Simple Fulfillment vs Airhouse: Choosing the Right Fulfillment Partner for Your DTC eCommerce Business

Outsourcing order fulfillment to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider has become a crucial strategy for direct-to-consumer (DTC) eCommerce brands looking to scale efficiently. With the rise of nationwide 4PLs (fourth-party logistics) like Airhouse, brands now face the decision between using a flexible 4PL network or a dedicated 3PL with its own warehouse operations.

In this in-depth comparison guide, we’ll examine the differences between Simple Fulfillment, a boutique 3PL in Austin, TX, and the newer 4PL Airhouse. Looking at their warehouse locations, services, technology, and pricing models will help you determine the best fulfillment partner for supporting your DTC brand's growth.

Overview of Simple Fulfillment:

Simple Fulfillment is a 3PL fulfillment provider founded in 2016 and operating a single warehouse facility in Austin, TX. As a 3PL, Simple Fulfillment owns and manages its own fulfillment center rather than outsourcing to a partner network. Despite having a single facility, Simple Fulfillment averages 3.4 days nationwide from order placed to package delivered.

With its centralized Austin location and hands-on approach, Simple Fulfillment specializes in providing customized eCommerce order fulfillment solutions tailored to the needs of smaller, high-growth DTC brands. Their key fulfillment services include:

  • Order processing and packaging - Simple Fulfillment handles the entire process of receiving and managing orders, picking products from inventory, packing with brand-specific materials, and preparing shipments.
  • Inventory management - Clients get real-time visibility and control over inventory stored in Simple Fulfillment's warehouse through its order management platform.
  • Storage and warehouse management - Simple Fulfillment offers flexible short and long-term storage options including shelves, racks, and pallets. They handle receiving and stocking inventory as it arrives from suppliers.
  • Shipping and logistics - Simple Fulfillment leverages integrated shipping software and negotiated carrier rates to deliver low shipping costs and fast delivery times around 1-4 days nationwide.
  • Account management - Each Simple Fulfillment client gets a dedicated account manager to oversee operations, provide strategic advice, and act as the main point of contact.

Simple Fulfillment's centralized Austin warehouse, tailored services, and high-touch support make them ideal for smaller DTC brands based in the Texas region. Their focused approach enables custom solutions to meet each brand's fulfillment requirements.

Overview of Airhouse:

Founded in 2021, Airhouse operates as a 4PL that provides flexible, tech-enabled fulfillment solutions for DTC brands. Rather than owning warehouses themselves, 4PLs like Airhouse partner with a vetted network of shared fulfillment centers across the country.

Airhouse combines software and logistics capabilities to deliver scalable, modular order fulfillment services. As a 4PL, Airhouse focuses more on warehouse-agnostic tech and software versus hands-on account management. Their key ecommerce fulfillment offerings include:

  • Multi-warehouse order processing - Airhouse's software routes and manages orders across its fulfillment partner sites to optimize delivery time and cost.
  • Cloud-based inventory and order visibility - eCommerce brands can track inventory levels and order status across Airhouse's network in real-time through its software platform.
  • Flexible storage options - Airhouse offers adjustable storage and picking solutions as brands' inventory needs change, including small item handling to pallet storage.
  • Shipping management and rate optimization - Airhouse leverages data and partnerships to choose the best parcel or LTL freight carriers and negotiate lower shipping rates for clients.
  • Returns and reverse logistics - Airhouse's nationwide warehouse network supports efficient processing and reshipping of customer returns.
  • API integrations - Airhouse provides API connections to major eCommerce platforms, shopping carts, order management systems, and accounting software.

Airhouse's flexible, networked model powered by logistics software makes them suitable for brands that need to scale fulfillment operations across the US. Their technology focus enables remote visibility and management.

Warehouse Network and Locations:

One of the biggest differences between these two logistics providers is Simple Fulfillment operates a single warehouse in Austin, TX while Airhouse manages fulfillment across a nationwide network.

Simple Fulfillment's centralized warehouse model provides tighter oversight of inventory and quality control. However, having one location limits geographic reach and restricts storage capacity as a brand grows. It also leads to higher average shipping times and costs for customers outside Texas.

Conversely, Airhouse's use of multiple fulfillment centers across the US provides brands with more flexibility and scalability. Inventory can be distributed across locations near high-density areas for customers, lowering delivery times and shipping costs. Airhouse also offers essentially unlimited storage capacity by adding more partner warehouses.

The tradeoff for Airhouse's national scale and capacity is brands give up the hands-on service and customization of a provider like Simple Fulfillment operating its own facility. Relying on third-party fulfillment centers can present consistency and service quality challenges as operations are decentralized.

Fulfillment Services Offered:

Both Simple Fulfillment and Airhouse offer the core eCommerce fulfillment services that DTC brands need:

  • Order processing
  • Inventory management
  • Storage and warehousing
  • Picking and packing
  • Shipping and delivery

However, Simple Fulfillment specializes in highly customized solutions tailored to each client's specific requirements. Their dedicated account managers will work closely with brands to configure everything from custom packaging to tailored inventory workflows.

Airhouse provides more plug-and-play fulfillment capabilities that flexibly integrate with a brand's existing systems and processes. Their model sacrifices some customization for the ability to efficiently scale fulfillment as needed to meet demand.

Additionally, Airhouse provides more expansive value-added services beyond just core fulfillment:

  • Returns processing and reshipping
  • Freight and pallet shipping
  • International shipping
  • EDI integration

For U.S. based small or mid-sized DTC brands, Simple Fulfillment often provides the ideal balance of customization and personalized support. But larger enterprises may benefit more from Airhouse's wider array of scalable logistics services and nationwide capacity.

Order Fulfillment Technology:

Leveraging advanced warehouse management systems and order processing software is key for brands managing multichannel DTC fulfillment operations.

Simple Fulfillment uses [name software] to power core functions like inventory management, order orchestration, and shipping. This provides clients with real-time visibility into fulfillment workflows. However, Simple Fulfillment's software capabilities are not as robust as a larger player like Airhouse.

Airhouse has invested significantly in proprietary logistics technology and software engineering. Their platform offers brands more advanced reporting, automation, and systems integration functionality compared to a standard 3PL like Simple Fulfillment. Key features include:

  • Centralized multi-warehouse inventory and order visibility
  • Automated routing and processing of orders across fulfillment network
  • Integration with eCommerce platforms, shopping carts, and other business systems
  • Advanced analytics and reporting on orders, inventory, shipping, and more
  • Ability to configure custom workflows and business logic

For brands that want maximum software control and flexibility built into their fulfillment operations, Airhouse provides more powerful capabilities given their focus on logistics technology. Simple Fulfillment offers solid technology, but their solutions are better suited for brands fulfilled from a single warehouse.

Pricing Model and Cost Considerations:

From a cost perspective, Simple Fulfillment uses an account manager-driven model with customized pricing negotiated for each client based on their specific storage, handling, and shipping needs. This highly tailored pricing can provide specialized solutions aligned to a brand's budget. However, pricing is variable and depends on your fulfillment volume and complexity.

Airhouse offers clear published pricing for its modular fulfillment services based on usage. Brands get access to transparent rates for things like storage per pallet, pick and pack fees per item, and shipping fees per carrier. Less customization ability but predictable nationwide pricing.

While Simple Fulfillment may be able to negotiate competitively priced deals for regional brands in TX, Airhouse's network pricing model often enables it to offer lower nationwide rates. However, total landed costs depend on each brand's fulfillment and shipping patterns. Airhouse's pricing advantage is more pronounced at higher order volumes.

Choosing the Right Fulfillment Partner:

For high-touch, dedicated support from a boutique 3PL, Simple Fulfillment is a great option for brands. However, Airhouse offers more scalable fulfillment capabilities through its nationwide warehouse network and technology platform.

eCommerce brands wanting flexible locations and advanced logistics technology may benefit more from partnering with Airhouse as they grow. But brands wanting personalized service may prefer working with Simple Fulfillment. Evaluate your fulfillment requirements against their capabilities to choose the partner that aligns to your business goals.