After decades of manually collecting and processing orders with manufacturers during its Megadeal wholesale event at its annual Winter Sports Market trade show, Snowsports Merchandising Corp. decided it needed a more efficient, and accurate way to process orders for the ski and snowboard shops in its buying group.
The high risk for errors to be committed while manually inputting orders, not to mention the intense labor demands, made the one-day Megadeal event, which is part of SMC’s annual Winter Sports Market trade show, a pain point, says SMC President Tom Gately.
SMC’s Winter Sports Market, which will kick off the buying season for the 2020-2021 ski season, connects SMC members with suppliers that present products and group buying programs. Members are privy to manufacturer offers separate from other deals available at the Winter Sports market. To cash-in on these bargains, SMC members can order from any of the 60 manufacturers participating in the Megadeal event.
Founded in 1970, SMC provides services aimed at increasing the profitability of its 60 member retailers through myriad programs and services, such as negotiated discounts with manufacturers on products for the coming season.
Getting beyond Excel spreadsheets
While SMC did not have an ecommerce system for ordering, it attempted to digitize the ordering process by sending members Microsoft Excel workbooks with product offers. Members would designate the products they wanted to order within the workbooks and email them back to SMC, which manually input the orders with suppliers. Some orders were also placed via email through PDF attachments and paper purchase orders.
After years of weighing potential ecommerce options, SMC settled on PlumRiver Technologies’ Elastic Suite B2B ecommerce platform as the engine for its ecommerce site. SMC will debut its ecommerce site at its Winter Sports Market in January 2020.
“We finally reached a breaking point handling orders for the Megadeal event, and while we had been looking at ecommerce solutions for years, none of them stood out,” says Gately.
What tipped the scales in PlumRiver’s favor, Gately says, was that PlumRiver provides ecommerce solutions to several snow sports manufacturers and that many of its members have placed ecommerce orders with those manufacturers. SMC saw snow sports manufacturer’s familiarity with Elastic and PlumRiver’s knowledge of the snow sports industry’s buying cycles, as a plus. In addition, several PlumRiver executives came out of the snow sports industry.
“PlumRiver’s prior relationships in the industry played a role in our selecting their platform, because we felt it understands the ecommerce needs of retailers and manufacturers, and our role in connecting the two,” says Gately. “One thing we didn’t want to do when we launched an ecommerce system was to continue supporting manual ordering.”
The North Face and Patagonia join in
Snowsports manufacturers using the Elastic platform include Burton, The North Face, Patagonia, Spyder, and Helly Hansen. Manufacturers already using Elastic will not necessarily be among the 60 manufacturers participating in the Megadeal event, Gately says.
During the Megadeal event, SMC members will be able to view deals from participating manufacturers through SMC’s ecommerce site and place orders. Orders will be electronically routed to the appropriate vendor.
Another benefit of embracing an ecommerce system for the Megadeal event is that SMC members will be able to see photos of the products they are ordering, in addition to detailed product descriptions. Retailers will be able to mix and match the images of multiple items from a manufacturer to create brand packages and get a sense of in-store merchandising capabilities for the package.
An SMC member looking to purchase jackets from The North Face, for example, can pull up images of pants and hats that complement the jacket and see how that combination would look on display in-store. Previously, SMC’s manual ordering process did not support product photos.
“Being able to visualize how a brand package will look is a tremendous help to retailers in the buying process, because they can get a sense of how they can merchandise the package,” says David Lampert, vice president of development for PlumRiver.
Looking beyond Megadeal
Retailers placing orders through the SMC site will also be able to view shipping dates and what stores will receive orders, as well as the sizes and quantity of the items ordered.
Looking ahead, Gately says SMC will consider expanding the use of its ecommerce site for purchases beyond the Megadeal event. Many snow sports hard-goods manufacturers, for example, accept orders into late March for the upcoming ski season. Hard-goods manufacturers produce such items as skis, snowboards and boots. There are also replenishment buying cycles during the year for which SMC could enable members to place orders through its site.
“We may have moved methodically towards ecommerce, but we knew what we needed in terms of order accuracy and automation and were willing to wait until we found what we feel can deliver” on those points, Gately says.
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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