A premiere wholesale distribution company is moving even more of its business online. Summit Road Distributing, selling a large assortment of products, dipped its toes in the ecommerce waters years ago with a site on WholesaleCentral.com. Then, in 2008 the company launched an award winning business to business site of its own, with full shopping cart implementation. However, the company's large wholesale shoppers, buying goods to sell to other businesses, were not using the new site, instead shopping by fax and through sales reps and by phone. "Currently, those customers can call in to us, and they can get discounted wholesaler pricing that the retailers cannot access," says Jennifer Rudolph, Summit Road's marketing coordinator. "Now we're giving them that same access online."
The company's goal is to make all of its different pricing tiers available to all customers online, but the path to that goal has taken time and effort, starting three decades ago, says Rudolph. "We've been distributing to the convenience store, wholesaler and reseller market for over 30 years, and now we do have a very broad line," she explains. "We carry anything that a typical mom and pop, dollar, or convenience store would be interested in selling, especially the novelty impulse items, because those have very high profit margins."
When Summit Road Distributing launched its site three years ago, the company had only about 700 skus available online, out of the 4,000 available. Rudolph is proud of that initial effort, which was recognized for customer friendliness. "Our site won an advertising award when it was launched, the Hermes Gold Creative Award for 2008," she says, "for ecommerce ease of use." Since then, Summit Road has worked hard to improve the online assortment. "We're adding new products every week. We just added a full line of cell phone chargers, which are really big sellers right now," she says. "We've tripled the number of products," with the company now carrying 2,000 skus online. "Whereas before we had just call-in orders and sales reps who were out calling on wholesalers, now we've expanded our website and that's what we're really trying to work on-growing our business right now," Rudolph notes.
Increasing assortments is just one reason to shop the current site. "Customers can create a 'favorites' page easily, so they can come back and add to their cart quickly from things they have bought in the past," says Rudolph, citing one way the site makes it easy for returning customers. "They can do an express order, so if they have a previous order, they can just type in the item numbers and quickly order. We're trying to make it very user friendly and customer friendly, so that customers don't have to search all over, since we do have such a wide variety of products." The company has put a special section on its site to cater to the assortment of goods that a bargain retailer needs. "We have a lot of visits from customers who own dollar stores and they're looking for things to stock their stores," explains Rudolph. "Pretty much anything in that category will retail for a dollar or less."
The public pricing visible on the site is the actual base price. "We have wholesale pricing, and then we have preferred wholesale pricing, so we do have tiers," says Rudolph. That depends on the customer's quantities and longevity. "When we see that they are developing an order history with us, we offer them a better tiered price for some products," she explains.
Putting the wholesale prices out there for anyone to see is not a strategy every wholesaler pursues, but Rudolph says it really helps customers who need information quickly. "The buyers who are really looking to make a profit and are interested in trying new things, want information at their fingertips right away, and need to be able to act on it immediately," she says. "That's an extra advantage of speed." Moreover, Rudolph is convinced that her site is a good one, from the way that paying customers keep coming back. "We really have a lot of repeat customers that we see ordering week after week," she says. "So we're fairly confident that we offer the products they want at the prices they're looking for."
Moving ordering online is good for both Summit Road and its customers. Rudolph has taken a close look at the ordering habits of online and offline shoppers, and sees some interesting patterns. "The people who are calling or faxing in orders are buying the staples that they are used to getting," she says. "The people who order online are buying new and interesting things to test them out. With our low minimum requirements, retailers don't have to buy a case at a time. They can try it out and test the market that way." Rudolph believes that the buyers who phone in are doing themselves a disservice. With online ordering, she says, "I think they'll find that they benefit significantly." To illustrate the point, she gives the example of seasonal merchandise. "As we add licensed products, for example for the NFL and colleges, when it is that time of year and a team is doing well, buyers can go online and get an order for a certain team or school."
Unfortunately, the biggest customers are missing out on all this, because they're phoning in orders for quantity buys at special prices. Now Summit Road is finding a way to take those big clients online, too. "We are getting ready to launch a partner site to Summit Road Distributing," says Rudolph. "The Summit Road site is available to everyone and anyone nationally, for stores that find us, and through advertising. What we're trying to do next is focus on our wholesalers and distributors to give them the opportunity to order at bigger discounts for higher volumes online.
Wholesalers will have online access to the same products that they are used to getting from us at much lower costs with no minimum orders. There will be free shipping available to certain states across the Southeast, and they'll be able to get larger quantities, if needed, at a much deeper discount."
The Summit Road Wholesale site will require an account and pre-approval to get those deep discounts. "It's a simple online application that we will follow up with a phone call to ensure that they are a wholesaler," says Rudolph. Looking further ahead, the family owned company is planning a move into social media. "I think that's something we'll be headed to in the future," says Rudolph. "The business to business trade will soon find how they can best use social media. I don't think they've tapped into it fully right now. We need to find the best way to approach our customers."
For more information:
Summit Road Distributing
649 Americal Road
Henderson, NC 27537
Toll Free: 877-477-3478
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