The inventory is all set and the website is complete, so all that is left is to flip the switch and go live. But now comes the hard part: how does a small, new web based wholesaler attract customers? Web Wholesaler asked a few small wholesalers what they have done to market their websites. This article looks at those efforts, as companies look for ways to stand out in a sea of competitors.
One of the great things about the Internet is that businesses can often see initiatives pay off very quickly. Place an ad with the right publication or location, and within hours, wholesalers can experience results. Yet for all of its potential, the web is a daunting environment where one or two ill-conceived moves can relegate a website to non-entity status.
Beyond Google and eBay
Google and eBay are the biggest search engine and online auction sites on the web, and while some web based entrepreneurs look to beef up their website presence there and call it a day, Ryan Nelsestuen of knife and tool wholesaler, Rocky National, said not so fast. Nelsestuen is the senior programmer and marketing director for www.rockynational.com, and he said that the two giants are too broad.
Wisconsin based Rocky National was established in 1996 and set up its current website four years later. The company specializes in selling high-end hunting, camping and work knives, and is an authorized dealer for Gerber Knives. Products wholesale for a few dollars, and can reach well in excess of $50 per item. The company also offers the occasional closeout.
The company has a link in the, "Where to Buy," section on the official Gerber Knives website, Gerbergear.com. Yet because the company sells more than just Gerber products, it began looking for other options. In 2003, the company began using Google's pay-per-click program and tried to boost its profile on the search engine with keywords, but found the process was very expensive. Nelsestuen recommends avoiding using too many broad keywords for the products a business sells, such as, "knives," in Rocky National's case, because the results can be overwhelming. "The word, 'knives,' turned out to be bad for us because we got too many impressions because the word was so broad. People clicked on our link, but did not buy anything," Nelsestuen said. "So you have to work hard to weed out the good keywords from the bad ones."
Rocky National spends about $30,000 annually on Google and other marketing efforts, Nelsestuen said, and the company is exploring the possibility of creating banner ads that it would place on military and law enforcement related websites. However, he said many of the company's best sales leads are generated through Wholesalecentral.com, the web's leading source for wholesalers, importers, manufacturers, and general merchandise and specialty products. What he likes about having a listing on the site is that the leads are more focused.
Wholesalecentral.com offers a vast network of more than 1,500 suppliers selling products from 50 categories. Because the website is a membership based community for business to business transactions, consumers that can muddy up the web waters with random clicks are not on the site. Only retailers or other wholesalers contact the companies when they are specifically looking for the types of products listed in the categories.
For small web wholesalers, the kind of targeted interaction Wholesalecentral.com offers is marketing money well spent. In Rocky National's case, by listing products in the Knives category on the site, the company knows it will only receive serious inquiries. "We are able to get more of a return on our investment," Nelsestuen said.
Challenges for Small Wholesalers
Raza Dhangi, president of Le Femme Beauty Products, said that marketing and advertising is a challenge for a small company such as his. "We have a very tight budget when it comes to advertising and marketing."
The one year old company sells health and beauty aids at wholesale, and Dhangi said they are still in, "The trial and error stage," as it relates to the company's marketing initiatives. He describes it as a, "Catch-22," for most web based wholesalers and retailers. "If you do not advertise, you will not generate sales, and if you do not generate sales you will not have any money for advertising," he said.
"Yes, it comes down to money," said Jin Wang, manager of Sweet Home, a Virginia based wholesaler of ceramic kitchen accessories and other items. The products wholesale for between $2.80 and $21.
The company sells a fair amount of its products through local connections, Wang said. Because of the money constraints, the only web marketing the company does is through Wholesalecentral.com, where it has set up an online store at www.wholesalecentral.com/sweethome/Store.cfm. "The site has generated a lot of solid leads," he said.
The key, he believes, is to constantly stay on top of which marketing and advertising initiatives garner the highest returns. Whenever he speaks to a new customer, he immediately asks how they were able to find the company. "We do everything ourselves, so we have to be smart about where and how we advertise. We know the market is there, we just have to make sure the right people are finding us," he said. "We are learning as we go."
Like Nelsestuen, Dhangi said he is not entirely happy with Google because he, too, found the searches are generally too broad. So to help increase web traffic, the company also has a listing on Wholesalecentral.com. In addition, the company has advertised in the print magazine, Cover, the wholesale purchasing guide and leading industry business magazine. Both are owned by Sumner Communications, publisher of Web Wholesaler.
Dhangi is quick to add that just because a small wholesale company might be web based, it should not look past print advertising because many players in the industry read them religiously. "The magazine print ads, especially in Cover, have been very good for us. It has helped us generate solid leads," he said.
Another good piece of advice is to look to develop relationships with web marketers or entrepreneurs, as mentors who can offer advice and guidance. Jim Peake, CEO of My Success Gateway, LLC, agrees. Peake's company provides guides and other resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses. "The two key factors that determine entrepreneurs' success are human factors, and they are often over looked," Peake said in a prepared statement. "Successful entrepreneurs have strong private networks, as well as stronger extended networks, and virtually every successful entrepreneur has at least one mentor."
Long Term Success
For Zelda Briglia, owner of Zelda's, which has sold aromatherapy oils, incense and perfume oils for 22 years, hooking up with Sumner Communications in the early years has proved to be a boon. The company has grown from generating barely $300 in sales per month to thousands of dollars in sales per month, which Briglia credits to growing her business with the help of Sumner.
"Wholesalecentral.com has been great," she said. "The staff there really tries to get behind people and push them to be stars. They were confident from the get go that I would make money, and they were right."
Briglia said that after years of complementing her advertisements in Sumner publications and on Wholesalecentral.com with ads in other locations, she only uses Sumner now, because staff members have helped her create ads, and the audience for those ads is targeted. "I threw out all the other places. I used to try advertising in health magazines and other closeout magazines, but nothing worked except for Sumner. It is the only place that has brought in good leads. Companies should advertise with them just to learn what the others are doing wrong," she said. "I am an example of someone who does not have anyone working for them, but who then turned to Sumner and it has worked."
Wholesalecentral.com generates about 60 leads per week for her website, Zeldasaromatics.com, or nearly half of the site's web traffic, Briglia said, adding that she likes the even playing field that Wholesalecentral.com provides. "It is all under one roof. Customers come to you because they want to do business with you, not to waste your time. It is the only site I am on these days," she said.
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