“I think everyone likes the romantic notion of being an entrepreneur, but few have the intestinal fortitude to make a change.”
– Bob Klunk, Founder – DMI Fulfillment
These are the words of DMI Fulfillment’s founder, Bob Klunk. An experienced businessman with over 24 years in the field, Klunk went on to launch DMI Fulfillment, a startup that services large and small companies (many of which are startups themselves) by providing them with order fulfillment and distribution management of their products nationwide.
This means everything from packing and shipping boxes, to keeping track of inventory, which allows startups to concentrate on other important elements of running their business. The advantage of DMI Fulfillment is that it already has the resources and connections of a larger company in place so businesses that rely on e-tailing don’t have to worry about having an amateur in charge of putting their products and brand in the hands of a less capable company.
Bob Klunk knows what he’s talking about when it comes to running a business and it was a pleasure communicating with him about how he sees the entrepreneurial landscape. Here’s what he shared with me about his business vision and DMI Fulfillment:
Tell us a little bit about what DMI Fulfillment does.
DMI Fulfillment is a more recent entrepreneurial offshoot of the older, more established DMI, which stands for Distribution Management, Inc. We exist because of the innovations of multiple parties, with years of experience and know-how in the business of third-party logistics, or 3PLs. We also exist because of a meeting at a bar, a plan on a napkin, and shared belief in this idea – I’m not kidding, that bar napkin part was real.
The bigger 3PLs work nation-wide but have trouble servicing small to mid-sized companies. The smaller 3PLs worked well in localized areas, but I saw a need for scaling – could a larger corporation help smaller companies with national distribution?
After years of working in the 3PL industry, I believed it was possible to scale and was pursuing that on my own when I was introduced to DMI. Instead of consulting for them on their venture, they hired me for the creation of DMI Fulfillment.
Tell me about your previous business experience and in what way it has informed your current goals with DMI Fulfillment?
I’ve worked in big companies where I was a cog in a wheel, and expected to behave in a certain way. “Don’t move too fast, don’t go outside the lines…” There were a lot of meetings about innovation, but mistakes were frowned upon.
What have you learned about entrepreneurship specific to your experience launching DMI Fulfillment?
There are so many different ways to launch a business now. Instead of “Funding,” I think of raising money for a business as “Sponsorship.” Social media and the accessibility to business information technology allows for niche mass marketing. Also, it’s a lot of hard work and time, but it’s not nearly as terrifying as it seems.
A serial entrepreneur and long time business associate of mine uses the phrase “…with the courage to leap off the entrepreneurial cliff and the unwavering faith that a net will appear.”
It really does work. So many people are willing to lend their talent. I had one prospect tell me that the reason she chose DMI for fulfillment was that it was a start-up and she likes helping companies get started. I think everyone likes the romantic notion of being an entrepreneur, but few have the intestinal fortitude to make a change.
Studies show that job changes rank right next to death of a loved one and divorce as the most stressful things in life. I guess if you believe that, then it’s true for you. I’ve found that working with people you like and being positive every day makes it work. Find good people to work with.
How long did it take you to launch DMI Fulfillment?
I knew this was the industry where I could do something as long ago as 2001. But there were kids, bills, braces, transmissions, broken water pipes and all the reasons you felt like you need to play it safe. I made a move in 2003 in this direction, but was struck with a life-threatening illness that took five years to fix. After that, I actively pursued funding for about two years before finding the right sponsor and environment.
I needed support with the culture and vision willing to embrace the same goals.
Because of the planning I had from my earlier pursuits, teaming up with DMI was an express project. From the time I met the owners at DMI, to the time we hung the “Open for Business” sign, was 8 months. We landed our first client one month later. We were fully operational, providing services and invoicing a few weeks after that- just 10 months total from the first conversation.
Who were some key figures along the way without whom DMI’s launch wouldn’t have been possible?
The owners and leadership at DMI have a great entrepreneurial spirit and provided an incubator with all the shared services and infrastructure to launch an adjacent business. I’ve had some great mentors and role models, but the single most influential person was Cheryl Hill, who introduced me to the owners of DMI.
Other key people included a salesman from a previous employer, as well as Big Red, a friend and former boss. My wife is awesome and a great supporter. The spirit to do these things probably runs in families too. My father quit his job to run his own business in 1977 even though every family member told him that he was crazy.
Are there customers using DMI who you didn’t anticipate would be using your business when you launched?
I won some really nice accounts pretty quickly, (well, pretty quickly after 10 years, that is), with some killer brand names. It’s like a giant virtual flea market. There are many more opportunities than I had dreamed. My business is so far 100% referrals.
The clients care about doing business with someone they trust. The What and the How don’t seem to matter as much as I thought they would.
When it comes to startup advice, what was the worst piece of advice you received?
The worst piece of advice I received was to, “wait until you have X amount of dollars in the bank.”
What are some repeated mistakes startups typically make that you feel can be avoided?
I talk to people who are doing startups all the time, and of course what I see is that they wait too long to figure out their distribution. When people call me, they are often well into launching their business and look at fulfillment as an afterthought. There’s a lot I can do to help when I am involved earlier in the process.
What are some new developments with DMI that you can share with our readers?
Our main focus right now is making it increasingly easier to do business with us. We’re developing simple interfaces to process, order, and inventory information, making it easy to get started. This gives simple ways to provide omni-channel distribution – more than just an Internet order could provide.
When you’re not involved with DMI, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
I don’t remember. I have four teenagers.
How can our readers get in touch with you?