Denise Milette has always loved and believed in entrepreneurship. “Ever since I was very young I would try to make money by doing something that others weren't doing,” she told TimelyVisit.
“I was always the kid with the lemonade stand or making haunted houses,” she further shared. “It was very exciting to produce something that others would pay for.”
She also said that what she loves most about herself is her love for being out of the box. “I love flexible time to do the many things I love to do and not being part of the 9 to 5 routine.”
Entering a niche whose name she didn’t even know
Denise got the idea to start We-fulfill, a shipping service, back in 2001 after being hired by her sister and brother-in-law. The two were shipping out demos and literature of their new software line and were in need of someone to ship hundreds of these packages to their customers all over the country.
After doing this work for several months, Denise wondered to herself if there were other companies out there that possibly needed this kind of service too. She discovered that many online businesses actually needed someone to ship their products to the customers who ordered them via the Internet.
“I didn't even know it was called order fulfillment!” she revealed to TimelyVisit.
Now that she had identified a gap in the market that she could fill, Denise embarked on doing her homework. After doing some extensive research, she developed a website, price sheets and was able to start reeling in clients, her first being a Connecticut company that sells hair-care products online.
Denise kept her fulltime job at a local hospital as she slowly but steadily grew her business. She does not have any formal education in business, but her work experience from the accounting department at the hospital came in quite handy. She also utilized the free workshops at the Colorado Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) to learn more about how to run and grow her start-up.
Helping other businesses run smoothly for over a decade
Denise said her niche is assisting new entrepreneurs that don't want to ship their own orders.
“We are small enough to be able to accommodate them and work through the details of shipping their product,” she explained. “Most new businesses can be intimidated by the big box fulfillment companies while We-fulfill offers personalized service to be sure that they succeed.”
Clients from around the country and overseas send her items, including anything from men’s supplements to non-toxic plastic toys and pacifiers, which she stores in her three-car garage at her home in Orchard Mesa near Grand Junction, Colorado. She then packages the products and ships them all over the country to the customers who have ordered them.
We-fulfill’s gross annual revenues top out at about $50,000 and impressively, Denise has never borrowed a dime for her company – the growth has all been organic.
However, despite the business’ good financial performance, Denise says her biggest achievement with We-fulfill is the longevity it has achieved and the great customers they have had. “Although there have been ups and downs I can't believe it's been 13 years since we started,” she remarked.
Riding out the Great Recession and coming out stronger
And speaking of ups and downs, the road hasn’t always been smooth for the business in its 13 years of existence. Denise further disclosed to TimelyVisit that the biggest challenge she has faced so far with We-fulfill was when both the US economy, and the global economy at large, nose dived in 2009.
“I had 15 clients at the time and was very busy. Many of them sold their businesses so of course I lost business,” she shared. “I managed to hold on and work my way back to where We-fulfill is today. Although I don't have 15 clients now they manage to ship the volumes that 15 clients used to do!”
Denise attributes the success and longevity she has enjoyed with We-fulfill to her employees.
“I have been extraordinarily lucky in hiring the best people to assist me. I have two wonderful assistants and I am able to enjoy my other activities and run the non-daily routines,” she said.
“So I think the people are a huge factor in We-fulfill's success. We do what we promise to do and are sure to deliver the best possible service. Remember, we have our clients but they have their customers and we want to be sure everyone is happy,” she added.
About her future plans for the business, Denise says her goal is to grow it but not too much, unlike most entrepreneurs who dream of turning their start-up into multinational giants. “I am always looking for the next client but since this is a home based business, I really want to keep it this way.”
Denise also shared some wise counsel for those with dreams of entrepreneurship of their own.
“Stick with it! Owning your own business can be very emotional and stressful. It doesn't happen overnight so if you have a day job stay with it,” she advised.
“I started We-fulfill while working full time for a local hospital and after five years felt comfortable enough to leave my day job,” she shared.
“Dream big but be realistic. This type of business is very competitive but you just need to find your specialty and go with it,” she concluded.