How Thinx took on global expansion as their scalable multi-warehouse solution
Thinx, the innovative period solutions company and makers of the revolutionary period-proof underwear, is disrupting the nearly $36 billion market — and taking an outdated industry by storm. Since their launch back in 2014, they’ve been breaking the period taboo and earning their place in underwear drawers everywhere.
Thinx, like many passionate maker brands, has focused their small yet nimble resources into creating groundbreaking products and unique customer experiences.
And it’s paying off.
In just four short years, Thinx has experienced rapid growth, named in several renowned publication lists like Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2017 and Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 Most Brilliant Companies of 2016, and are working towards global expansion to keep up with international demand for their innovative feminine hygiene products.
With high-demand come the inevitable challenges around order management and channel expansion. Particularly for digitally native startup brands, resources are typically slim, and time and cash flow are of particular importance.
This was no different for Thinx.
“As we manage two brands, Thinx and Icon, each with 200 to 400 SKUS, we have to be smart with our resources. Our team is relatively small. So, we’re constantly balancing how we can get maximum results with the minimal starting resources,” explains Dan Wang, Senior Director of Operations at Thinx.
A particular challenge Dan tackled as she joined the team was to expand Thinx’s operations internationally to satisfy the growing global demand for their products. As relentless advocates for their customers, expanding the business — particularly fulfillment — to international warehouses would mean that they would be able to satisfy international orders at lower costs and faster shipping times.
However, setting up international multi-warehouse order management and fulfillment for scale is no easy feat.
As the initiative started back in Q1 of 2017, Dan quickly realized that their highly manual processes on Excel and the limited inventory and order management solution they had at the time was not a scalable solution to handle their global expansion plans.
“We’re big on testing,” explains Dan. “So although we recognized the need for global expansion back in early 2017, we needed a system that allowed us to quickly test different markets. The solution we were using at the time was, at best, not equipped to do this. And the rest we were doing manually through Excel. Not an optimal solution by any means.”
Searching high and low for a scalable, multi-channel, and multi-warehouse inventory management software with the capacity to process high-order volumes, Thinx turned to Stitch in late 2017.
Still in testing mode, one of Thinx’s requirements was to be able to set up an initial workflow of routing and fulfilling a portion of international orders directly from their Sri Lankan manufacturer to save on shipping costs and delivery times. The specific challenge around this requirement was that Thinx was already working with a US 3PL provider that did not have international locations. Typically, building an integration with a new international provider would take a considerable amount of time and resources. Resources that, as a rapidly growing brand with a relatively small team, you would not want to spend on a test workflow to prove positive ROI.
With Stitch, not only was this custom integration set up with ease in just 6 weeks — a drastically shorter timeline compared to industry standards — it also set up the team for flexibility in the future through the ability to add and remove additional warehouses and setting up unique and custom routing logic associated with each.
“We realized that it’s going to be very hard to do order routing within Shopify to the degree of granularity and control we needed because it doesn’t really allow for multiple warehouses or any advanced order routing logic. Which means we would have to custom build that. That alone would have been resource intensive, and then to manage 2 warehouses in Excel with 600 SKUs for 2 brands…well, that would have been an intense process,” Dan recalls.
“We’re trying to be lean and do things smart as opposed to with brute force. That was the biggest reason we got Stitch.”
In addition to the multi-warehouse capability that the Thinx team was looking for, the team found additional benefits around some of Stitch’s other features, including:
- Pre-order / Backorder management & automation
- Advanced Order Logistics
- Split Orders
- Smart Replenishment
- Reporting and Analytics
- Customer Support and Implementation Training
Through Stitch, Thinx now has a robust and flexible operational foundation on which they can rapidly test new markets, expand, and grow their business both domestically and internationally.
“I can’t share specific numbers, but our first test run at global expansion is looking good. We know we have a big opportunity in Canada and some European markets, so as we think about those, we’re confident that Stitch will be able to scale with us into these new markets,” added Dan.
International expansion aside, the Thinx team is seeing a positive impact across other areas of the business too. Namely, merchandising tactics like pre-orders and bundling.
In a conversation around pre-orders, Dan disclosed that they “had tried this once before, but it was a nightmare to sort out with our 3PL and with our accounting. It was manual, it was messy, and it was really a havoc of a thing to pre-sell, so we just never did it again.”
Now with Stitch, the Thinx team uses this feature to capitalize on sale opportunities against incoming stock that hasn’t been received yet. “It’s been really helpful,” Dan added. “We do a big marketing push and we know that there’s going to be a lot of demand, so we definitely don’t want to miss out on a sale. In our most recent sale, we saw things running out of stock but knew that we had inventory coming in that week. With Stitch, we were able to continue to sell during the sale over the weekend and not miss out on sale opportunities.”
Pre-orders and bundles were not features the Thinx team was in particular search for. In fact, in many ways, these were merchandising techniques that were dismissed due to past experiences. “It’s definitely a bonus,” commented Dan. “Stitch met our key multi-warehousing needs for our plans to expand globally, but we also now have the tools to do so much more that we didn’t think was possible. We’re excited to leverage that.”
“Stitch met our key multi-warehousing needs for our plans to expand globally, but we also now have the tools to do so much more that we didn’t think was possible. We’re excited to leverage that.”
In her final sentiments, Dan shared the added benefits of having a hands-on customer success team and training. Inventory management particularly in a fast-growing, high-volume environment is no simple task, and implementing a system that essentially replaces or builds out the operational backbone of a business is never a one-size fits all. “You guys are all willing to work with us. You’re there when we have an issue. You’re there when we have questions. Having experienced both good and bad customer support, having vendors that care as much about our business as we do is so important.”
To learn more about Stitch Labs, schedule a call with one of our product experts.
We’re trying to be lean and do things smart as opposed to with brute force. That was the biggest reason we got Stitch.
Dan Wang, Senior Director of Operations | Thinx