Published: April 7, 2022 | Updated: April 8, 2022
From one man and his warehouse to a global business delivering the goods for 200+ clients
It’s arguably one of Dorset’s best-kept secrets.
A business which, quite literally, delivers for its 200+ clients – and some of the most famous brands on the planet – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Based in Christchurch but with warehouses in Germany, America’s East Coast and further ones to open on the West Coast later this year and – from 2023 – China and Australia.
And at the cutting edge of the eCommerce revolution.
I-Fulfilment has certainly come a long way since Founder and Managing Director James Bartlett launched the business from a 6,000 sq ft warehouse in Three Legged Cross nearly 20 years ago.
With just himself as the sole employee “rattling around like a bean in a can”.
Now the company has 140 staff with annual sales of £12 million.
It’s on track for an annual turnover of £50 million within three years.
“Looking at the modelling we’ve done, we’re on target and I think that’s very achievable,” said James.
As its name suggests, I-Fulfilment fulfils orders.
Both on behalf of its clients, ranging from sole traders through to multi-nationals, but also its own brands, The Greenfield Collection and Closer2Nature.
Because long gone are the days of a trader having to own, or lease, premises to store their goods as well employ staff to pick, pack and despatch.
Instead I-Fulfilment is the equivalent of a warehouse, despatch manager and delivery driver all rolled into one.
Its own market-leading fulfilment and logistics software – Blade IMS – seamlessly integrates with all major eCommerce platforms.
Designed and developed to control the whole fulfilment process, it handles everything from inventory management to controlling orders across multiple channels.
The result is that clients – if they wish – can operate from just a laptop leaving I-Fulfilment to do the rest.
But the business also offers much more.
James, who graduated from university with a BA in Business Economics and worked for KPMG before launching I-Fulfilment said: “We really are a ‘one stop provider’ and an extension to the businesses of our clients.
“Our services range from multi-lingual customer service teams working on behalf of clients through to back-office support, returns management, marketing & content and product photography.”
The move into fulfilment didn’t happen immediately.
James had yearned to run his own business from childhood.
His father, Malcolm, founded Kondor Ltd, the specialist provider of mobile and consumer electronics accessories, in 1994.
It was sold to its management team 20 years later.
James, 44, said: “I used to be paid £2 an hour to work at Kondor but most of that went on Macdonald’s.
“But it gave me a taste for business at an early age.”
After acquiring the warehouse in Three Legged Cross in 2002, James began selling house and garden products and artificial plants.
He said: “It was very difficult to start with but we began listing our own products on Amazon in about 2003/4 and it began to evolve from there.
“But I had this big warehouse and I wasn’t using half of it.
“I thought how can I generate some profit from this space?
“We were obviously plugged into couriers, and other things.
“It struck me that if we could get economies of scale by shipping other people’s stuff then I could get better prices on my own goods and utilise the same systems.”
In 2005, work started on building the software to manage the warehouse and processes – the forerunner of Blade – and James, who had now been joined by a colleague, was on his way to creating the I-Fulfilment of today.
Fairline Yachts and Specsavers were two of the first fulfilment clients.
Fast forward to 2022 and the business now has 120,000 sq ft of warehousing in Christchurch while its new SmartBase site on the Aviation Park at Bournemouth Airport – due to open in the next month or so – has a further 100,000 sq ft of space.
Clients range from large blue chip companies to up-and-coming FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brands across a number of categories.
I-Fulfilment, which was named Best Global eCommerce Fulfilment Specialist at the Southern Enterprise Awards 2021, is now offering its Blade software to companies with their own fulfilment services.
James said: “It means they don’t need to reinvent the wheel but have a ready-made solution.
“They can also use our warehouses and have a global presence almost at the click of a button.
“Our key ambition in the future is to really move into SAAS (Software as a Service) as well as our fulfilment offering.
“If we can execute this well over the next few years then it has the potential to transform the whole business.
“I’m massively proud of what’s been achieved over the last 20 years.
“Watching the teams work and the business grow, you feel like you’ve actually built a business that means something.
“I’ll be mega proud, though, if we get to where I know we can in the coming years.”