Step 1: Launch Your Online Store!

Congratulations on making it to the last day!

If you’re cheating and have skipped ahead, go back…a lot of this won’t make sense unless you’ve completed previous days.

So, by now you have an online storefront that is ready to launch, your shipping materials should be delivered, and you’re ready to start shipping your product!

Today is going to summarize some of the things we’ve learned, offer some additional tips on what to do next, and of course cover the process of actually shipping your product. From Days 2-4 we were talking a lot about Shopify and setting up your store, now we’re going to get back to the “on the ground” aspect of actually shipping a product.

First, pick which days you’re going to ship on. We only ship on Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays. You might be able to ship on a Wednesday if you are doing just 1 day shipping, but the closer you get to a weekend the more risk of having a box sit for two days extra and thawing.

So now let’s go through how we ship a box at Alderspring, and how we recommend you do it if you don’t have a shipping warehouse or anything like that yet.

We pack in several stations with several people. You’ll likely be preparing shipments with just one or two of you at first, but here are our steps in brief (and in more detail below).

  1. Prep packing sheet (we call it the “dirty.” It’s our hard copy order sheet that we’ll mark as we pull product, and make any notes or adjustments for the customer or for final billing).
  2. Tray pack orders.
  3. Check orders.
  4. Pack orders in our insulated shipping box.
  5. Ice orders.
  6. Prepare shipping label (based on actual weight) and any materials we want to include for the customer.

An Inside Look at Our Shipping Process

  • 1. Print orders. The first step in our process is, of course, to print all the new orders. These are the packing slips that you’ll be printing, not the nice order sheet you’ll be putting in the customer’s box (that covered later). We went through Order Printer on Shopify a little bit in yesterday’s video. But if you need a refresher, go to your dashboard and then do the following steps (click each step to move to the next):
  • 2. Tray pack orders. Next step after printing all your orders is to pack them! Our fulfillment manager, Josh, usually assembles all our orders in our walk-in freezer in the days before our main Monday ship day. Since we do a la carte, we pack one order at a time, but if you’re doing packages, you can do it assembly-line style by lining up a bunch of boxes and doing multiple packages at a time. Make sure you weigh each assembled package before boxing, however, to make sure it meets your weight minimum advertised to your customer.
  • Don’t worry about having a fancy shipping area or materials. A walk-in freezer and warehouse space is more efficient, but if you are just starting out a chest freezer and your garage will do just fine. You just need some space to work and assemble your orders.
A row of orders waiting to be checked before packing
  • 3. Check orders. After Josh finishes packing the order, a “checker” goes through it again to make sure every cut looks right and Josh didn’t miss anything. Because we’re processing quite a few orders and a lot of them are a la carte, this is an important step for us. You may not need to do this.
  • 4. Pack orders. After the checker is done, she hands the order off to the packing crew who put the beef in the box. We do wrap some cuts in the paper wrap we mentioned on Day 1. We don’t wrap ground beef because it’s not a high-end cut or a weird shape that will chafe against other cuts during shipping. Roasts, steaks, and other cuts get wrapped in paper to protect the vacuum packaging.
  • We have an order for packing our beef (If you are using gel ice packs, you will want to put two or three of these on the bottom). Ground beef generally goes in a layer on the bottom. We position nice cuts in the center of the box because this will be the last area to thaw. We finish off with a layer of ground beef or low end cuts.
  • Finally, we put a layer of paper over everything, then the dry ice (or in your case, ice packs) on top of that. The paper protects the beef from dry ice abrasion (if you put ice packs at the bottom of your box, you might also want a layer of paper on top of those to prevent rubbing).

Most online meat sellers don’t wrap their cuts. We’ve always done so for the following reasons:

  1. First, protection from dry ice (or ice packs if that’s what you’re using). Ice packs and dry ice are both very hard, and if they rub against the meat in transit it can compromise the vacuum package.
  2. Protection from other cuts. Cuts rubbing against each other can have the same effect and cause vacuum package damage. So we wrap high end cuts, and roasts or bone-in cuts that have angles that will rub against an adjacent package.
  3. If you have a customer that isn’t picky, you might be able to get away without wrapping (as we mentioned, most online sellers do). But be aware you will get abrasion on packages and some popped packages because of cuts and ice rubbing together. Unfortunately a lot of customers don’t even realize that this shouldn’t happen and have come to expect it when buying meat online. Nevertheless, we wrap to avoid this issue, and many of our customers thank us for it.

So, after the packer has put all the meat in the box, they then weigh it (box weight plus product weight), write the weight on the packing list sheet, and then write the order number, last name, and state on the box itself where the label will go. Because we will adjust the ice amount depending on location, the final weight of the box depends on the total added ice, so we have a separate station where a person determines the amount of ice, prints the shipping label, and puts the customer invoice and pretty handouts together. We use all three, name order number and state, checking all of these things when putting the label on the box to make sure there’s not a mix-up (we’ll cover the written area with the shipping label when we get to that point). The packer then puts the order sheet inside of the box and brings it to the icing area.

Below: Here are our steps for packing a box: 1. Ground beef at the bottom. 2. Steaks in the middle (this area will thaw last, so nice cuts should be here), and 3. Wrapping of nice cuts and roasts. 4. Put a paper over the whole thing to protect from dry ice/ice pack abrasion.

  • 5. Ice orders Note that when you’re packing your boxes, you will probably be using ice packs unless you’ve opted for dry ice. For one day shipping, use about 3 ice packs on the bottom and 3 on the top. For two day shipping, 4 in each spot. And for 1-2 day shipping with dry ice, just put dry ice on the top, probably about 5-6 pounds. Don’t forget you need to leave space on top of your box for this! However, there’s no hard and fast rule on ice use! If UPS is reporting service delays (as in right now with the coronavirus), you may want a little more. If the temperatures are hot where you’ll be shipping, you may want more. If it’s winter and cold, you may not need as much.

If you want to use dry ice but don’t know where to get it, many grocery stores have it available. Be sure you get blocks, not dust or scraps (which will evaporate quickly and are a waste of your money). We sourced ice from grocery stores for quite a while before switching to our current wholesale option. Yes, it’s more expensive from the store, but you can buy only what your need and not waste any.

Another factor to consider if you use dry ice is to not use an airtight wrapper around the ice. If you do, the box will explode (How do we know? Been there, done that). So if you are putting the ice in an airtight bag, pop a few holes in the bag with a knife. Your packaging probably breathes enough to let out the carbon dioxide as the block sublimates to gas.

LAST VERY IMPORTANT THING: you need to warn your customers about dry ice in order to remove legal liability, AND you need a dry ice warning for UPS or FedEx if your box will go on a plane (3 Day Select or 2nd Day Air shipments). So include somewhere on your box something along the lines of “Contains dry ice to keep meat cold! Warning, extremely cold and can freeze skin on contact. Please handle with gloves.” For UPS/FedEx, you also need to put a label outside the box saying “Contains dry ice “X number of lbs (can’t be over 5.5)” for perishable products.” This is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT if you’re using dry ice. You are legally liable if you do not have these warnings on the box!

  • In our system, decisions about how much ice will go into the box are made by the final station. This person has to be a muti-tasker and knowledgeable and is usually my mom, Caryl. This person will perform the final check of the order (does the weight make sense, did the packers miss a change request, were items out of stock or need weight adjustment refunds). This person will also decide on the ice amount and communicate it to the icing crew. The total box weight is adjusted based on the additional weight of the ice.
  • 6. Prepare shipping label and customer communications. Label and tape up your box and hand off to UPS yay!. We included instructions for how to do this in yesterday’s video, but here’s a refresher: To do this on your Shopify website, go to your dashboard and click “Orders.” Click on the order number that you’re currently processing. Once the order opens, click the blue “Create Shipping Label” button. Then check to make sure the address looks right, select your box size, enter actual weight, scroll down to select “UPS ground” and then click “Buy Shipping Label.” See the step by step screenshots below for how this works! Don’t forget to leave the “send shipping details to customer” box checked. This will automatically send out your tracking number. And when you create a shipping label, it will also mark the order as fulfilled.
  • So after printing your shipping label and packing slip, add the packing slip to the box and any other materials you want to send to the customer. We place these on top of the closed top flap, right under the cardboard. Tape on the shipping label. If it’s just a paper label (not a stick-on), completely cover in tape so the label isn’t damaged if it gets wet. Don’t forget that if you ship dry ice in your box you’ll also have to add a warning statement about the ice on the outside of the box! You also need one to insert into your box for the customer. If you included dry ice, you also need to attach a warning label to the outside of the box that says “CAUTION DRY ICE, less than 5.5 lbs for perishable product.” Even if you go a little over 5.5 lbs, specify 5.5 because some of it will evaporate before it reaches a shipping center.
  • Another thing you may want to include in your box is a disclaimer if product is partially thawed. Our goal is to get our boxes to customers 100% frozen, and we accomplish this about 98% of the time so we don’t include a disclaimer like this in our box. But if you want to include something like this in case the product partially thaws but is still perfectly good to eat, you can download our free “disclaimer statement” paper below and can print that to put in your box. Each is half a page, so you can cut in half and waste less paper.
  • Finally, once your boxes are ready to go, you need to get them to UPS. It should be possible for you to call and arrange a pickup from UPS. So just call your local UPS carrier and set up a pickup point. But if you only have like 10 packages to ship out, it may be easier to just bring them to your local UPS store or drop point.

Download the “partially thawed product” disclaimer here.

So that should be about all you need to know to get launched on shipping day! But if you do have any questions, feel free to direct message us on Instagram here.

Finally, before we go: some Marketing quick tips

We won’t get into marketing here too much, since this course was primarily about launching your online store and starting to ship your product. However, the next step is definitely finding customers who will order your product online! Here are a couple things you should look into moving forward:

Newsletter marketing. This is one of the most important aspects of our marketing. We send out two emails a week, and many of the people subscribing to our newsletter are committed customers of ours who like to hear from us. This is the most important thing about sending out newsletters: you have to send stuff that offers value to your readers, that they actually want to read. Additionally, newsletter marketing is so important because an email list is yours, managed by you. Social media is risky because your profile might get deleted, or your posts might not get shown unless you pay (this is what happened with Facebook). You don’t control social media, and you never know when changing policies might harm your business.

You will want to make this your priority for next week. (Now that you’ve started shipping, you are probably going to be evolving and improving every week!)

Here’s some stuff to know about setting up newsletter marketing:

  • You want something that can integrate with Shopify. We use Aweber, which has an integration app. When you’re looking at which email marketing service to use, make sure it can integrate with Shopify! We’ve used Aweber for over 15 years, and have a great rate grandfathered in. It isn’t the flashiest email provider, but it has good delivery, and does everything we need our email platform to do. At this stage, look for a provider that is solid and affordable. If you want to do more elaborate email marketing in the future, you can move platforms.
  • Add subscribe forms to your website, Facebook, and social media profiles.
  • Remember to offer benefits for subscribing! We send out weekly discounts to our subscribers, and recipes for our beef. Think about the value you can add for your readers.

Social Media Marketing

Just because social media can be more risky than newsletter marketing doesn’t mean you don’t need social media platforms for your farm. If you’re not on Facebook and Instagram, you need to be. This provides a platform for people to get to know you, ask questions, and see how their food is raised. Some quick tips on social media:

  • You have to actually post. Share at least once a day. People enjoy seeing photos and videos from daily life on the farm.
  • You have to interact. This is where people have an opportunity to get to know you, and you them. You can’t just share to the world and expect your marketing to work. Instead, you have to reply to comments, interact, and get to know your customers.
  • Don’t get graphic or gross. Farm life isn’t always pretty. You can convey that it can be messy sometimes, but keep things pretty positive. So don’t show dead animals, super close up birth shots, or talk too much about butchering/processing animals. People want to see the realities of farm/ranch life, of course, but they don’t want to feel uncomfortable. You have to strike a balance here.
  • Provide information. People enjoy seeing your daily farm life, but they also like to feel like they’re getting some value as well. So give them useful information that they might not have known–whether that’s info about farming or how to cook a cut of meat.

So those are two things to get you started with marketing your products online. Of course, that’s just scratching the surface, because that wasn’t really the focus of this course. If you are interested in learning more about marketing online, there are endless resources…just start googling!

So that’s it! Congratulations on completing our 5-day course. If you’ve followed along, you should have a fully functional online storefront right now and be ready to start shipping.

If you have any questions, reach out to us on Instagram here!