When the Kansas City Royals unexpectedly won the World Series in 2015—driving suddenly strong demand for merchandise imprinted with Royals logos—licensed-sports products wholesaler Casey’s Distributing Inc. dropped the ball.
“We missed that market—we didn’t have enough inventory,” recalls Ben Johnson, vice president of operations.
But that was then. Casey’s, which sells products from more than 70 manufacturers to thousands of retailers, has since begun to reap the benefits of a new e-commerce and order fulfillment system that has freed its staff from manually processing customer orders and instead let them focus on the hottest college and professional sports teams, Johnson says.
A staff of about seven now spends more time planning to have the hottest-selling merchandise in stock in time for peak periods when fans of winning teams flock to stores. “Casey’s has to be on the cusp of picking the right products all the time,” he adds.
At the same time, Johnson says, Casey’s now processes “20-30%” more orders online, and ships them out in half the time as before deploying its new system.
Casey’s was founded in 1990 and launched its initial website 18 years ago, when its first online customers would view product information on the site and either call, fax or email their orders. It began taking orders online several years ago, but the e-commerce technology platform it deployed still required its staff to take information from online customer orders and re-enter it into an order management and fulfillment system.
Casey’s specializes in wholesaling a broad variety of sports-licensed gifts and souvenirs—from pennant flags and license plate brackets to coffee mugs and sets of dinnerware—anything non-apparel that carries a sports team logo. It regularly carries about 45,000 SKUs—plus another 200,000 for spot buys—from more than 70 manufacturers, including WinCraft, Riddell and Rico Industries. It sells its merchandise primarily through its B2B e-commerce site—Caseys-Distributing.com—where buyers must be a valid retailer with a state tax I.D. or a tax exemption license.
In early 2015, it relaunched its e-commerce site on software-as-a-service technology from BigCommerce, which lets clients access its e-commerce platform via a web browser. Casey’s has since then also deployed an order management system from Brightpearl and an order fulfillment system from ShipStation. Now as Casey’s receives online customer orders, Johnson says, the order information automatically flows into Brightpearl to update records of customer orders and inventory levels, and from Brightpearl into ShipStation for creating shipping labels and forwarding packages to carriers like UPS and FedEx.
Johnson, a former college wide receiver and running back at the University of Northern Iowa, appears to relish the business of selling sports-licensed merchandise as much as the sports themselves. With the new technology platform, he says, Casey’s is now better able to stay out in front of sports trends and plan the right mix and volume of merchandise.
When the Chicago Cubs last year went on to win their first World Series since 1908, “Cubs fans came out of the woodwork,” Johnson says. “But we had more time to look into Cubs merchandise and buy more of it.” A recent check on Caseys-Distributing.com found 150 products for the Cubs.
Casey’s now is working with Brightpearl and BigCommerce to develop a web application designed to make it easier for its client retailers to order its merchandise and post it to their own e-commerce sites and social media pages. “They’ll be able to push a button and add every Cubs product we have to their store,” he says.
BigCommerce charges a monthly fee of $249.95 for e-commerce sites of up to $400,000 in annual online sales; larger clients pay fees that vary depending on such criteria as the volume of product data and number of integrations with other software applications. ShipStation charges $145 per month for an unlimited of shipments. Brightpearl bases its fees on each client’s order volume and extent of software integrations.
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