Island Company, a fast-growing swimwear and resort apparel firm, counts on FedEx to make sure goods are smoothly delivered to customers in more than 20 countries.
In the four years since its inception, Island Company has grown from selling a small collection of bikinis to 40 U.S. stores to distributing men's and women's swimwear, shorts, T-shirts, polo shirts and shoes to 400-plus retail outlets across the United States and on more than 20 Caribbean islands.
Spencer Antle, Island Company's creative director, owner and manager, likens his brand to a younger, smaller Tommy Bahama. But that smaller part is about to change, he predicts.
Like other apparel firms that have found themselves on a strong growth trajectory, Island Company recognized that it had to continue providing a high level of customer service and on-time delivery, despite the added level of sourcing and logistics complexity that accompanies expansion.
The start-up story
Antle had no fashion experience when he launched Island Company. Six years ago, he was a TV ad director based in Los Angeles. When he and his girlfriend moved to Miami Beach, FL, they couldn't find a bikini that suited Antle's girlfriend to a tee.
Their answer to this quandary? Make their own.
"We just decided to make 13 [bikinis] as a hobby and see if we could sell them," Antle says. "We found a factory in Brazil, and we were basically [running the business] out of my apartment."
They founded Island Company in 2003, and Antle later took full ownership of the business after he and his girlfriend separated.
Today Island Company is busy creating its fifth swimwear collection, as well as an assortment of other products from shorts to shoes. Its goods are sold in Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts, and can also be found in exclusive boutiques, hotels and retail shops in such desirable tourist destinations as Hawaii, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico.
Moreover, the company - which has a healthy e-tail business through its web site www.islandcompany.com - is planning to open some of its own free-standing retail stores next year.
Keeping logistics on track
Throughout this time of explosive growth, Island Company's shipping method has remained the same.
"We've been doing FedEx since day one," Antle says.
The FedEx business account he established on Island's first day in operation has grown with the company, he says. The firm relies on FedEx for logistics management and to ship apparel from its headquarters in West Palm Beach, FL, to all of its retail customers and direct to consumers.
While the company could have invested in a software package to bring logistics management in-house, it decided to leave this responsibility outsourced with FedEx.
"We decided, 'Why fix shipping if it's not broken?' " he says. "The rates are so competitive, and customer service is good. It's the perfect model for a small company."
Because Island sells its apparel via its web site as well as through boutiques in many countries, the company would have been overwhelmed if it tried to run its own software system to manage tracking and logistics, Antle says.
And dealing with the unique customs and duty requirements of the different countries that Island sources from and ships to is very complicated, he notes.
For example, in the Caribbean, where every country has its own customs and duty regulations, FedEx may have to move Island's cartons by van from the airport to a resort or retail location. If Island had to arrange that kind of transportation and customs-clearing activity on its own, Antle would spend nearly all of his time on shipping details. As chief of a 12-employee company, he can't spare that time.
As such, Island takes advantage of FedEx's infrastructure and international scale, he says.
Island's controller is in charge of keeping tabs on the package status the company receives via FedEx. "We probably have anywhere between 10 and 30 packages a day that leave the office," Antle says. "We get e-mail updates daily from FedEx and use the applicable tracking number to tell us exactly where our packages are in the world."
Island follows its packages' progress on the FedEx Shippers' web site. Retailers awaiting shipments as well as the consumers who place orders through Island's web site can do the same.
Behind the scenes in the supply chain
Island Company sources apparel from seven factories located in Brazil, China, Macau, Hong Kong and the United States. Large seasonal orders move by container ship with a one-month lead time from the seven factories to Island's headquarters.
At the Florida headquarters, Island's employees inventory incoming goods manually and repackage merchandise into boxes that FedEx moves by air to customers' retail locations or homes. Often, incoming batches of apparel received from the factories are separated and shipped the same day.
Antle says Island Company particularly likes FedEx perks such as door-to-door service and hassle-free customs negotiations. For instance, FedEx helps the company move some smaller, non-seasonal shipments from the factories to the headquarters. Island also calls on FedEx to quickly ship swimwear samples between Hong Kong and the Florida headquarters.
In cases such as these, if Island used some other shipping providers or methods, it would have to be responsible for moving the goods from the Miami International Airport to its headquarters one hour north.
"That would require us to find a truck, and we'd unload the truck ourselves," he says. "FedEx brings it almost right into our inventory room."
FedEx also stepped up to work directly with Island's shipping accounts even though, as Antle says, those factories aren't the ones paying the shipping bill. When the swimwear firm set up its FedEx account, Antle began working with Colin Hudson, a FedEx business development manager. Hudson paid personal calls to Island's factory partner locations to ensure shipments could meet FedEx's speedy requirements.
Hudson still visits those factories every other month to ensure shipping is as streamlined as possible and that the factories are packing, labeling and sending goods correctly. "It's a bit crazy, the traveling," Hudson admits.
Hudson recently verified that the facilities can accommodate FedEx's new Transportation Solutions service. This economy-service option delivers packages internationally in four to six days. FedEx's International Priority service delivers them overnight, but at greater expense.
On the horizon
Island Company has been talking with FedEx's Hudson about how to streamline its order processing and shipping functions.
To that end, Island Company orders may one day soon be processed via FedEx's web site rather than in Island's accounting program. FedEx would generate shipping labels directly. Thus, with FedEx supporting order processing, labeling and tracking, Island would be free to focus on other tasks.
"FedEx has a ton of those kinds of capabilities," Antle says. "We haven't scratched the surface of what we can do with them."
Jean Thilmany is a free-lance writer based in St. Paul, MN. She frequently writes about retail and business technology.