With an ever changing Australian retail landscape moving increasingly online, order fulfilment has become a key challenge for many retailers.
Current players and new entrants need new entrants need to find a strategy that is flexible enough to support their growth while balancing financial commitments. Investing in warehousing and fulfilment capabilities is not always the best solution.
Australia Retail Association executive director Russell Zimmerman says the good news is retailers wanting to move online or develop an order fulfilment capacity have an option already established and ready to go many may have never considered. There are more than 620 not-for-profit Australia Disability Enterprises (ADEs) across the country that already provide a cohesive network of business resources for retailers.
"As supported employers of Australians with disabilities, their diverse capabilities also include a combination of commercial printing, mailhouse, packaging and assembly services, as well as order fulfilment options," Zimmerman said.
"The size of their network, as well as the comprehensiveness of the services they offer make ADEs attractive business partners worth considering."
Partnerships between ADEs and online and traditional offline retailers abound.
The Tasmanian Association of Disabled Persons Abilities Centre (TADPAC) Print, a Tasmanian-based ADE, is one such example. TAPAC has been working with Corporate Express for many years, including delivering the fulfilment of their online 'Net Express' printing service.
Under the arrangements, TADPAC prints and warehouses business form shells used to fulfil individual client print-orders, providing an economical way to purchase printing and allowing customers the opportunity to control and customise their individual print needs.
Another successful ACE partnership exists between Mailhouse Tasmania and the DVD rental client, Quickflix. Mailhouse Tasmania has provided a quick and efficient dispatch service for almost 30,000 rental DVDs in recent months for Quickflix as well as warehouse facilities.
According to the chief executive of National Disabilities Australia, Ken Baker, these services are not only appropriate for online retailers but are a very good entry point for companies moving into the online arena.
"As well as providing those warehousing solution and online fulfilment capabilities, I'd urge Australian retailers to view partnerships with ADEs as strategically advantageous. ADEs will be able to identify specific delivery solutions tailored to the businesses' needs."
The partnership STAEDTLER and Packforce is a good example of an ADE providing a wider ongoing solution. When the decision was made to close STAEDTLER's Australian production facility after 40 years, it needed to outsource a considerable volume of blister card work and other specialised packaging projects.
STAEDTLER chose Sydney-based ADE, Packforce, to take over its packaging requirements because it saw Packforce as a reliable and efficient local operation. The transition from in-house manufacturing to the Packforce operation was seamless in the eyes of customers, due in part to a dedicated focus from the Packforce team to maintaining high levels of quality.
Engaging an ADE for non-core functions often makes more than just good commercial sense. Businesses will benefit from the positive social impact and know they contributed to providing gainful employment for Australians with disabilities.
"A positive flow-on effect is the ongoing building of skills and capabilities for many of their staff. ADEs provide a wide range of work and training options for their supported employees including accredited courses and traineeships. This enables ADEs and their associated agencies to help many businesses directly employ people with disabilities," Baker said.
Organisations like Sydney Employment Development Service (SEDS) assist people with a disability to obtain and maintain mainstream employment.
Ongoing placement support is available for employers as well as employees, including training, access to government incentives and facilitated workplace modifications where required.
"There are many benefits from employing an individual with a disability, not least of all helping create understanding and engagement with the wider community.
"It may come as a surprise to many, but in fact 1 in 5 Australians has some form of disability … and this figure no doubt includes some of your clients or customers and their immediate families."
Governments are also displaying a greater engagement with the ADE sector. A recent initiative announced each principal NSW government department must have one procurement contract with a registered disability employer.
"We hope business chooses to follow and surpass the government's lead by actively seeking ongoing partnerships with the ADE sector."