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Business Builder: Non-Traditional Distributors Tout Convenience

Posted: Jan. 23, 2013, 4:30 p.m. EST


By Don Jergler

Convenience and automation are the name of the game with “untraditional” distributors. That said, Bo Nelson, owner of Wholesalepet.com in Richmond, Va., doesn’t use the term “distributor.”

“If a manufacturer asks me, I’ll say I’m a manufacturers’ rep,” he said. “If a retailer asks me, I’ll say we’re a buying service.”

Simplifying the world of selling pet products is one of Nelson’s primary goals.

“The value proposition we bring to the retailer is one-stop shopping,” he said.

Retailers can use Wholesalepet.com to order from multiple suppliers as well as receive assistance in facilitating orders and resolving customer service issues with a manufacturer, Nelson reported, adding that he also has high aspirations for reshaping the ordering process.

“Our goal is to put the independent retailers and the small niche manufacturers on the same playing field as the big-box chain stores,” he said. “No one walks around a Target store and decides what to order.”

One way he plans to achieve that goal is by embracing the mobile technology movement.

Odering pet products online
Many non-traditional distrbutors offer retailers the opportunity to order pet products online.

“Mobile is a big thing, and we’re making some adjustments to our site to make it more mobile compatible,” Nelson said. “The world’s definitely moving mobile.”
 
Retailers are becoming more tech savvy, using phones, tablets and laptops to track merchandise, research products, place orders and communicate, he noted. Specifically, more retailers like to walk their stores with their iPads or tablets, choosing items on their shelves to make note of or to restock, Nelson noted.

To make things more mobile-friendly, Wholesalepet.com plans to launch a mobile app as early as this year.

“Then we have a piece of real estate on their phones,” he said, referring to the icons users load onto their phones and tablet devices from which browsers or software can be conveniently launched.

Instead of keying in a bunch of words to place an order, the mobile app would enable users to simply choose an item, then tap a plus or minus sign to add to or subtract from order counts, Nelson said.

“One of the things about being mobile friendly is you want to eliminate keyboard entries,” he said. “As vendors and retailers become more sophisticated, we want to eliminate—as much as possible—data entry by humans.”

Additionally, Nelson is developing an API (application programming interface) in which a user’s point-of-sale system can generate a purchase order and then upload that POS order into the company’s system. There, it will be converted into a Wholesalepet.com order that will be securely delivered to manufacturers.

“Basically they click on a button, that uploads the order file, and that order is going to be in their cart,” he said.

Portland, Ore.-based GoToRovers.com also doesn’t classify itself as a distributor because it doesn’t warehouse goods. Instead, the folks there refer to the operation as an online sales representative.

The company, which just celebrated its sixth anniversary, represents more than 250 vendors and offers a variety of services to qualified pet retailers, vendors and manufacturers.

Retailers can shop with GoToRovers.com only after they have been qualified as legitimate retailers—either brick-and-mortar stores or as online sellers, according to the company. Retailers are required to provide a billing or shipping address, a business name and state of residence tax ID.

“We want to protect the relationship between the retailers and the small business manufacturers by not allowing the public to use the site for their own purposes,” said Amy Shapiro Bossard, co-owner of GoToRovers.com.

The company maintains relationships with its retailers by sending out a weekly informative email blast, which sometimes has a specific theme and features manufacturers with products that fit that theme, she said.

The convenience of ordering online is a big advantage for GoToRovers.com, Bossard noted.

“We find our retailers place orders at all hours of the day and night,” she said. “Particularly in the evening after they’ve come home from work, taken care of their families and are able to sit down and think about what they need to restock, what manufacturers they’ve been hearing about but haven’t seen wholesale information on, and to look for what is new in the pet industry.”

Want more information?
Read about traditional distributors here.

The same goes for Coast 2 Coast Wholesale Pet Products, which offers its customers the option of placing orders online at any hour of the day.

“Retailers like to place an order and know it’s going out quick,” said owner Kurt Hansen. “If we get an order by noon, it’s going out the same day. They like speed.”

Molding Box, a Salt Lake City-based outsourcing provider that offers printing solutions and scalable shipping and handling services is far from a distributor, but the firm is moving into the pet products space.

A growing number of retailers are seeking increasingly more sophisticated marketing exposure, noted Daren Lunt, an account executive with Molding Box. That convinced the company, which is known mostly for its multilevel marketing and direct-response work in nutraceuticals, to tap into what it sees as growth opportunities in the pet business, he said.

“We’ve only got a handful of clients in the space, but we’re getting more and more clients coming to us from that space,” Lunt reported, adding that Molding Box is getting clients from word-of-mouth, online referrals and clients searching for and finding their services online themselves.
 
Because retailers increasingly are conducting a larger share of their own marketing, from email blasts to social networking, it became time for the company to move into the pet arena, Lunt said.

“Retailers are spending more time looking for unique channels to buy,” he said.

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