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Learn how the UK-based ecommerce brand A Year of Dates cut lead times from 3 weeks to 3 days, delivered cost-savings, and enabled international growth by outsourcing US fulfilment to ShipBob.
Based near Manchester, England, A Year of Dates creates gift boxes designed to deepen connections and forge authentic, memorable experiences. Inside every box are 52 sealed envelopes, each of which contains a surprise date or activity idea.
With over 20 unique and customizable editions for couples (including fiancés and newlyweds), as well as for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, friendships, and self care, A Year of Dates helps you set aside quality time for your loved ones, and find new ways to enjoy life together. The brand has been featured on This Morning TV show, and is a winner of the Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday award.
- Up to 35% of orders ship to the US
- 18 days of transit time saved with ShipBob
- 2x sales every year for 5 years and counting
- 10 days to start shipping with ShipBob
- 5,500 units sent to ShipBob in Q4 2021
John Greenhalgh’s Christmas gift to his wife Kate Greenhalgh in 2014 turned out to be a gift that kept on giving.
In a true romantic gesture, the Englishman surprised his wife with a jar stuffed full of ideas for dates, and proposed that they select one at random every week to complete.
Kate was blown away by her husband’s thoughtfulness, and enthusiastically agreed — so when the couple providentially drew “Buy each other a £10 gift” for their first date, John bought her the domain name “A Year of Dates” so she could blog about the experience.
But it wasn’t until after the birth of their first little girl that Kate had the idea to turn their year of dates into a business.
When she explained the date jar to other moms, they loved the concept, but felt they didn’t have enough time or creativity to make one themselves.
For Kate, it was a lightbulb moment.
Instead of going back to her 9-5 job, she used her background in graphic design to remodel the date jar into a marketable product, and with John’s help transformed A Year of Date’s blog into an ecommerce store.
In the beginning, their main sales channels consisted of Christmas markets and fair booths, with only a few orders a week coming from their website. But after being approved to sell on Not On The High Street (a UK-centric version of Etsy), their online business exploded.
Since then, they have expanded to Etsy, grown their own site, and doubled their sales every year for the past 5 years.
We sat down with John Greenhalgh from A Year of Dates to learn more about their international growth, and how they secured fulfilment operations on US soil.
The benefits of a US fulfilment partner (vs. a local solution)
As told to ShipBob by John Greenhalgh, Co-Founder of A Year of Dates.
Two years ago, we were sending about 80 orders a day to customers in America using Royal Mail. It was taking those orders 3-4 weeks to arrive — and that just wasn’t cutting it.
I remember turning to my wife and saying, “Look, I think we need to get fulfilment operations on the ground in the US. If we can improve lead times on US orders, we’ll ultimately sell more.”
We considered ShipBob in our initial search for a fulfilment solution, but decided to go with a UK company that had a warehouse in the US. Their HQ was just 15 minutes down the road from us, and since it was our first time trying US fulfilment, we felt more confident having a point of contact close to home.
But this fulfilment provider ended up causing a lot of issues for us.
The shipping software they used was beyond inadequate. For example, it wouldn’t validate addresses in some instances, which meant orders never shipped — and because there was no communication with me, I would never know until I received customer emails asking where an order was.
Their platform was also clunky and non-intuitive. I literally had to hack my way into their website just to get tracking numbers, and after a while, I just got fed up with it.
“We realised that this time, we had to find a global fulfilment provider with expertise in US fulfilment — which led us back to ShipBob. ShipBob’s software was much easier to use than our previous local provider’s, and gave us a better picture of what was going on with our orders. Even from overseas, it gave us the visibility and control we would expect from a provider in our backyard.”– John Greenhalgh, Co-Founder of A Year of Dates
Our main need was a fulfilment platform that provided all the information in one place. So just having an interface like ShipBob’s dashboard that actually allows us to understand what we’ve got, where it is, what the problems are and where, and provide a lot more visibility into what we were doing was critical.
If I’m completely honest, though, the deciding factor that sold us on ShipBob was price. International fulfilment can be incredibly expensive, but ShipBob was cheaper than our old provider.
Their New Jersey-based facility in the Eastern region of the US is also more strategically located than our old provider’s warehouse, so it was cheaper to ship inventory to.
Merchant support you can count on
Shipping can be complicated, but our Merchant Success Manager has always helped us find solutions.
When we were experiencing issues with DIM weight doubling our shipping costs, I spoke with my Merchant Success Manager about it, he promised to find a solution — and he followed through!
ShipBob took time to investigate the issue, and they helped us understand how to reduce DIM weight by reducing packaging weight and size.
Scaling from a trial run to thousands of Christmas orders
For us, joining ShipBob was a bit of a leap of faith. When we decided to try them out, we had a freight shipment of inventory halfway across the Atlantic, so we decided to divert that freight to ShipBob as a test run. If all went well, we would send them our even larger one for Christmas — and needless to say, we are very pleased with the results.
It only took us 10 days to start shipping with ShipBob.
Since then, we’ve seen massive improvement in our business. Two years ago, only 5% of our orders originated in the US; now it’s up to 35%, thanks to the incredibly quick shipping that ShipBob provides.
“For us, changing from a 3 week lead time to 3 days through ShipBob is what drove our sales. Even now, one of the primary reviews we get on Etsy is, ‘My order arrived really quickly!’ Having the stock locally in the US means that lead times and shipping times are minimal, and that you’ll get higher conversion rates because you’re offering better lead times.”– John Greenhalgh, Co-Founder of A Year of Dates
Our first peak season with ShipBob also went very well. We sent ShipBob thousands of units in our biggest Christmas shipment, and sold out by December 16th.
“One of the biggest advantages of ShipBob is that you don’t have order volume minimums. You don’t have to commit tens of thousands of units, so start small, and ShipBob will grow with you.”
John Greenhalgh, Co-Founder of A Year of Dates
What’s next for A Year of Dates?
We’re focusing on expanding as quickly as possible, both locally and abroad. We self-fulfil all of our UK-bound orders, but we’ve already outgrown our current UK facility’s physical capacity — so we’ll be finding additional square footage to keep operations running at home.
With ShipBob’s help, we’ll continue to expand our geographic footprint in the US as well.
We’re planning on sending ShipBob thousands more units in the coming weeks and months, and taking advantage of ShipBob’s fulfilment centre network to distribute our inventory across the US to further lower shipping times and costs.
We’re also well on our way to launching operations in Canada and Australia — maybe even in the EU later this year.
Ultimately, we’re excited to help people make memories wherever we go.
A Year of Dates team at ShipBob
Will is an Implementation Specialist at ShipBob, where he supports merchants like A Year of Dates through the onboarding process.
Ashely is a Merchant Success Manager who provides strategic guidance and assistance to A Year of Dates and other customers.
Frank is an Account Executive at ShipBob who originally brought on A Year of Dates as a customer.
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