A proposal is taking shape for a micro-fulfilment centre tailored to Vancouver Island businesses as they move into the highly competitive online marketplace.
A feasibility study and in-depth business plan are still to be completed, but Corry Hostetter — who heads up the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce’s Oceanside Initiatives business-attraction strategy behind the project — is optimistic about the centre, planned for Snaw-naw-as First Nation land in the Nanoose Bay area.
The Nanoose First Nation Economic Development Corp. has agreed to erect a 20,000-square-foot modular warehouse, Hostetter said.
“We feel very confident that this is going to go forward,” she said Friday. “If it helps business on Vancouver Island, and allows business to scale up with online sales, then we believe that it’s going to be a win-win for everybody.”
When the pandemic hit last year, Hostetter’s organization looked at ways to help area companies and discovered that, with fewer customers coming through the doors as a result of new health measures, nearly all of them were looking to start selling their products online. “So what we did is we helped businesses through that challenge.” But as the weeks passed, local businesses ran into problems such as supply-chain gaps, high shipping costs and lack of warehouse space for storing merchandise.
Some business operators were unable to continue with online sales, because they had to pack orders while still running their stores, then deliver them for shipping.
“We all thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have some type of fulfilment centre on the Island?’ ” said Hostetter, who believes the proposed facility would be unique.
“There are warehouses on Vancouver Island and there are delivery specialists, but there isn’t anything that is exactly like what we’re proposing.”
Fulfilment centres help companies with online sales by storing merchandise, packing it up when orders come in and shipping it at a lower cost than for individual packages because they can negotiate on volume. The Island centre would deliver products locally and use other delivery services to distribute more distant orders.
While it would concentrate on serving businesses north of the Malahat, southern Vancouver Island merchants would be welcome to use the centre, Hostetter said.
A preliminary business plan was drawn up and an application for a B.C. Recovery Grant has been approved for $602,000.
The grant to the Parksville Chamber was among 38 rural projects that received a total of $20 million to help communities recover from the economic hit delivered by the virus.
Grant money would initially cover such expenses as infrastructure, supplies, equipment and hiring staff. Once the centre is fully operational, it could require anywhere from 15 to 75 staff, Hostetter said.
The fulfilment centre would likely begin operating later in 2022, moving to full operations in 2023, she said.