Rick Nelson, Founder, The Fulfillment Lab Courtesy of The Fulfillment Lab
In the early 1900s, Rick Nelson II’s maternal grandfather, Arturo Corrales, left Cuba and his grandmother, Graciela Lopez, left Spain. By the early 1900s, both had settled in Tampa’s Ybor City to begin new lives in a new land, working in the cigar industry.
That legacy of going forth in search of more prosperous living, adapting to change, serving customers, and bettering their community carries on today with their grandson Rick Nelson.
A maternal third-generation Cuban-American Tampa native, Nelson founded The Fulfillment Lab Inc., an e-commerce marketing company that combines expedited shipping and order transparency with packaging customization. Basically, The Fulfillment Lab is a third-party company that provides order fulfillment steps on behalf of another party; an online seller, for example.
The Fulfillment Lab currently has offices in Tampa and Salt Lake City, Utah, and in recent months, the 8-year-old company’s owner and staff began working to open a new office in Rickenbacker, OH, about a half-hour south of Columbus.
Since founding The Fulfillment Lab in 2012, Nelson’s company has grown to 70 employees -- up to 100 during the holiday season. He says with that growth in staff and clients, the need to open a second location in the northern United States became imperative -- and exciting.
“We’re in the process of opening that third facility. Once we pick it, we don’t want to have to move it. We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and we’re making the most sense, so we’re pivoting a little bit and pushing back (the move) to the end of the year or first quarter of next year,” says Nelson, 45, a 1992 graduate of Tampa’s Jesuit High School.
Worldwide, The Fulfillment Lab has 14 facilities, including offices in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, and Brazil.
By 2021, fulfillment service companies will be a $55.6 billion industry worldwide, according to Beroe Inc., a procurement intelligence firm. The industry is dominated internationally by services like Amazon, which includes fulfillment in their shipping. Locally, The Fulfillment Lab also gives entrepreneurs a way to customize their products and ship all orders on the same day.
“We can get (products) to the consumer in three days or less. Many centers take multiple days just to process and ship,” says Nelson. “We have multiple facilities. Our geographic footprint allows us to deliver in less than three days.”
Additionally, The Fulfillment Lab uses data aimed at targeted customers to make and customize packages catered to primary consumers of a certain product.
Nelson says the need for a company such as The Fulfillment Lab is to allow for better product delivery times, allowing customers – particularly businesses – to focus on products and service and leaving The Fulfillment Lab to focus on supply logistics increasing the consumer experience.
Nelson is also a sole proprietor with his own proprietary software, Global Fulfillment Software. Marketing data the company gathers can give insight into the fulfillment process, giving clients a way to customize packaging in a unique way, which in turn, increases their brand awareness and customer loyalty.
Since The Fulfillment Lab’s founding, Nelson adds his eCommerce company has grown by 100 percent in volume since 2018. That helped lead it to being placed at No. 285 in 2016 on Inc.com’s Top 500 fastest-growing companies and No. 2,612 of Inc.com’s top 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. in 2018.
“It’s been great to help our clients to navigate the ever-changing e-commerce landscape by offering various packaging and delivering options,” says Nelson, who lives in Tampa with his wife, Natalie, and sons Richard Nelson III, 17, and Adam, 15.
“We’ve built a family here with our staff and clients. We feel like we’re an extension of their businesses. I’m proud of what the lab and its team have been able to accomplish by gaining customers and having great employee and client retention rates.”
Besides the growth in size and profitability, The Fulfillment Lab plans to add at least more 15 to 20 fulltime positions to its workforce over the next 18 months and from 40 to 50 part-time. Nelson says some of this staff growth is due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has given The Fulfillment Lab additional business opportunities with products such as in Personal Protection Equipment and hand sanitizer.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to maintain business while aiding consumers who need to get that type of equipment in their hands, with a sense of urgency,” adds Nelson, who in 1997 graduated from the University of South Florida, Tampa, with a business administration degree.
Much of that packing and shipping stems from The Fulfillment Lab’s Tampa warehouse and 5136 W. Clifton St. There, Nelson sees his company bringing in on-demand full-color printing shipping boxes by mid-2021 and expanding its Information Technology department. With shipping profiles, he says custom prints can be printed on the outside of shipping boxes for each order, based on consumer data gathered throughout their shopping experiences.
“I’m super excited to be part of this growing e-commerce industry and to do our part to deliver products on time to the consumers, but make them feel excited about their purchase by relating to them with creative packaging designs,” says Nelson, the son of Richard “Dick” Nelson, a retired Tampa police officer and Grace Nelson, an Ybor City native and retired schoolteacher.
As a businessman and Tampa-based entrepreneur, Nelson, who is assisted by Ray Schlechter, COO -- in operations at The Fulfillment Lab -- says technology is constantly changing with operations. He says outsourcing businesses can log into his company’s website anytime to track warehousing, picking and packing, and delivery, in real-time.
“It’s like the warehouse is attached to the back of their offices,” he says.
As for The Fulfillment Lab’s future growth, Nelson says he relies a lot on “word of mouth,” even though his staff launches full marketing campaigns. The company has an affiliate program that allows those who know potential future clients to have an automated way to link to introduce clients to services and track who signed on based on referrals, compensating those who gave the referrals.
“We have the No. 1 fulfillment software for eCommerce in the world. There are things we are doing at our fulfillment facilities that no one else is doing,” Nelson says.