As the economy is still in a state of recovery, suppliers are working hard to offer deals that will help store owners survive. By supplying high quality products at discount prices, these distributors are giving retailers items that they want and can afford to buy. According to Andrew Siegel, vice president of sales at The Tin Box Company, "As retailers begin looking for seasonal and spring merchandise, they and their shoppers are looking for high quality items at low prices, below a $5 price point."
Siegel sees a trend in the coming year for smaller, higher quality items. For example, one of the company's signature tin boxes is being reworked in a smaller size and at a lower cost. He also reports that licensed merchandise is a good way to add value. "We're seeing a pick up in demand for licensed seasonal merchandise," notes Siegel, "such as princesses with hearts, rather than everyday designs."
The Tin Box Company has been selling online for years. "When we launched our online store in 2000, we were one of the first small manufacturing companies to sell wholesale," recalls Siegel. From the start, the site has been open to all visitors, with a $150 minimum. Keeping the website simple and functional has remained a top goal, and the company is meeting that goal by using Yahoo to handle trade sales. "We used Yahoo because it was a solution that was very affordable and easy to set up quickly," says Siegel. "They have good reporting, without manual entry of orders." Making a flexible site was important to The Tin Box Company. "We try to keep it user-friendly. Shoppers can even browse by item number. We wanted to make it as seamless as possible," he explains.
Reaching out to wholesale customers is also a priority at West Coast Design Studios. Founder Sheri Hanson started the company out west, selling mobiles and wind toys to lawn and home stores. "I've always been in wholesale," she says. "We started off selling to the independent retailer. Then, we started selling retail online to customers who could not find a store near them. Now we're working to make our site wholesale once again." Looking to sell to more stores, Hanson is using an online trade store through WholesaleCentral.com, the sister site to Web Wholesaler magazine. "I use WholesaleCentral.com for my wholesale site." she says. "I just hired somebody to figure out how to link our wholesale site to our company website at westcoastdesignstudios.com."
West Coast Design Studios is no longer based on the West Coast, however. "We moved," Hanson explains. "My mother is old, and I got tired of flying. I get to spend more time with her this way." However, that has created a disconnect between the company location and its name. "Now people look at us askance," she says. Hanson is gradually transitioning the company away from the West Coast Design Studios name to The Rainbow Makers. The company still specializes in the same popular products; producing mobiles and wind toys that make rainbows, living up to its new name.
Selling rainbows, the spring and summer seasons are the best time for the company. This coming spring, the company is launching a new line of indoor products that bring the outdoors in, functioning as wall art as well as wind art.
Fun Express, a division of Oriental Trading Company, has made a business out of helping kids have fun. According to Lisa Schaffer, a senior media planning analyst, "We are a wholesale supplier of toys, novelties, and personalized products for retail, redemption, and promotion businesses." Keeping up with kids takes hard work, and the company is continually rolling out new products. "Our seasons are ongoing and our customers want parties throughout the year," she says. "From tableware to patriotic products to Halloween decorations, we are always updating our seasonal catalogs."
The spring, however, brings in the biggest sales. "Valentine's Day and Easter are important to our business." Shaffer notes. Looking ahead, she has her eyes on Easter eggs, inspirational items, toys, and novelties, especially in neon and other spring colors. "We're always on the lookout for new items. We know that's important to our customers, and that's an important part of Fun Express," Shaffer emphasizes. The company uses its website primarily as a selling tool. "Our site may be the first glimpse a customer gets of our products," she explains. "It is so much faster than a catalog, and our customers also benefit by using the catalog and the website together."
The site is set up so that each buying segment of the company's business has a place to look at products online. Shoppers can easily identify what category they fall into, and then click on the tab for that category. Moreover, the new items and the clearance sections are very popular among shoppers, and Fun Express uses email messages to get the word out when items are updated online. "We listen to our customers and see what is easiest for them," Shaffer notes. "Ease of navigation is something that we have prioritized. We also change the products that are being showcased, keeping it fresh, and update the favorites section as the year progresses."
Russ Crohe, the website administrator for Penn Distributing, is well versed in the challenges of making a site that is customer friendly. The wholesale supplier of seasonal products has operated websites that were created internally, as well as externally. "We're in a developmental stage right now," Crohe says, "because we built an in-house site a couple years ago, and then we decided to have a professional company redo it, which is the current site we have up." A year since its launch, the professionally designed site functions primarily as a resource for the sales team. "They use it to show the abundance of product we have for sale," he notes. The website does attract some retailers, but users have to register first and submit their tax info. Retailers who want to see the different pricing levels must fill out a form to verify that they are in fact in business. They are then given access to pricing.
"I'm hoping our business grows as more retailers look at the site, place more small orders, and get more comfortable with it," notes Crohe. Part of the professional initiative is intended to boost search engine rankings for Penn Distributing. "We're just starting a campaign with the people who made the site for us," says Crohe, explaining the company's strategy to jumpstart its search engine rankings using a new blog, as well as Twitter and Facebook. He adds that the company is holding off on orders for the coming spring season. "My buyers should be getting ready in the next month or so," he explains. "In the next two to three months we'll be adding quite a bit of seasonal merchandise coming up." Most recently, Penn Distributing featured a range of LED items for its upcoming Valentine's Day merchandise.
Mark Cohen, the owner and CEO of Bongo Flashers, has also noticed a growing trend for the purchase of LED merchandise. "We sell LED novelty products, from necklaces to ice cubes, pretty much anything that lights up. At first we thought it would phase out, but more applications have popped up, and there's no looking back now," he says, convinced that LED merchandise is going to be popular for awhile. That works in his company's favor because LED items are not only popular but affordable, and in this economy, offering low prices is paramount.
And while LED products continue to make sales, Cohen points to two other hot products for seasonal and spring sales. "Swords are selling very well right now, and we have a new line of necklaces with hearts for Valentines next year," he says. The company continues to innovate, with new variations on existing items. Bongo Flashers has a minimum order of 20 pieces, and retailer customers can expect margins of 40 percent and more. As an online wholesaler, the company has learned to prioritize its Internet presence. "Improving our search engine rankings is a daily project," says Cohen, "and the best feature of our site for that is our blog. We write about things that are coming up, as well as new products. The blog helps with Google. When you blog, they rank you higher when you have relevant content." Bongo Flashers is also using Facebook and Twitter to boost its Web presence. "We just doubled our Twitter followers over the last month or so," says Cohen.
Raenell Agnew, director of marketing at Bellissimo, says the company is working harder in this retail environment to stay even. "Last Christmas we did two or three times as many orders as usual, for nearly the same revenue," she explains. "Usually people buy in the summer and the very early fall months for the holidays, but they are putting off their purchasing decisions because nobody knows what's going on." Customers are making more orders, but they are smaller than in the past. "Instead of buying a set of four, they'll buy a set of two, or people will buy a piece to start a collection, but not the entire collection," Agnew notes. Still, she is optimistic, saying, "It's slower than it was prior to 2008, but we saw a resurgence in the beginning of this year. We see things coming back gradually." One of the ways Bellissimo is weathering the economy is by offering special items that are made in America. "We have a very unique product, and we don't have any competition," she says. "We make a beautiful hand-painted, American-made products that act as functional art and giftware."
Agnew says that offering a standout item is key to maintaining demand. "Shoppers still want unique, high quality American gifts, but the economy has dictated that they do not have as much money to spend on non-essentials," she says. "We have 50 original designs, and each design is available on 50 different glass items." Grouped broadly into themes, she expects the spring season to see an increase in demand for spring themes, especially flowered items such as those in hibiscus and Texas Blue Bonnet designs.
Bellissimo's current website is a retail site that doubles as a product catalog. "The retail website is a marketing tool so customers can look at product," she says. "It is also a good resource for the drop ship program." However, Agnew wants to reach out to wholesale buyers, so Bellissimo is joining WholesaleCentral.com to establish a wholesale online presence "We're opening a wholesale site on WholesaleCentral.com because we need to be better able to attract more wholesale buyers," she explains. "With 1,000 products, we decided that it would be better to have our wholesale site connected to a large wholesale base, than to be floating out there by ourselves. We did a lot of research on where to put our site, and we decided that WholesaleCentral.com does a great job of attracting wholesale buyers."
Although suppliers in general are seeing smaller orders than in the past, savvy wholesalers and retailers are staying on top of the trends by offering consumers high quality, eye catching products at low prices. They are getting smarter about their websites and attracting the retail trade, as they reach out to store owners and buyers.
For more information:
The Tin Box Company
216 Sherwood Avenue
Farmingdale, NY 11735
Toll Free: 800-888-8467
The Rainbow Makers At West Coast Design Studios
PO Box 308
Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632
Oriental Trading Company
P.O. Box 2308
Omaha, NE 68103-2308
Toll Free: 800-875-8494
7510 Thomas Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15208
Toll Free: 800-356-8578
19140 #4 Lahey St.
Northridge, CA 91326
Toll Free: 866-707-5483
Bellissimo Hand Painted Gifts
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33148
Toll Free: 1-800-377-6407
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