For buyers of industrial safety products, ease of placing orders is essential.
Just ask Missy Taylor, brand manager at Conney Safety Products—a distributor of products ranging from hard hats and safety vests to warning signs and gas-detection equipment. Customers who need a customized safety product—like a 7-by-10-inch reflective sign warning, “Danger Zone, Hard Hats Required”— don’t want to wait through the order and fulfillment process, she says. “They say, ‘I just want my sign.’”
But ordering customized items like warning signs and safety vests imprinted with a company logo takes time. It often requires filling out forms detailing a product’s criteria—the material it’s made of, its dimensions, colors and imprinted messages and logos. That all is passed through multiple departments at a distributor and manufacturer handling sales, customer service and production. In many cases, there’s also a third-party company involved to provide message printing or other services.
Now there’s another way: Customers can do much, if not all, of that themselves through a new custom product configurator on a self-service e-commerce site, which instantly forwards the order to the factory floor. That’s what Brady Corp., a manufacturer of safety products, and some of its distributors, like Conney Safety Products, are doing.
From the custom app to the factory floor
On a sprawling factory floor adjacent to Brady’s corporate headquarters in Milwaukee, hundreds of machines churn out industrial safety products like “Danger” signs, “lockout tagout” devices for controlling the power source to industrial equipment, and reflective floor-marking tape.
Many of the products are made to order according to customers’ specifications, like caution signs imprinted with customized warning messages and illustrations. With the traditional ordering process, a finished customized product would typically arrive at the customer within a handful of days after a buyer placed the order, says Rob Prosser, Brady’s director of channel sales.
That might not sound too bad for an order-and-fulfillment process, but as Prosser and Taylor both say, many customers often don’t want to wait that long for products that help to ensure safety in the workplace.
A new online product customization tool is changing the order-and-fulfillment process for the better, Prosser says.
Brady and some of its distributors, like Conney Safety Products, a subsidiary of multibillion-dollar distribution company WESCO Distribution Inc., are beginning to take orders for customized signs and other products through an online ordering application designed to sharply cut the time and cost of processing custom orders.
The online tool has cut the order and fulfillment process by more than half—and they’re expecting soon to push that even further after a few more tweaks to the process, Prosser says.
The customized ordering application—built and hosted on the internet by Custom Safety Products Inc.—is an example of how distributors and the manufacturers they represent are using website design and technology to address two pressing concerns in commerce: helping their customers handle the purchasing chores faster and easier, and finding ways to stand out among their competition.
In the case of Brady and its distributors, their new customization application was launched by a firm closely affiliated with their operations. Brad Martell, president and founder of Custom Safety Products, or CSP, used his knowledge of the safety products industry and the manual custom-ordering process to launch CSP with a technology team that built the online customization tool.
Online buyers can also can use the CSP application to customize hard hats, high visibility apparel, safety glasses and many other items that are commonly custom-imprinted. CSP, Martell says, is working with many of the suppliers in the safety products industry to “reinvent expectations” around how long it should take configure, get a price quote, proof and order a custom safety product. CSP and its trading partners are working to “reduce the custom lead times in the industry by as much as 80%,” he says.
CSP’s team also developed application programming interfaces, or APIs, to integrate the application with e-commerce and enterprise resource planning systems that manufacturers use to take orders online and manage financial and inventory records. These APIs can also be used to connect the CSP application with third-party printers, when product manufacturers don’t handle their own printing service, Martell says.
Brady and Conney don’t publicly comment on their cost to deploy the CSP personalization application. According to Martell, the general cost includes a one-time implementation fee, plus a monthly SaaS subscription fee that starts out at about $500 per month depending on the number of product categories a client makes available to its customers.
Differentiating with updated product lines
Brady, with annual revenue of over $1.1 billion and about 6,300 employees, views the customization application as something that will support its growth plans. The manufacturer sells about 65,000 SKUs, with about 30% of them suitable for personalizing with the CSP application.
Going forward, Brady expects to introduce many new products each year as it strives to provide a broader range of what customers need. Many of these will be available for customers to personalize, resulting in more products that Brady can offer to meet customers’ specific needs.
In the safety products business, where many products must abide by government regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, Brady and its customers must ensure that warning signs and other products meet the latest regulations. Having a tool that lets customers quickly orders signs that meet such requirements helps to set Brady and its distributors apart from their competition. “We’re looking to constantly innovate,” Prosser says.
At Conney Safety, the personalization service also helps to retain customers, who can more quickly order what they need from a single website rather than having to order from multiple suppliers, Taylor adds. “It differentiates us from the competition, by making the buying experience as easy as possible for customers,” she says.
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