For budget-conscious retail merchandisers seeking better ways to tout their wares online and in stores during the holidays, manufacturing executive Alison Zepp has a few ideas she’ll pass along the supply chain.
When the holiday going gets tough, the tough B2B companies go shopping – for new ways to help and interact with their business customers.
Zepp is vice president of marketing and strategy for Jessup Manufacturing Co., a suburban Chicago maker of such graphics products as vinyl adhesive coatings imprinted with retail logos and marketing pitches or those made to look like almost anything a business wants to show off. Tony retailers like Tiffany & Co., Zepp notes, have been known to use materials to dress up a flagship store with holiday flair, making the exterior appear like a wrapped gift box.
But such ideas for using decorative coatings are not always obvious to their users in business and industry, so Jessup actively passes on such tips to the graphics industry distributors that purchase its products for resale to merchants and other businesses. Jessup sells through its own e-commerce site, store.jessupmfg.com, and third marketplaces including Amazon.com and Walmart.com.
“We always bring attention to Thanksgiving weekend, on our website, in email marketing and our newsletter to several thousand customers,” Zepp says.
Finding ways to interact with customers
Finding ways during the peak holiday shopping season to interact with customers is not uncommon among manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers. B2B companies with holiday-themed products like wholesaler Blair Candy Co. Inc. dedicate ample space on their e-commerce sites to timely promotions targeting retailers and other business customers, along with information on seasonal inventory and holiday shipping. BlairCandy.com recently started running a long list of “Black Friday – Cyber Monday Deals” with red-colored warnings for businesses to place wholesale orders early because “Shipping Time Could Be Delayed Due To High Volume!”
“Black Friday week and Cyber Monday we offer our best offers of the season,” says Pam Macharola, founder, co-owner and director of e-commerce at Blair Candy. She adds that Blair’s regular customers know these special deals come only once a year, resulting in “very brisk” order-taking during that period. In the days leading up to Black Friday, Blair also uses in the seasonal interest to lure new customers with pay-per-click ads and exposure on social media.
Blair also reaches out to its wholesale customers to alert them to new products available for the holiday season, and it works with UPS to ensure it can ship orders within 24 hours of when customers place them.
“We go all-hands-on-deck mode,” Marcharola says, a policy that has become more important in recent years as many big-box retail stores have conducted “sneak-peeks” and pre-sales of holiday season confectionary products.
But even among B2B companies without sales surges kicked off by the start of the holiday season—those like Jessup, whose products are used in long-planned projects; healthcare products distributor Geriatric Medical and Surgical Supply Inc.; and home furnishings designer, manufacturer and wholesaler Regina Andrew Design Inc.—are finding ways to use the hectic holiday season as a platform for building relationships with customers and planting seeds for long-term growth in sales.
At Geriatric Medical, a distributor of healthcare supplies and equipment to nursing homes and hospitals, the holidays don’t typically generate extra sales, even though many of its customers put on holiday events and see surges of visitors. Thanksgiving weekend “doesn’t really have any particular effect on our business from an order standpoint; we don’t offer any promotions around this time,” says Justin Racine, director of marketing and e-commerce. “What we do participate in is holiday-type branding messages and fun, engaging content that will appeal to our customer’s mindset.”
Shipping supplies for a hectic season
Many of the buyers at Geriatric Medical’s clients, he notes, “are purchasing for their place of work, but have been conditioned in their personal life from an online business-to-consumer side of things. So we attempt to piggyback off of that and create fun content like ‘Black Friday Survival’ guides, where we explain the best retail deals, the best times to shop and how to avoid traffic. This really has no immediate impact on our business, but it does create an emotional connection with our customers in a way they can correlate with our brand, and which we hope will increase our brand lift with those customers.”
Geriatric Medical also complements those efforts with a high level of holiday period service, Racine adds, to ensure its customers get through the hectic season with the supplies they need. “We are more attentive to our customers’ needs and use this ‘hectic’ time as a way to flex our muscle and show we are differentiated,” he says. “We realize that our customers may need more flexible delivery options and other higher levels of service. We embrace this as a way to reaffirm their choice of choosing Geriatric Medical as their provider of medical supplies.”
Home furnishings company Regina Andrew Design, which sells only to retailers, routinely builds up its inventory to meet holiday season demand but doesn’t run online promotions, James Bonomo, chief operating officer, says. But it’s careful to maintain relationships with its steady clients by ensuring that prices on its own B2B e-commerce site match any promotional pricing that its channel partners offer through online portals.
“We match any market specials that our marketplace partners are running, so our customers can get the same price,” Bonomo says. Regina Andrew operates its own e-commerce site at ReginaAndrew.com and sells through home furnishings industry marketplaces AmericasMart in Atlanta, the Dallas Design Center and the Las Vegas Market.
Sprucing up store displays
At Jessup Manufacturing, the graphics company is building on trends in the retail industry to push further use of its products—and the holiday season presents a prime time to do that, Zepp says. Retailers are pressured to reduce their costs and increase sales per square foot, and at the same time, many now operate without the staffs of professional window designers or display fixtures they once had. Using Jessup’s vinyl coatings can be a less expensive alternative to put a fresh look on a retailer’s merchandise, she says.
Jessup works with its distributors, for example, to pass on such ideas as applying vinyl coatings to spruce up dull or scratched wooden display fixtures instead of replacing them; and putting up wall-size coatings to show products and lifestyle themes in place of using more expensive displays.
And with unusual coverings on exterior store walls, like Tiffany’s gift wrap, Zep says merchants can lure more shoppers inside from the cold. “If a retailer can create a cool graphic, it can get shoppers to take selfies with it and increase traffic in stores,” she says.
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