Company. MyUS.com Industry. Shipping, Logistics Key. Company redesigned its employee evaluation process to focus on customer service.
When Ramesh Bulusu says the company he oversees, a global shipping and exporting business with $80 million in annual sales, is highly regulated, that's no lie.
Take this parcel: The firm, Sarasota-based MyUS.com, has 16 people on the payroll, out of 300 total employees, who only handle compliance. Those 16 employees report to 14 federal agencies, including everything from U.S. Customs to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bulusu says the small army of compliance officers is one of many pieces that give MyUs its sizable competitive advantage in its niche business, the explosive cross-border e-commerce sector. MyUS does mainly two things. One, with its massive 170,000-square-foot facility, it essentially provides a storage locker for people overseas, particularly foreign nationals and expats, who buy goods from a website in the United States. Next, the company, using four shipping entities, including FedEx and UPS, sends the packages to the international customer on an on-demand basis. It makes money off a fee it charges for storage and shipping.
MyUs has more than 360,000 customers who buy from at least 300,000 websites. Those customers store 65,000 packages, equivalent to 130,000 items, on any given day in the MyUS facility off Clark Road.
Owned in part by private equity firm Palm Beach Capital, the company, says Bulusu, has spent well into the millions since 2013 to overhaul everything from its software system to the mission statement. The latest move is a new and expanded employee evaluation and bonus system.
Bulusu was named CEO in August 2014. He is the second CEO at the company since the founder, entrepreneur Eric Baird, sold it to Palm Beach Capital in September 2012. “The people, processes and systems we have put in place the last three years have made us unmatchable,” says Bulusu. “Cross-border e-commerce is here to stay, and no one is positioned as well as MyUS to take advantage of that.”
The cross-border e-commerce industry is primed to grow from less than $200 billion in total sales in 2015 to $424 billion by 2021, according to a recent report from research firm Forrester. China, the report projects, will take a big share of the sector, growing from 27% of the industry to 40% in 2021.
While the potential is big, individual companies face numerous challenges, and compliance with U.S. regulations is just the start. Other countries have stringent shipping rules and fees, for example, and there can be issues in how different places weigh goods. There are also cultural and language barriers.
“Freight is really difficult overseas,” says Natalie Lane, marketing director at Palm Harbor-based FreightCenter, a third-party logistics firm with $32.4 million in sales in 2015. About 10% of the company's revenues come from overseas clients. “It's pretty intricate.”
MyUS posted some wild growth years, even in the complex marketplace. It had $65 million in sales in 2012, up 1,200% from $5 million in 2004. Baird, who founded MyUS in 1997, from an idea he got from a specialty catalog business his mom ran, was the Business Observer's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009. Sales flattened at $80 million in 2015 over 2014, says Bulusu, partially from the fluctuation in the U.S. dollar, which lowered fees clients paid.
Bulusu expects sales to increase nearly 10% in 2016, partially from expanding into small business accounts and resellers. The company is also expanding its marketing in the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Says Bulusu: “I'm very bullish about MyUS.”
Part of that optimism comes from what MyUS calls its simple, transparent approach with customers.
It starts when an international customer signs up for a MyUS address, under plans that range from $7 to $25 a month. The customer can then shop, from Amazon to tiny product-specific websites. At checkout, a customer enters MyUS's Sarasota building for the address. Each MyUS client gets a suite number inside the facility.
That suite is the customer's virtual locker. He can order dozens of products, have them sit in Sarasota, and when he is ready, tell MyUS to ship all or some of the stuff overseas. The customer can check on packages and ship with the MyUS mobile phone app.
Other websites and companies ship products overseas from the U.S., but many have spotty service and are costly, says Bulusu. He says MyUS, using volume-based discounts with FedEx, DHL and UPS, has better prices and faster service. The company's expertise in dealing with customs and regulations, he adds, allows customers to order products that contain lithium batteries or other potentially hazardous materials.
While customers in at least 200 countries, from Australia to Brazil to China, wait for shipments, MyUS is a daily orchestra of cardboard. The center opens at 6 a.m., when trucks dock in and unload. On a recent Friday morning, right before lunch, products streamed in. Many boxes had an Amazon logo; others were from national retailers. By mid-afternoon the process shifts. Drivers are back, this time on a mission to load up trucks with packages for a ride to the airport.
A team of MyUS employees monitors every step, from entry to exit. “The business is true business to consumer,” Bulusu says. “It fascinates me.”
Promote more business
In the offices next to the warehouse, the strategy MyUS has to execute on Bulusu's vision starts with the new and highly detailed employee evaluation and grading plan. It revolves around the Net Promoter Score, a customer service evaluation tool.
The NPS stems from a question at the end of a customer call. The employee asks a customer how likely, on a scale of one to 10, they are to recommend the business, product or service to others. A nine or 10 is a loyal fan considered a promoter and someone who can build brand equity. A seven or eight, according to Satmetrix, the firm that co-developed NPS, represents satisfied customers who are not loyal enough that competitors can't lure them. A zero to six score is for unsatisfied customers who can wreck a brand with poor word of mouth. They are considered detractors.
The NPS equation subtracts the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. That yields the Net Promoter Score, a range of 100 to -100.
“I'm a big believer in NPS,” Bulusu says. “We've rebranded it as our Delight Index.”
With the Delight Index, any MyUS employee with a role that touches a product, which counts customer service and many warehouse jobs, gets a Delight Index score on a weekly and monthly basis. The Delight Index, posted on walls in various departments, looks at metrics such as packing quality, ease of use, speed of delivery and customer service helpfulness. The compilation of an employee's scores, in a plan introduced earlier this year, determines how much extra that MyUS employee will earn in bonuses and incentives.
“Our performance and goals are directly related to customer satisfaction. This isn't a one-off purchase like a travel site,” says Bulusu. “We are in business to serve customers again and again.”
Connecting pay to performance based on customer satisfaction, says Bulusu, is the best way to grow the company's client base through word of mouth. “We are the last touch,” says Bulusu. “We are truly holding their dreams.”
The Delight Index is just one of several new initiatives under Bulusu designed to create a better place to work at MyUS. It also launched an employee of the month program last year.
Each department, which includes about 200 people in operations/warehouse, 50 people in customer service and another 50 in finance, IT and related functions, gets one winner a month. The winner gets to go to lunch with Bulusu, a reserved parking spot and a gift card from a list of places, including Amazon, Netflix, eBay and Outback Steakhouse.
The company also provides lunches for employees Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. That tradition goes back to the fast-growth days in the mid- and late 2000s under Baird, a highly competitive founder/executive who once worked on Wall Street.
The soft-spoken, analytical data-driven Bulusu joined MyUS in spring 2014, initially as chief marketing officer. Born in India, Bulusu earned his M.B.A. from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in chemical engineering from Oklahoma State. He was promoted to CEO after seven months. Bulusu ran marketing departments at Sears and travel website Orbitz, among other positions, before he relocated to the Gulf Coast.
Bulusu says his motivation and anxiety with MyUS come from the same place: Will the enhanced employee performance plan, mixed in with outside marketing, be enough to overcome inherent challenges MyUS faces with the global business?
“This isn't an easy business to scale,” says Bulusu. “It's complex.”
The 170,000-square-foot facility MyUs.com uses to store, then ship thousands of packages worldwide is a wild collection, from baby cribs to coffin parts. Other products range from clothes, books and electronics to SUV tires, a Porsche engine and a top for a BMW.
“What we see in here every day is remarkable,” says Ramesh Bulusu, CEO of the Sarasota-based company. “If you can imagine it, our customers can buy it. As long as it will fit on a plane.”