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Aug 1, 2008
by Judi Perkins
George Merling, President of Blanket Depot, could be called a "Blanket Barron." Though it is only a five-year-old company, Blanket Depot has close to 2,500 blanket designs on their website. Also, in their new 80,000-square-foot warehouse, which adjoins the 8,000-square-foot store, their inventory for the home décor category alone nears 50,000.
This is even more impressive from a business that started out as a part-time endeavor. However, considering Merling's background, the success of what later became Blanket Depot is not too surprising. "I have been in about 25 different businesses in my life. I start them up, get them running and then sell them and move on to something else," Merling said.
He began with 18,000 sports banners bought on closeout from Biederlack of America, whose CEO is a good friend of his. Explains Merling, "I bought them very, very cheaply and started selling them on eBay. Then I found WholesaleCentral, which was a pivotal move for me. This site has been very good to us."
With his success on Wholesalecentral.com, Merling decided wholesaling was much more lucrative than retail. As his business continued to develop, banners led to blankets, which are Biederlack's primary product as both a manufacturer and wholesaler. Eventually, Merling also began to import high-quality blankets from Mexico and China.
Although none of Merling's prior businesses were online ventures, 90 percent of his current sales are through the website, which appeared two years after the inception of Blanket Depot. Merling chose NetSuite, an on-demand software for small businesses. "We are completely paperless," said Merling. "From bank statements to credit card purchases, inventory in and out, pick tickets(everything."
Each customer has his or her own account, which provides the entire purchase history. Two other benefits of BlanketDepot.com are automatic email order confirmation and automatic tracking and shipping numbers. "A customer can track the product from the moment it leaves our place," said Merling. "Everything is automatic. The order is entered and automatically processed. It's an easy process for anyone who visits our site."
Although fully automated, Blanket Depot still likes to talk with its customers and is always happy to get feedback on how to help a merchant be successful. "I train my people to talk to the customer," said Merling. "If the customer is in Ocean City, MD, we suggest they get into the nautical line and maybe the Washington Redskins or Baltimore Ravens; things that complement their store." The staff can recommend merchandise because they know what sells. "We test it," said Merling. "Sometimes if I have a good relationship with somebody, I might send them two cases of something and let them try it. If it doesn't work, they send it back. It helps us and it works well for our customers, too."
About a year ago, Merling took over Biederlack's outlet store. Both Blanket Depot and Biederlack are based in Cumberland, MD. The outlet store, where customers can buy retail, also functions as the showroom for wholesale customers. Like the website, it specializes in closeouts, irregulars and super bargains. "Biederlack may get returns from Mervyn's or Target, or cancellations or overruns or items that just did not sell," explains Merling. "I buy it up at a good price and then move it as closeouts."
Merling has a rule, though. "I do not buy any blankets that Wal-Mart would have on its shelf, because they sell cheaper quality. I sell only medium grade and higher." The blankets Merling wants are the ones that come back from Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target, Mervyn's and similar stores. "That is what I am interested in," he said.
What about the products on the website that are not in the Closeouts/Irregulars and Bargain categories? "I stock both new merchandise and bargains. I would rather just buy all bargains, but that wouldn't give the customer any selection," said Merling. "If you go into Bloomingdales, they have ten designs. If you go to my website or showroom, I have 2,000 to 3,000 patterns. That is a category killer. To do that, you have to have the variety of patterns, colors, and sizes, therefore you must stock the new items with the closeouts. However, the prices are still excellent."
Merling began with brand blankets such as NFL, college baseball, John Deere, Harley Davidson and Disney, and has now added home décor to the mix. "If it's in a print, we probably have it(lighthouses, nautical designs, Indian patterns, trains, plaids, hobbies and animals. We have them all," said Merling.
They added beach towels about a year ago and are now negotiating to buy sports jackets manufactured by G3, the same company that provides the NFL teams with theirs. "We are sticking with licensed products but we are expanding the home blanket business tremendously."
Due to Merling's purchase prices, the profit that retailers can make on the markup is significant. "A typical retailer can buy from me and double his money. It depends on how much volume he wants to move. If you buy a blanket from me for $10, that blanket sells in the store for probably $30."
With so many designs, styles and sizes, one of the most convenient attributes of the site is that a customer can see the actual number of the product available in inventory. "Plus, it gives them tier pricing," said Merling. "If they want just one of something, they have to pay more, but if they are buying by the case and they want to mix and match, they get a sufficiently strong discount."
Even dropshippers have it easy. Since there is no minimum purchase, they simply pay a higher price for fewer blankets and a mere $3.50 dropshipping fee. Merling's customers are small retailers of all shapes and sizes. "We sell to flea markets, gift stores, tourist shops, eBayers and many other sellers. Ninety percent of my business is geared to the small mom-and-pop businesses."
Blanket Depot's storefront is easily accessible and uniquely located. It is located on I-68 directly between Baltimore, MD, Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, PA.
There is no minimum order or quantity, but the company has tier pricing.
For more information, contact:
DBA Blanket Depot.
100 Beall Street
Cumberland, MD 21502
Topic: Company Profiles
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