American Energy Restaurant Equipment is a growing business with a new retail showroom for business customers, but has no e-commerce capability and relies on a limiting array of marketing methods—mainly printed flyers and email—to promote its wares. Automation is about to come to the rescue, says Kathleen Wilkie, vice president and in-house counsel.
American Energy’s customers are mostly individual restaurants and local chains, and include delis, white tablecloth eateries, day care centers, schools and caterers, Wilkie says. The company expanded in 2016 and opened a retail “depot” for walk-in customers and a showroom to display big-ticket items such as ovens and dishwashers that can cost $4,000-$6,000, as well as smaller items. Smaller products—“smallwares” —range in price from $4 to $40 and include spatulas, knives and aprons, she says.
The supplier expects to be selling products online at CleanDishes.com before the end of January, pending rollout of services from ePurchasing Network, a procurement network vendor. The e-commerce hub will enable customers to get product information from a variety of manufacturers on equipment and related items, place and track orders, and eliminate potential errors associated with manual ordering, Wilkie says.
American Energy will use the ePurchasing Network platform to stock its new retail depot and to manage repeat orders of smaller supplies, as well as to provide an e-commerce portal. “We look for the platform to help us move those products and provide a reorder mechanism for our customers,” Wilkie says.
The network will address several challenges inherent in selling commercial restaurant equipment, she says. First, the e-commerce site will make it easy for customers to shop when it’s convenient for them. Restaurant owners and managers typically work long days, from early morning shopping for fresh food to days ending at midnight, Wilkie says. “We can provide a way for them to shop when they can,” and run promotions as well.
The website also helps free up salespeople to concentrate on equipment. “We see it as a supplement of our sales team that makes reorders easy without the rep being right there,” Wilkie says. American Energy also expects the platform to lower transaction costs on those smaller items.
EPurchasing Network launched its e-commerce platform in December, targeting the commercial restaurant equipment industry, which CEO George Spears says is mature and lagging in adopting e-commerce technology. The vendor provides B2B marketplaces for commercial equipment manufacturers and dealers in a cloud-based, “platform-as-a-service” format, which provides clients with APIs to connect their web portals with e-commerce tools. The e-commerce tools are designed to streamline equipment sales, order management and marketing for commercial food service firms, Spears says. The vendor plans to target other industries soon, Spears says, including aerospace, medical products distribution and construction.
The network is designed to offer manufacturers access to new dealers and to automate the purchase order process, thus eliminating redundant order entry and potential errors along the way, Spears says. The vendor offers manufacturers an e-catalog service, which can automatically update product pricing and descriptions based on feeds from the manufacturer. Manufacturer sales reps can access that product information on mobile devices, giving them up-to-date product information wherever they are.
Other product data accessible on the platform includes images, spec sheets and warranty information, Spears says.
The vendor charges manufacturers a monthly membership fee. Dealers pay for initial set-up and transaction fees based on number of SKUs and the dollar volume of sales going through the platform, Spears says. He declined to disclose specific fees.
EPurchasing Network has two dealer clients in the restaurant equipment field so far, counting American Energy, and together they have relationships with 30 manufacturers, Spears says. Rollout typically will take 30 to 60 days, depending on whether the manufacturers have data on hand and ready to upload or if the vendor manages the data preparation.
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