From Multiple 3PLs to 1 International Partner: How Black Claw Centralized Fulfillment With ShipBob [Case Study]

Discover how tattoo supply brand Black Claw found an international tech-driven fulfillment partner in ShipBob after working with three different 3PLs in three countries.

“I always wanted a truly global fulfillment partner — I had been trying to find this solution for years. ShipBob has multiple fulfillment centers in the US, one in Canada, one in the EU, and one in the UK, and all locations filter back into one centralized warehouse management system.”

Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC

Customer Profile

Based in Portland, Oregon, Black Claw is a tattooer-driven company making the world’s best tools for tattooing. They sell the best quality needles, cartridges, and tubes to tattooers across the world.

Key metrics:

  • 3 3PLs used at once before ShipBob
  • 4 ShipBob locations utilized in 3 countries
  • 435 tattoo artists featured during COVID-19 through SupportTattooers.com
  • 100% of contributions go directly to tattooers who need support during COVID-19

Black Claw is on a mission to promote and protect tattooing through dedication to innovation and responsibility. They’ve perfected a product line that offers tattooers access to safe, high-quality tattoo supplies that are also environmentally-conscious. 

We sat down with Wes Brown, who oversees operations at Black Claw, to learn more about their global ecommerce growth and multiple experiences with 3PLs. 

Growing a niche business quickly

As told to ShipBob by Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw.

Black Claw tattoos

After Black Claw went to the Bay Area Tattoo Convention in 2014, where we sold through our first 500-600 boxes of needles within a day or two, we launched our first ecommerce store and it grew fast from there. 

In the early days of Black Claw, we had two people fulfilling orders in-house out of a facility on the East Coast, manually packing and shipping packages. 

It wasn’t long before we couldn’t keep up with 100 orders per day, plus the countless papercuts. We learned how 3PLs are all about automation, so you don’t have to pack your own orders or buy tape and boxes.

We started using a 3PL whose service was okay, but their software was years behind its time and they made false promises. We realized we needed a global fulfillment provider as our customers in the UK/EU were tired of paying for international shipping. People often bought two boxes of needles at $30 each and then paid $60 for shipping on top of that.

Searching for an international 3PL

Black Claw needles

Our US-based 3PL at the time gave us the runaround on when they would expand internationally. They’d say ‘next quarter,’ which turned into ‘next year.’ Then more time would pass, and it was clear it wasn’t really on the roadmap. 

I felt handcuffed, and waiting wasn’t sustainable. Our demand wasn’t going to wait for them, so we decided to find another partner who could support us around the world. 

We found a small mom and pop 3PL in the UK. They only had the one location and virtually no tech, but they gave us good rates.

We also found a 3PL in Canada whose service was amazing, but their warehouse management system was hot garbage.

To work with each additional 3PL, we spun up a second and third ecommerce store geared towards local customers in each country. 

“We had 3 ecommerce stores connected to 3 different 3PL warehouse management systems, and I had to work 60 hours a week to keep up. All of our backend work had to be done 3 times and wasn’t always consistent.”

Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC

While our customers were happier and we could grow our domestic business in each country, I was drowning, going backwards in terms of efficiency. While we technically had a global reach and footprint, it wasn’t convenient for us so we kept looking for a better solution.

We talked to another 3PL that looked promising but quickly realized their model is just renting space inside of other fulfillment centers with different warehouse management systems used at each. This provided no visibility into operations or ability to maintain their SLAs.

Then, we found ShipBob. It was somewhat serendipitous and a no-brainer. I always wanted a truly global fulfillment partner — I had been trying to find this solution for years.

ShipBob shared their roadmap, which included international expansion, and we decided to consolidate all of our US business to ShipBob first, and then do the same with the other countries.

I recently attended one of ShipBob’s Product Advisory Council events, where a UK fulfillment center came up as a beneficial location, and I can’t believe how fast it happened. I’m over the moon that they kept their promises and executed so quickly.

Today, ShipBob has multiple fulfillment centers in the US, one in Canada, one in the EU, and one in the UK. All locations filter back into one centralized warehouse management system, so everything is under the ShipBob umbrella.

By distributing our inventory across these countries and regions, all of our customers are able to get their orders much faster while paying reasonable domestic shipping rates.

I used to have to pull inventory numbers from three places everyday and move all the disparate data into a spreadsheet. ShipBob has an analytics tab in their dashboard with all of this information, which is great for end-of-month reconciliations. It’s really nice to not have to operate three 3PLs.

Evolving our tech stack through ShipBob’s integrations

ShipBob is a tech company first, unlike other 3PLs who are trying to add tech to their existing business.

We love ShipBob’s software. Other 3PLs have tech that is so antiquated and old, it looks like an AOL compact disk that used to come in the mail.

ShipBob is very forward-thinking and leaps and bounds ahead of reporting in other systems.

For inventory planning, I love the SKU velocity report, daily average products sold, and knowing how much inventory we have left and how long it will last.

Overall, there is more transparency with ShipBob that even helps our team manage customer service better. I can see the granular stage the order is in — if it’s being picked, packed, in transit, etc.

That enhanced visibility is great. No other 3PLs offer that in my experience. Tracking our costs and how much we’re spending on storage is a lot easier to understand.

“Off the bat, I liked that I would be able to control multiple warehouses through one page with ShipBob.

With my old 3PL, I could never just open a page and get the info I wanted. I had to click several times, then export it, and try to make sense of it.

ShipBob lets you manage your inventory while providing important data in a very digestible way.”

Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC

ShipBob’s dashboard looks like all the other sophisticated tools I use for ecommerce such as BigCommerce, which we recently switched to. It has a comforting familiarity. ShipBob’s tech is intuitive and functional, and I could figure out how to use it on my own.

Our previous ecommerce platform was great but could not consolidate stores into one tab instead of three separate stores. If I had to add a product, I had to add it three times. That degree of error and that type of busy work was not desirable.

As we grew and expanded, we had to keep adding more stores, and there were also limitations in what we could create and design. I had to pay a developer three times just to make a promo for Black Friday. We not only wanted a global site but more creative freedom with design and development, especially at the checkout and payment experience.

Our old store was like Frankenstein’s monster. We would find some vulnerabilities and technical issues caused by the immense amount of applications that were added onto our site. Every time we wanted to implement something, we had to add an app. It was like adding accessories to the outside of a car that aren’t part of the core design of the car.

Now, BigCommerce allows us to build and create anything we want instead of just downloading another app. They also give us the most open amount of access, and we spend less money.

The consolidation of apps has been great instead of installing a new app for every little thing. We have greater control over how we design and build new features into our website. Plus, it integrates with ShipBob, which was a must-have for us.

Another ShipBob integration I love is Inventory Planner. It saves me hours every week in Excel spreadsheets, and I can raise a PO in minutes when it used to take me hours.

For every order I placed for years, I was ordering too much or not enough. Between inventory forecasting tools and the ability to auto-create WROs, we don’t have stockouts much anymore. I sleep better at night.

Adjusting to the impact of COVID-19

Like many industries deemed ‘non-essential’ in a pandemic, the tattoo industry experienced a hard hit due to COVID-19. Many tattoo artists couldn’t work and were struggling to keep their shops alive. There was an urgent need to support our artistic community. 

We quickly spun up SupportTattooers.com to provide a simple tool to find a local tattoo artist and make a contribution to support them and their craft through the difficult time.

ShipBob is helping Black Claw keep orders flowing and saving us on shipping costs so that we can continue to authentically help our community throughout COVID-19. They feel like a partner. I’ve been passed around the 3PL world, and I’m glad to put roots down with ShipBob.All contributions are made securely and 100% of funds go directly to tattooers in need. Tattooers across the world could create a profile, ask for a donation, share their artwork, and even offer credit towards an ‘IOU’ tattoo.

We donated cash at the end of the month to select users, including a #footthebill promotion we did with Vans for customized shoes.

“ShipBob helped Black Claw keep orders flowing and saved us on shipping costs so that we could continue to authentically help our community throughout COVID. They feel like a partner.

I’ve been passed around the 3PL world, and I’m glad to put roots down with ShipBob. I can’t stress enough how much easier my life has gotten since.”

Wes Brown, Head of Operations at Black Claw LLC

From an operational standpoint, I don’t have to check in everyday on orders. I know they are going out — there’s confidence and freedom to run our business. Ultimately, ShipBob frees up time, so there’s energy to put in other areas of growing and helping others.

Looking ahead

Getting to share product feedback and future ideas with ShipBob has been so refreshing and reassuring. I’ve worked with three other 3PLs, and no other one has taken this approach. ShipBob implements changes so quickly and doesn’t make empty promises.

I was just a name and number to my past 3PLs. ShipBob was automatically different. Our past 3PL would give preference to the huge brands they worked with. ShipBob offers fairness and equality across all brands. It feels like we’re working with a company that’s on the same path as us with perpetual growth. 

We want to continue to spread our brand internationally and are glad that more of our customer base can get better shipping rates and delivery times. We’re still a small operation, but with ShipBob we can be a more global company. 

Black Claw will continue to take a ‘passion-first’ approach. We strive to put the best products in the market to give artists the best tools to create tattoos that heal faster. We aim to be a direct extension of what tattooers want. 

We are also currently working on eliminating plastic from all of our products. The Black Claw BIO Cartridge continues to revolutionize the industry with the first certified biodegradable cornstarch-based bioplastic to entirely eliminate the plastic housing with a 100% recyclable packaging and sugar cane pulp tray.

Learn more

Want to improve your ecommerce fulfillment strategy and scale your business? Discover if ShipBob is the right fit for your brand and request a fulfillment quote below.