3PL Services for Social Enterprises with Dena Hirschberg and Isela Flores of HHPLift - Ep 42

This episode of the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast aired on Tuesday, April 23rd. This episode can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Lauren: Hello, Dena and Isela. Welcome to the Social Enterprise Alliance podcast. We're so excited to have this conversation with y'all today.

Dena: Thank you for having us. We're excited to be here.

Isela: Yeah. Thank you for having us, for sure.

Lauren: Yeah. It's so wonderful to get to talk with y'all. HHPLift has been like longtime members of SEA and we've had a little bit of a representation from your organization, but excited to kind of have a more in depth conversation with y'all today.

Um, we always love to start with the question, what is your story? So for each of y'all, where did you come from? Like how did you get involved with social enterprise? What drew you to the movement? Yeah, we're really excited to hear all of that.

Dena: So, I started at HHPLift back when it was called Helping Hand Partners in 2010. And at the time, I had another business, uh, my business partner and I made arts and crafts kits. It was a multi award winning product for kids. And I knew Michael because our kids were in the same class at the same school. And he asked me to help. And I said, sure, I'm happy to give a couple hours a week. And the very first sale I did was to a major, major local company. And I sold about-- maybe it was 2, 500 of an item.

 And I thought that's pretty good, that's the biggest sale they've ever had. And, it was a recycled bowl, it was a bowl made out of recycled iron washers. And when I placed that order, when I communicated that order to the producing partner in India, the effusive gratitude because that sale was going to provide clean water filters and indoor sanitation and help create a free education for 250 of the artisan's children, that forever changed me.

And it was at that moment then when I reached out to my business partner and I said, you know I think I've been really affected. And I will support you in any way I can, but this is where I need to be. And that really was my origin story for being in this space.

Lauren: That's amazing. Um, what about you, Isela?

Isela: I came from, uh, a larger corporation. I was working there for many, many years. I actually know Michael, from his previous company, and that's how I knew that HHPLift was, was around. So, yeah, I connected with Dina. I knew Michael. I said, Hey, do you guys have any opportunities for me to join the team?

 Luckily for me, there was a position where I, I definitely, was very interested in. I came in, I fell in love with the place, I fell in love with the values that HHP brings, Dina brings, Michael brings. Yeah, that was the seller for me, and I started in, um, 2021 and I've been here so far and I wouldn't leave it.

 It's just an amazing company. It's just such an amazing thing.

Dena: Isela's part of our top management team and 100 percent of our top management team is female and 66 percent of that are black and women of color. It's just a beautiful tapestry and some incredibly smart, talented people are here and help me stay on track and provide great feedback.

David: Yeah, well, I think that's a perfect lead into my next question. Tell us a little bit more about HHPLift, the history of the impact. You mentioned, Helping Hands Prosper. Is that right?

Dena: So it was originally founded in 2007 as a C Corp helping hand helping hand incentives, I think was the first iteration because it served specifically the incentive channel, which is a very big industry . At that time, papers were filed in order to become a 501c3 which we are now; but it took some time to earn that status and the next iteration was we had b corp certification and at that time I think we were then called helping hand rewards again still within the incentive world.

When we expanded the channels in which we did business to include, advertising specialty, industry, and consumers and retailers and all other kinds of channels, in addition to growing the global social enterprise partners that we work with, that's when we became Helping Hand Partners. That's the HHP in the HHPLift.

2015 is when we first began operating. I think we were conferred 501c3 status at the end of 2014, something like that, and the first year we operated as a non profit was in 2015. Um so that business model really changed from initially just essentially being a rep connecting social enterprise producers to buyers in the incentive channel.

 And then the next thing we did was we were buying to support our social enterprise partners. We would buy the product and resell it. And that was a better model. So that distributorship model is really what grew into what it is today.

In 2017, we added to that model; we expanded to also production. We had people with expertise, uh, who could lead that. And then we found ourselves, uh, our business in the advertising specialty industry kind of exploded, and part of that was they were not just buying our logo products, but they were sending us other people's logo products for us to bundle, to kit and assemble, and then either bulk ship internationally or locally, or even drop ship. Well, guess what? That was the beginning of this third party logistics that we didn't even realize we were doing. And about two years into that, I realized we could monetize it and really develop it and provide very deep services.

And so in 2020, during COVID is when that really started to take off for us. So we provide those services for major distributors, but also other social enterprises for whom this just isn't in their wheelhouse.

David: Well, it's really cool to hear just like the evolution all of these things ultimately leading to more of an impact.

 Just so everyone also knows, we've mentioned Michael a few times; I want to make sure that people know who he is and his part of the HHP story.

Dena: So Michael's the founder. Michael founded HHPLift in 2007 when he was president of a major 120 million dollar incentive company, which is why we were in that incentive channel initially.

 Now he is chairman of the board, and he continues to be a mentor. I just got off the phone with him and he's wonderful

David: Awesome.

Lauren: Yeah, that's fantastic. And, um, really like the third party logistics is the part that, you know, we wanted to talk with you all about today and kind of highlight, because it is kind of a newer service that HHPLift is offering. And I also have been seeing there's such a great need for it within the social enterprise community.

So, yeah, what does that look like today? What services do you offer? And, um how is that creating more impact in the social enterprise movement?

Isela: Yeah, definitely. Um it's been a growing thing for us. I feel like we have the ability to connect with the clients because we have interactions with the clients', uh portals.

We can easily go in there and pull orders out of their Shopify, their, uh, personalized web portals that clients might connect to. We do have the experience in shipping domestic; international shipments as well. So we know what those brokerage fees look like, HTS codes, all the things that go along with an international package.

 We also have the ability to do bulk shipments. Kitting, which, that's an easy thing for us because we have the space for it. We have the knowledge for it. We have the people that will come together to kit those products. And we could do mass, uh, shipping, and have the ability to bulk print labels for all those kits.

Um, there is a system in place. We validate every single order. We pretty much have our checks and balances for all of that. We have the knowledge of receiving inventory: how to mark and place each inventory into the shelving units to make sure that those units are placed by project number, depending on what the client has; it could be a project names, project numbers, project SKUs, which a lot of our clients do create for us. So there is a very organized structure that we have in the warehouse to make sure, that's entailed. We also have a, a software that helps us manage the inventory. Every inventory that is received is inputted into this software that manages every single piece of unit that is warehoused here at HHPLift

so if we ship out 10 units for a specific SKU, we'll know exactly where those SKUs went. And, and its visibility as well to the client. So if they wanted to run reports, they will have a dashboard where they can view their inventory. They could see what's low in stock. Um, they'll know exactly where orders are going, what's not moving, what's kind of stuck, what's actually moving. So, so that's a plus here at HHPLift.

Dena: I will say, you know, I mentioned before that I was, uh, had my own company before I came on board with HHP Lift or whatever it was called at that time.

My business partner and I, we produced a very successful line of kids products, but we did everything out of our house. We took orders, we had, you know, the front closets and the living rooms were filled with our product and it wasn't until we offloaded and outsourced fulfillment that it allowed us to now do what we do best at the time in that business, which was innovate, create new products, build our business, get additional key accounts. And that's my experience share, uh, to kind of tell you the benefits that enure to a social enterprise with using us and our expertise in third party logistics.

You know, from kitting and assembly, we'll even build your product. Let's say your product is five sticks in a box. We'll put five sticks in a box. Let's say you want us to create case packs. We'll put those five sticks in a box and then 10 boxes in a, a carton. Pick and pack customization: you want insert cards, you want it fancy schmancy, you want it maybe gift-wrapped on certain occasions. We can do that. And I think one of the things that's really nice is our multi platform e-commerce fulfillment. So many social enterprises are on Fair, some are on Etsy, some have their own Shopify site. All of those platforms we integrate with and can do the fulfillment. In addition, we can do your bulk shipping to retail stores or to grocery stores or whatever that outlet is.

So the ability to have such flexibility, uh, and then for us, what's wonderful is it's part of the program. So this is where folks are getting trained in logistics and getting used to and learning state of the art technology-- we use state of the art technology-- and it's one of the skills-based, industry sector training that we provide. The other in production and digital fabrication and laser etching. So with every shipment, you're not just going to some outside warehouse company that may or may not have purpose in each package; we provide that additionally. So from your whole process as a social enterprise, your whole mission-based business is now completed with a mission-based fulfillment center as well.

Lauren: That's amazing.

That's like, it's so comprehensive and it leads me down a couple of trains of thought; for one, it's a conversation that we have often here at SEA, and it's just, in terms of the broad social enterprise movement, how can we, as social enterprises, be supporting other social enterprises?

You know, like Dave gives an example often of a, um, office supply store that's local to him, that has a workforce development component with, I think was it people who are blind, David? Is that, am I remembering that correctly? Right. So it's, like, how can we be sourcing from actual impact creation organizations as well? So I think that's absolutely fantastic.

The other thing that it gets me thinking about is just that, um, I guess when I'm thinking about the third party logistics, I'm thinking about the warehouse side of it, the actual storage of the goods, and then the work of putting together the packages, mailing them out.

But, um, Isela, you were talking about, so many things that as someone who doesn't work in fulfillment, I've never heard of, you know, all the different like codes for international shipment and all of these things that I would expect, if you're like, kind of a smaller business and you're getting into this for the first time, those would be significant obstacles; to just figure out how to do any of this so that you're doing it well, but you're doing it sustainably and that you're doing it in a way that actually gets your goods from point A to point B. So it's just really cool that you found a way to take everything that HHPLift has done for so long and create a whole separate program that serves that need for other social enterprises too.

Isela: That's awesome. Yeah. And I actually just want to add to that a little bit. Any project, big or small, HHPLift has the capability, the ability, and the space to work on any project. So it could be one single order, it could be 10, 000 orders or 500 kitting projects; we can do that. And on top of that, you get that dedicated rep, that customer service person, that's going to come back to you. We are proud that we're able to give that quality customer care, to our clients to ensure that they're able to report anything back to their suppliers, their clients.

We also have an additional project management tool where our clients can share excel sheets with orders, they can inquire the status of an order, they can receive tracking on an order, and it's an internal system that works for us, which they can be included in, so that we can have that broader, more open understanding and um, communication.

Dena: And that communication is so important because many people have no clue about what this entails.

And so we, we kind of walk them through it. We want to share that information, be really transparent. Our pricing structure is very competitive nationwide and a little lower in some regards. And one thing we do not do, which a lot of DCs do, is there is no penalty for low volume. We don't ask that you keep a minimum monthly volume at all. I think, that really is problematic.

 We don't penalize you for stale inventory. That's your choice. We're happy to warehouse it and hold it. We'll help you with inventory levels. We'll help you with threshold levels. We export all over, um, as well as importing our own goods. So we do this for ourselves as well as for our partners. And we're in Chicago, we're centrally located. We share in the great rates that we get. So, um, just, uh, great benefits and features of what we do.

David: Yeah, well, and I love so much of the story, right? The evolution of where y'all began. It certainly informs the expertise that you have available to you. It informs the growth that you've been able to experience. And then now being able to turn it outward-focused and really empower other people, just taking that impact to an exponential level is really phenomenal.

And I can personally say, last year I was in Chicago for a librarian convention, kind of speaking on my book and its release. So I had the opportunity to go to your warehouse, um, you guys embody everything that you're talking about. The warehouse is amazing. You have space that's expandable. It's just really a fantastic place. And you're now putting yourself in a position to help other social enterprises. And I want to speak to that a little bit more. So it's a new service that you're offering, but it really is this empowering posture that you've taken. And we have something exciting about this episode, just sharing this partnership between these 3PL services and our membership for SEA.

So want to kind of bring that into the conversation and, tell us about what you guys are here to help our members with.

Dena: So we have about 12,000, 13,000 square feet. But when we first did it, we were about 1200 square feet, you know, when we were doing fulfillment for a major, major automobile company; it was hilarious. But, uh, certainly more than capable space-wise now.

So with our co members of SEA, we are waiving the 500 dollar setup fee. A setup fee is, uh, significant. You know, that includes our meeting together, getting you in our system, I mean, there's a lot that we are giving to our members, in order to help you guys and get it going.

Lauren: Yeah, that's so incredible. We're so thankful. We're so excited for our members. Um, and, if that's something that you are interested in, listeners, we have, details in the show notes for how to get connected with HHPLift 3PL services.

And for anyone else who's just interested in maybe learning more about your services and more about HHPLift, where can they find out more about y'all?

Dena: Hhplift.com, or come and see us. We love to have people here. We have candle-making parties that you can do for corporate events, team building, or just have a fun evening one night at 329 West 18th Street in Chicago, right on the river. It's beautiful.

David: Yeah, that's really cool to think of it in that way. You know, Chicago is such a great city to go visit. So to visit and then already have a built-in, like, fun activity for your team or something, that's, that's an idea that I wouldn't have thought of if you didn't just say that. So that's super fun.

Lauren: Well, Dena, Isela, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today and sharing more about HHPLift and 3PL. This is really an awesome, awesome to just get to hear about it.

Dena: Thank you so much.