that often gets overlooked yet plays a crucial role in customer satisfaction and operational efficiency is reverse logistics and returns management. How a D2C company handles returns can significantly impact its reputation and bottom line.

The Importance of a Smooth Return Process

Returns are an inevitable part of the online shopping experience. Studies have shown that a straightforward and hassle-free return policy can enhance customer trust and loyalty. When customers know that returns are easy, they are more likely to make a purchase, thereby increasing sales. On the flip side, a complicated returns process can deter potential customers and lead to negative reviews.

Managing Reverse Logistics Cost-Effectively

Cost management in reverse logistics is vital. Returns can be expensive, eating into profit margins. Effective strategies can minimize these costs:

  • Streamlined Returns Process: Simplifying the returns process can reduce the handling and administrative costs. Automated return portals where customers can fill in the reason for return and print their shipping labels can make the process more efficient.
  • Quality Control and Packaging: By ensuring products are of high quality and well-packaged, companies can reduce the likelihood of returns due to damage or customer dissatisfaction.
  • Restocking and Resale Strategies: Having a plan for returned goods is essential. Some items can be restocked, while others might be sold at a discount or recycled.
  • Analyzing Return Data: Understanding why customers return items can help in reducing future returns. Analyzing this data can lead to product improvements, better sizing guides, or more accurate product descriptions.

Sustainability in Returns

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in reverse logistics. Environmentally conscious consumers expect eco-friendly practices, even in returns. Initiatives like reusable packaging, local drop-off points for returns, and consolidating return shipments can reduce the carbon footprint.

Leveraging Technology for Efficient Returns

Technology plays a significant role in streamlining the returns process. For instance, QR codes for hassle-free returns, real-time tracking of returned items, and automated systems for processing refunds can enhance the efficiency of reverse logistics.

Navigating Peak Seasons and Sales Surges in D2C Logistics

Peak seasons and sales surges represent both opportunities and challenges for DTC brands. These periods, often marked by significant increases in order volume, require a strategic approach to logistics to ensure customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. Here, we delve into key strategies for D2C brands to effectively manage logistics during these critical times.

Strategies for Managing Inventory Preparation

  • Accurate Demand Forecasting: Utilize historical sales data, market trends, and predictive analytics to forecast demand accurately. This helps in planning the right inventory levels to meet customer demand without overstocking.
  • Advance Stocking: Based on the forecast, stock up on popular items well in advance. This ensures that you have enough inventory to meet the surge in orders.
  • Supplier Communication: Maintain open communication with suppliers to ensure they are aware of your peak season needs and can accommodate your inventory requirements.

Staffing for Peak Season

  • Hiring Temporary Staff: Consider hiring temporary workers to handle the increased workload during peak seasons. Ensure they are trained well in advance to maintain efficiency.
  • Cross-Training Employees: Cross-train your existing staff so they can handle multiple roles during peak times. This flexibility can be crucial in managing unexpected spikes in order volume.
  • Employee Incentives: Implement incentives for staff to encourage productivity and morale during these busy periods.

Maintaining Delivery Quality Under Increased Demand

  • Robust Fulfillment Processes: Streamline your fulfillment processes to handle increased order volumes efficiently. This may include optimizing warehouse layouts, using automation tools, and implementing efficient picking and packing methods.
  • Reliable Shipping Partners: Partner with reliable carriers who can handle increased volumes and provide timely and accurate delivery. Have backup carriers in case of any service disruptions.
  • Clear Communication with Customers: Keep customers informed about potential delays in shipping and delivery times during peak seasons. Transparency in communication can help manage customer expectations and reduce dissatisfaction.

Planning for Returns and Exchanges

  • Streamlined Returns Process: Anticipate an increase in returns and exchanges during peak seasons and ensure that your returns process is efficient and customer-friendly.
  • Dedicated Returns Team: Consider having a dedicated team to handle returns and exchanges during peak seasons to ensure quick processing.

Navigating the Complexities of D2C Logistics

Logistics emerges not just as a function of supply chain management but as a cornerstone of business strategy and customer satisfaction. Through our in-depth discussion and insights from industry experts like Nathanael Ziegler, it's clear that mastering logistics is pivotal for the success and growth of any D2C brand.

The key takeaway is the importance of a holistic approach to logistics management. This includes not only ensuring efficient in-house operations and handling peak season demands but also prioritizing the customer experience through transparent communication and effective tracking systems. Furthermore, the strategic handling of reverse logistics and returns, coupled with the leveraging of technology, plays a critical role in enhancing customer trust and building a loyal customer base.

As D2C businesses continue to flourish in the online marketplace, the need for agile, efficient, and customer-centric logistics solutions becomes increasingly significant. By embracing these strategies and continually adapting to the changing market demands and technological advancements, D2C brands can not only meet but exceed customer expectations, setting themselves apart in a competitive landscape.

In conclusion, whether a D2C brand chooses to manage logistics in-house or through third-party partnerships, the focus should always be on delivering quality, maintaining efficiency, and ensuring a seamless customer experience. As we have seen, the brands that excel in these areas are the ones that not only survive the challenges of logistics management but thrive and grow in the dynamic world of D2C commerce.

Unlock Your DTC Brand's Full Potential with Admetrics

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Admetrics Data Studio offers several key benefits for DTC brands, making it a valuable tool in the realm of digital marketing and advertising:

Comprehensive Marketing Data Warehouse and Attribution: It serves as a powerful marketing data warehouse specifically built for DTC brands, helping to scale omnichannel advertising strategies by integrating enriched first-party order data with advanced machine-learning models​​.

Unified Reporting Across All Traffic Sources: Admetrics provides a single source of truth for unified reporting across paid and non-paid traffic sources, aiding in more informed decision-making​​.

Customer Journey Insights: The platform offers privacy-compliant tracking of customer journeys across different channels and devices, allowing DTC brands to gain a deeper understanding of customer behavior and preferences​​.

Accelerated Decision-Making: With machine-learning-powered statistical analysis, Admetrics accelerates decision-making processes for marketing strategies​​.

Multi-Touch Attribution: It enables precise attribution of sales to each touchpoint and campaign, ensuring that marketing efforts are accurately credited and assessed​​.

Integration with Major Platforms: Admetrics offers seamless integration with a variety of platforms like Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, GoogleAds, Instagram, and Shopify, enhancing visibility on the best-performing channels​​.

AI-Generated Predictive Audiences: The AI-based features allow for the generation of predictive audiences for more effective remarketing and prospecting, helping DTC brands to reach more customers efficiently​.

Creative Reporting and Management: Admetrics provides tools for previewing and managing the performance of various ad creatives across platforms, including key performance indicators like Click-Through Rate (CTR) and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)​​.

Problem-Solving for Tracking Issues: It addresses and fixes tracking issues, especially in the context of iOS 14+ updates, ensuring GDPR compliance and maximum coverage​​.

Enhanced Ad Efficiency and Experimentation: By allowing first-party data passback to platforms like Google or Meta and featuring an experimentation engine for faster decision-making, Admetrics aids in optimizing ad efficiency and testing campaign effectiveness​​.

These features collectively empower DTC brands to understand and optimize their marketing efforts more accurately and profitably, leading to increased efficiency and effectiveness in their advertising measures​​.


Q&As: Mastering Logistics in D2C Businesses

Q: What are some critical factors D2C businesses need to consider when managing in-house logistics?

Key factors include maintaining control over the entire supply chain process, customizing packaging to enhance brand identity, cost management, and ensuring flexibility and adaptability to meet changing business needs. Efficient inventory management and leveraging data insights are also crucial.

Q: How can D2C brands efficiently handle logistics during peak seasons and sales surges?

Brands should focus on accurate demand forecasting, advance stocking, and effective communication with suppliers. Staffing strategies such as hiring temporary workers and cross-training employees are vital, along with maintaining robust fulfillment processes and reliable shipping partnerships.

Q: The importance of customer experience in logistics. How do D2C brands ensure this?

D2C brands should provide clear and consistent communication throughout the order process, including confirmation, updates, and tracking information. Efficient handling of returns and ensuring products are delivered in excellent condition are also key aspects of enhancing customer experience.

Q4: What role does technology play in D2C logistics, as per the expert opinions?

A4: Technology is pivotal for streamlining processes, such as through automated communication systems, AI and chatbots for customer service, and advanced tracking systems for real-time order visibility. It also aids in accurate inventory management and efficient order processing.

Q5: What strategies should D2C companies adopt for effective inventory management during peak periods?

A5: Companies should utilize predictive analytics for demand forecasting, stock popular items well in advance, and keep open communication with suppliers. Employing inventory management systems to track stock levels in real time is also essential.

Q: How crucial is it for a D2C brand to handle reverse logistics and returns?

Managing reverse logistics and returns is extremely important. A smooth return process can significantly enhance customer trust and loyalty. Brands should focus on streamlining the returns process, managing costs effectively, and incorporating sustainability practices.

Q: Given the rise in online shopping, how important is it for D2C brands to maintain delivery quality under increased demand?

Maintaining delivery quality is crucial. This involves streamlining fulfillment processes, partnering with reliable carriers, and communicating transparently with customers about potential delays. These steps help manage customer expectations and maintain brand reputation.

Q: How can D2C brands use data insights to improve their logistics operations?

Data insights can inform various aspects of logistics, such as customer behavior, product popularity, and potential logistical bottlenecks. Analyzing this data can lead to improved operational efficiencies and better decision-making in inventory management and customer service strategies.