Director of marketing communications Carl Pinto Jr. discusses why and how Bradford White, a 149-year-old maker of water heaters, including those picture here, is changing with the times to go digital—and in the process protect its brand and product quality.

For some manufacturers, there’s no common definition of business-to-business ecommerce—or a notion that one suits all kinds of companies.

At Bradford White Corp., a 149-year-old manufacturer of residential and commercial water heaters headquartered in Ambler, Pennsylvania, ecommerce isn’t defined as a log-in portal where distributors go online to order new or replacement parts.

For Bradford White, the gist of the company’s evolving B2B ecommerce policy is making sure that the manufacturer, which makes various types of electric, natural gas and propane water heaters, sells strictly online to its core customers of certified wholesalers and distributors.

Bradford White is relatively new to B2B ecommerce—it only announced its revised ecommerce policy last fall and it doesn’t have an ecommerce site or plan to launch one anytime soon, the company says.

Instead, Bradford White is walking the fine line of helping its certified wholesalers sell online to professional contractors and installers that want digital purchasing options, recognizing that ecommerce is opening up new competition from such retailers such as The Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Companies Inc, and also offering a way to protect its brand, the manufacturer says.

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Two things are certain about how Bradford White will approach ecommerce, says senior director of marketing communications Carl Pinto Jr.: the company has no intention to sell products online directly to consumers—but it will still address how ecommerce is changing the way residential and commercial water heaters are made and sold.

In this question-and-answer discussion with Pinto, he discusses why and how Bradford White is changing with the times to go digital—and protect its brand and product quality in the process.

Q: Why was the decision made to try B2B ecommerce?

Pinto: There were two key factors contributing to our decision to update the Bradford White water heaters policy to facilitate ecommerce by our wholesale customers. There was a significant growing demand by our wholesalers to sell their complete lines, including our water heaters, through ecommerce to their contractor customers. Bradford White also needed to establish an enforceable IMAP policy, allowing us to address unauthorized online vendors who were selling our products in a way that we believed was not in the best interest of the plumbing wholesale community or professional installers and their customers.

Editor’s note: Minimum advertised price (MAP or IMAP) is a minimum amount that resellers agree not to advertise below. 

Q: How was the decision made?

Pinto: We worked to create a policy that balanced the needs of those customers wanting to engage in ecommerce with the company’s core philosophy of engineering and manufacturing products for installation by professional contractors. Bradford White promotes installation by professional, qualified installers to ensure compatibility of product selection and proper and safe installation.

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Q: How important a strategy is B2B ecommerce, and why?

A: Our plumbing wholesale customers must be able to compete with the online sales efforts of the “big box” stores and companies like Amazon, who are selling more and more plumbing supplies online, including water heaters and other appliances, to contractors.

Q: What are the top B2B ecommerce goals and objectives for 2020, and how will you achieve them?

Pinto: We are in the early stages of our ecommerce journey, so a lot of 2020 will be dedicated to refining our ecommerce policies and procedures based on the feedback of our authorized sellers as well as industry and customer demand. Ultimately, our overarching goal is to further empower our wholesale customers to grow their businesses.

Q: What new website features were just introduced or coming online in the next 6 months?

Pinto: Bradford White does not sell its products direct via brick-and-mortar or online. Our distribution is through our wholesale customers, so no changes are planned at this time relative to ecommerce on our website. We don’t engage in it directly.

Q: What are your biggest challenges, and how are you overcoming them?

Pinto: Our biggest challenge was coming up with a policy that meshed that with our professional specifications and installation philosophy. That’s been accomplished. Now, the challenge we face is simply making sure we are responsive to the rapidly changing needs of the ecommerce environment within the plumbing and heating industry.

Q: How are you integrating B2B ecommerce with the sales force?

Pinto: As stated, we do not engage in direct ecommerce sales. Our sales force is simply advising would-be online wholesalers of our requirements for them to receive support and “authorized” Bradford White online seller status.

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Q: How many products/SKUs are you carrying online?

Pinto: Our current IMAP provides for roughly 300 SKUs that authorized ecommerce sellers of Bradford White water heaters can offer.

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