Comprehensive Guide

Comparing the Costs of Operating Your Own Warehouse vs. Using a 3PL Provider

Deciding between owning or leasing and operating your own warehouse versus utilizing a third-party logistics (3PL) provider involves a detailed analysis of costs, operational control, scalability, and strategic alignment with your business goals.

For business owners…

This decision can dictate the success of your operation. The management of a warehouse, or selection of a partner is an important step in any successful e-commerce business. We are going to walk you through some of the facts you should consider when making the decision between operating your own warehouse.



Key factors to consider when comparing self-operation and 3PL



Using 3PL

Initial Investment

High (purchase/lease, setup)

Lower (setup fees based on services)

Operational Control

Full (customization and direct management)

Limited (depends on 3PL services)

Ongoing Costs

Fixed (maintenance, utilities, staff)

Variable (based on usage and services)


Less flexible (expansion requires more space)

Flexible (scale services to demand)

Expertise Required

High (logistics management, staffing)

Lower (3PL provides expertise)

Market Adaptability

Slower (changes require infrastructure shifts)

Quicker (adjust services as needed)

Capital Commitment

Significant (long-term assets)

Lower (pay for services without owning assets)

Understanding Warehouse Ownership and Leasing Costs


Purchasing vs. Leasing

To illustrate the decision-making process for e-commerce sellers contemplating between leasing a warehouse and other options, here's a simple comparison, including a calculation for leasing a 10,000 SF warehouse:

Leasing a Warehouse

Yearly Rent

$7.74 per square foot

Total Yearly Rent

$7.74 * 10,000 sq ft = $77,400

Utilities and Insurance

Assuming these are covered under the NNN lease; otherwise, we'll add an estimated $2.50 per square foot for utilities and insurance combined.

Owning an Existing Warehouse

Purchase Cost

$145 per square foot

Total Purchase Cost

$145 * 10,000 sq ft = $1,450,000

Yearly Maintenance, Taxes, and Insurance

Estimating 2% of the purchase cost for maintenance and taxes = $29,000

Utilities and Insurance

Adding an estimated $2.50 per square foot for utilities and insurance = $25,000

Total Yearly Operational Costs for Owning


Maintenance, Taxes + Utilities and Insurance = $29,000 + $25,000 = $54,000

Building a New Warehouse

Construction Cost

$214 per square foot

Total Construction Cost

$214 * 10,000 sq ft = $2,140,000

Yearly Maintenance, Taxes, and Insurance

Estimating 2% of the construction cost for maintenance and taxes = $42,800

Utilities and Insurance

Adding an estimated $2.50 per square foot for utilities and insurance = $25,000

Total Yearly Operational Costs for Building (after construction):


Maintenance, Taxes + Utilities and Insurance = $42,800 + $25,000 = $67,800

Here's the revised comparison for leasing, owning, and building a 10,000 square foot warehouse:

Cost TypeLeasingOwningBuilding
Yearly Rent/Purchase Price$77,400$1,450,000 (one-time)$2,140,000 (one-time)
Property Taxes$15,000 (estimated)$15,000 (estimated)$15,000 (estimated)
Total Yearly Operational Cost$122,400$45,000$45,000
Cumulative Cost Over 10 Years$1,224,000$1,450,000 + $450,000$2,140,000 + $450,000
Leasing a Warehouse

With the yearly base rent at $77,400, and adding utilities, insurance, and estimated property taxes, the total yearly operational cost comes to $122,400. Over 10 years, this totals $1,224,000.

Owning an Existing Warehouse

The initial purchase price is $1,450,000. Yearly costs for utilities, insurance, and estimated property taxes add up to $45,000, leading to a cumulative operational cost of $450,000 over 10 years. The total expenditure over this period would be $1,900,000.

Building a New Warehouse

The upfront cost for building is $2,140,000. With the same estimated yearly operational costs as owning, $45,000 for utilities, insurance, and property taxes, the 10-year operational total is $450,000. The overall cost over 10 years would be $2,590,000.


Staffing Costs

Warehouse Manager Salary: $60,000 per year
Full-Time Staff Wages: $15 per hour / $31,200 per year

Assuming each staff member works 40 hours per week and there are 52 weeks in a year, the annual salary for one full-time staff member would be:

Account Management: $500 (monthly)

Account Management: $500 (monthly)

Since there are two full-time staff members, we'll multiply this figure by 2.

Total Staffing Costs

Warehouse Manager Salary


Two Full-Time Staff Members

Total Annual Staffing Cost:
$60,000 (Manager) + $62,400 (Staff) = $122,400

To convert the total annual staffing cost of $122,400 to a monthly cost, we simply divide by 12 months:

Total Monthly Staffing Cost:
$122,400 / 12 = $10,200

So, with a warehouse manager earning $60,000 per year and two full-time staff members each making $15 per hour (or $31,200 annually), the monthly staffing cost for this warehouse operation would be $10,200.


Operational Assets


A Warehouse Management System is crucial for efficient operation. Costs vary depending on the complexity and scale of your operations. Entry-level WMS with limited automation can start around $2,500 per facility, while more advanced systems catering to larger operations can range from $10,000 to $50,000. If you're looking at enterprise-grade solutions with the latest in automation and integration capabilities, you might be looking at an investment ranging from $20,000 to over $200,000. Installation and customization for on-premise systems can add significantly to these costs, with enterprise platforms potentially costing around $10,000 for this phase alone.


The cost of racking depends on the type and size of the racking system you choose. According to industry averages, basic pallet racking can cost anywhere from $50 to $80 per pallet position. For a medium-sized warehouse requiring 1,000 pallet positions, you could be looking at an investment ranging from $50,000 to $80,000.


Forklift prices vary based on capacity, type (electric, diesel, gas), and whether they're new or used. A standard electric forklift might cost between $15,000 to $30,000, while higher-capacity models or those with advanced features can cost upwards of $30,000.

Estimated Total Cost

AssetCost Range
WMS$2,500 - $200,000+
Racking$50,000 - $80,000
Forklift$15,000 - $30,000+

These are industry-average costs and can vary based on specific requirements, location, and vendors. It's important to get detailed quotes from vendors and consider the long-term operational costs associated with each asset.

Miscellaneous Software and Hardware

This category includes the technology and equipment needed for inventory management, order processing, and other warehouse operations. The cost can vary widely based on the specific needs of your e-commerce business and the level of automation and efficiency you aim to achieve.

Labels and Label Applicators

Labels are crucial for inventory management, and label applicators can significantly improve efficiency. While the cost of labels themselves may be relatively low, label applicators can vary in price. For instance, manual label dispensers can be a cost-effective solution for smaller operations, with prices starting from around £61.25 (approximately $80) .

Packaging and Shipping Materials

Boxes, tape, and other shipping materials are ongoing expenses that need to be factored into the operational budget. The cost will depend on the volume of orders processed, the size and weight of the products, and the chosen packaging materials' quality and durability.

Hand Trucks and Other Equipment

Hand trucks and similar equipment are essential for moving stock within the warehouse efficiently. The cost will depend on the specific type of equipment needed, its capacity, and whether you opt for manual or powered options.


Other Facts to Consider

Space Commitment & Flexibility

Committing to a warehouse space, whether leased or owned, impacts flexibility due to fixed costs like rent or mortgage. Effective financial forecasting becomes vital for managing these costs and ensuring operational stability.

Adapting to Market Changes

Quick adaptation to market changes is crucial. Owned warehouses may hinder rapid response due to physical and strategic inflexibility. Leases offer more adaptability, but 3PLs excel in rapid scaling and adjustment to market dynamics, providing a competitive edge.

Scalability & Growth

Scalability is key in warehousing decisions. Leasing allows easy scaling to meet business demands without significant investment. Owning limits quick scalability due to higher time and capital needs. Third-party logistics (3PL) providers offer the greatest flexibility, adapting quickly to growth with minimal capital outlay.

Capital Investment

Warehouse operation choices significantly influence capital commitment. Ownership demands substantial upfront investment, tying up funds that could serve other business areas. Leasing requires less initial capital but involves long-term financial obligations. 3PLs minimize capital commitment, freeing up resources for core business growth.

Expertise & Efficiency

Operating a warehouse demands expertise in logistics and inventory management. Owning or leasing requires in-house knowledge or significant training investment. 3PLs, specializing in these areas, offer efficient, turnkey solutions, potentially speeding up operations without the heavy resource investment.

Leveraging Technology

In today's warehousing, advanced Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are essential for operational efficiency. Owning or leasing may necessitate hefty investments in WMS and ongoing tech support. Partnering with 3PLs allows businesses to leverage cutting-edge technology and insights into inventory and efficiency without the substantial internal investment.


Summary of Costs

When setting up a warehouse and fulfillment center for an e-commerce business, it's important to account for various upfront costs associated with operational assets, staffing, and other essential components. While we've provided average estimates for some of these costs, such as leasing/owning, the implementation of a WMS, racking, forklifts, and staffing, it's crucial to acknowledge that there are numerous other factors that could influence the total investment required.

These may include, but are not limited to, insurance premiums, shipping and setup costs, hiring and training expenses for additional labor, and potential costs associated with labor turnover. Additionally, various aspects of supply chain management and operational efficiency, such as inventory control and order processing, can also impact the overall cost.

It's also worth noting that these estimates represent industry averages and can vary significantly based on location, specific business needs, and market conditions. For a more accurate and tailored cost assessment, it's advisable to consult with industry experts or 3PL providers and request detailed quotes based on your unique business requirements.

Monthly Breakdown

Lease Costs

Rent: Assuming a yearly rent of $7.74 per square foot (as per industry averages), for a 10,000 sq ft warehouse, the monthly rent would be approximately $7,740.


Utilities: Estimated at $2.50 per square foot annually, the monthly cost for a 10,000 sq ft space would be around $2,083 (calculated as $25,000 annually divided by 12 months).


Insurance: This can vary widely but assuming it's included in the NNN lease, it wouldn't be an additional direct cost. If separate, it could be estimated similarly to utilities based on square footage or a fixed monthly rate negotiated with the provider.

Operational Assets (Amortized Monthly Costs):

WMS: Assuming an upfront cost of $50,000 with a 5-year lifespan, the monthly amortized cost would be about $833.

Racking: For a $65,000 setup (mid-range of the estimate), amortized over 10 years, the monthly cost would be $542

Forklifts: With an upfront cost of $22,500 (average of the estimate), amortized over 7 years, the monthly cost would be approximately $268


Staffing Costs: With one warehouse manager at $60,000 per year and two full-time staff at $15 per hour, the total monthly staffing cost would be $10,200.d as $25,000 annually divided by 12 months).

Miscellaneous Supplies

This category includes labels, packaging materials, hand trucks, and more. Assuming a variable cost, a provisional monthly budget might be $1,000, but this could vary based on order volume and specific needs.

Estimated Monthly Cost Summary

Cost ComponentMonthly Cost
Miscellaneous Supplies$1,000
Miscellaneous Supplies$22,666 + Insurance

This breakdown provides a high-level overview and the actual costs can vary based on specific lease terms, operational efficiency, and fluctuating utility rates. It's important to conduct detailed financial planning and consider potential variables such as seasonal demand fluctuations which could affect utility and staffing costs. For the most accurate financial planning, consult with financial advisors or conduct a detailed analysis based on quotes from service providers and suppliers.


Cost of using a 3PL

3PL providers offer a range of services, from warehousing and inventory management to order fulfillment and shipping, each tailored to enhance operational efficiency and scalability. To Understand 3PL pricing you have to look at various cost components, including account management fees, storage costs, order processing charges, and miscellaneous expenses that might arise based on specific needs.

As businesses aim to optimize their logistics operations, a clear grasp of 3PL pricing structures becomes indispensable for making informed decisions that align with strategic goals and budgetary constraints. Below we will go over some of the average costs you can expect when looking for a 3PL:

Account Management

Includes essential administrative support, with setup fees for systems like WMS and OMS averaging around $500. Monthly management fees also typically hover around $500 to ensure ongoing support and system maintenance.

Storage Costs

Calculated based on inventory space (e.g., per pallet, bin), reflecting the complexity and security of storage.

Order Processing Fees

Tailored to order types, with average pick & pack fees for B2C orders ranging from $2.64 to $3.13 per order. B2B orders may incur slightly higher fees due to additional complexities.

Miscellaneous Costs

Can include services like kitting or custom packaging, with fees based on specific client needs. These variable costs are crucial to consider as they can significantly affect overall expenses.


3PL Pricing Structure

Account Management-
Setup Fee$500 (one-time)
Monthly Management Fee$500
Storage Costs-
Per Pallet (per month)$18.30
Per Bin (per month)$3.20
Order Processing (Pick & Pack)-
B2C Order Fee$2.97 per order
Miscellaneous Supplies-

2024 Warehousing Costs Overview

3PL Pick & Pack Price Per 1 Item (B2C Order)


3PL Pick & Pack Price Per 1 Item (B2B Order)


Average Warehouse Storage Price Per Pallet/Month


Pallet Storage Fee Per Cubic Foot/Month


Pallet Storage Fee Per Square Foot/Month


Pallet Storage Fee Per Bin/Month


To illustrate the 3PL pricing structure and provide a sample cost analysis for a t-shirt company, we'll use the average costs and fees discussed earlier. The sample account will cover 1,000 orders processed and the costs for storing 10 pallets and 5 bins.

For a t-shirt company with 1,000 orders processed and 10 pallets + 5 bins in storage:

Account Management: $500 (monthly)

Storage: 10 pallets x $18.30 + 5 bins x $3.20 = $193

Order Processing: 1,000 orders x $2.97 = $2,970

Total Monthly Cost: $500 (Account Management) + $193 (Storage) + $2,970 (Order Processing) = $3,663


Why Use a 3PL: Quick Benefits

Using a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) provider comes with a suite of benefits that can significantly enhance a business's operational efficiency, scalability, and market responsiveness. Here are some of the key advantages:


3PLs bring specialized logistics knowledge, keeping operations efficient and compliant with the latest trends and regulations.

Cost Savings

Leverage 3PL networks for lower shipping and warehousing costs, reducing the need for heavy capital investments.

Core Focus

Partnering with a 3PL lets you concentrate on your business's core areas, fostering growth while logistics are expertly handled.


3PL services are flexible, easily scaling to meet business demands without the limitations of fixed assets.

Customer Satisfaction

3PLs enhance your supply chain's speed and reliability, improving delivery times and order accuracy for a better customer experience.

Advanced Technology

Gain access to the latest logistics technology without significant investment, offering better control and insights.

Risk Management

3PLs navigate supply chain disruptions and regulatory changes, keeping your operations resilient.