Prioritizing business: Taking on Amazon.com
If the goal is to compete, why start out by taking on the industry leader?
Jacksonville business partners Chris Flowers, Matt Beyler and Steve Lukenbach figured, why not?
Already already with a courier business available, they set up Fulfillment Shipping and Handling Inc., known better by its customers as shipping-and-handling.com in 2010.
Their goal: To help small businesses create and fulfill Internet sales.
Their competition: Amazon.com, the Internet retailing powerhouse.
"We're a David versus Goliath," said Flowers, a director of the company, noting Amazon.com is a "formidable competitor."
Flowers and Lukenbach are partners in Priority Transportation Group Inc., a courier service they bought 23 years ago.
They soon realized the Internet would consume a larger share of business and built the 40,000-square-foot warehouse at 4344 Philips Highway in 2001, moving from a far smaller site in Baymeadows.
They bought Priority Transportation through a newspaper ad. Fast forward 20 years and they looked again and found a "fulfillment company for sale."
"They next day we made a deal," Flowers said.
The three friends, all in their 50s, grew up together in Madison, Wis., and separately found their ways to Jacksonville and eventually into business together.
Fulfillment Shipping and Handling Inc., with Beyler coming on as president, focuses on small businesses that want to set up Internet sales but aren't sure how to do it, or those who sell online but find it has overtaken their time.
"We hold entrepreneurs' hands and help them grow their business," Flowers said.
Shipping-and-handling.com offers website design, integrates the online shopping cart, answers the phone and brings in and ships out the products.
"We're a one-stop shop for e-commerce entrepreneurs," he said.
A walk through the Philips Highway warehouse shows rows and stacks of boxes of products, including at least seven lines of handbags, clothes, cellphones, cosmetics, diet drops, lampshades and printed materials.
Customers who sell or ship those items use shipping-and-handling.com to do so.
Kelly Moore Clark of Kelly Moore Bags in Louisiana said she's been working with "Matt and the gang" for more than three years, "and couldn't be more happy."
"When we grew to the point in our business that we needed help with fulfillment, it was very scary handing over the responsibility because you want to find someone who cares as much as you do about your product," she said by email.
"I can honestly say that the guys at shipping-and-handing are like family. They always go out of their way to make sure every bag is packed perfectly, and that our customers are happy," she said.
Needing space, the team bought a warehouse on nearby Dawn Road in 2012 and recently grew again.
In August, the company paid $930,000 to buy a 30,000-square-foot warehouse at 4011 Morton St., near the Philips Highway base.
That takes their space to 110,000 square feet.
The newly acquired 3.5-acre Morton Street property provides 2.5 acres for expansion.
"This is a home-run location," said Flowers, explaining the company is at the "epicenter of Butler and Philips," which connects to Interstate 95 and the growth nodes in Southeast Jacksonville.
Flowers said a third of their e-commerce clients are in Jacksonville, a third are elsewhere in the United States and a third are international.
They ship goods through the U.S. Postal Service and United Parcel Service.
They also can use the courier service, which is "a nice sister company," he said.
Priority Transportation has 80 contract drivers on the street making 800 deliveries a day within a 75-mile radius.
As private companies, which are headquartered side-by-side in the Philips building, Flowers said he doesn't divulge sales.
"We've grown the business rapidly," Flowers said. Employment expanded from 14 four years ago to 25 today.
"We reinvented ourselves," Beyler said. "Both companies benefited from it."