Luke Powers, CEO and co-founder of Gearflow, a marketplace for construction equipment, will speak at the June 17 online event Breaking the Barriers to B2B Ecommerce Success on why and how B2B marketplaces are resonating more than ever with B2B buyers. The online event will be hosted by Digital Commerce 360.
We caught up with Powers to get his views on the growing importance of B2B marketplaces and how they’re meeting the needs of B2B buyers. For the construction industry, for example, online marketplaces play a critical role in connecting construction-site managers with a large number of suppliers who can provide real-time status of equipment availability and delivery dates and times.
DC360: What is driving B2B companies like Gearflow to expand online?
Powers: Gearflow represents transparent access to the best construction equipment parts suppliers in the industry. Contractors depend on the uptime of their equipment to perform their work, and their equipment operating smoothly comes down to the component level. There is no greater expense to contractors than down equipment on a jobsite—all work can come to a screeching halt.
With Gearflow, contractors now have transparent access to millions of parts to keep their fleets running smoothly. Parts availability, fast deliveries, trusted suppliers, dedicated customer support, and best value are the reasons customers work with us.
DC360: What are your biggest internal or and external barriers?
Powers: Guiding a marketplace business is like running two businesses in one—it inherently comes with many challenges. Suppliers want a turnkey way to showcase their brand and sell their products, and customers want seamless access to parts. Thus, we have learned to rigorously prioritize our engineering roadmap without cutting corners.
DC360: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?
Powers: Before Gearflow, equipment owners would make 5 to 20 calls to find the parts they need. Moreover, customer service in the construction industry can vary depending on the expertise and motivation of the sales staff at many suppliers. At Gearflow, we’ve set out to change that paradigm through unparalleled support. It is making a difference, with one of our customers sharing on a Google Review, “I’ve been in the construction business over 20 years. For the first time I feel like there is finally a site getting it right. I have saved so much time being able to find everything I need so easily.” These are the people that build infrastructure all around us, and we love going to work for them. Personal relationships are key to what we are building.
On the supplier side, B2B interest in ecommerce has never been higher, and suppliers see the value of their specialty components next to complementary products in a vertical marketplace. Frankly, suppliers are wary of a few brandless ecommerce giants dominating online, and they want to promote their brand, story, and products themselves. Gearflow allows them to do that.
DC360: What is the most valuable piece of advice you have on how to launch online B2B sales or increase them?
Powers: Online B2B tendencies can easily be conflated with B2C. The nuances are important to the specific industry and transaction workflow of the specific “B’s” in streamlining the “B2B” process. In other words, it is not one-size-fits-all. Do we want easier ways to do our work? Of course, we do. However, if we perceive that a new process introduces too much risk into our work (and our good standing with our employer), we will likely stick to the status quo.
The status quo in business is incredibly powerful and hard to change for a reason—work ecosystems tend to be fragile and dogmatic. It forces startups to truly be 10X-100X better than the current workflow without increasing the risks for the businesses they serve.
My advice to entrepreneurs in B2B is to truly understand and care about the pains in the current workflows. Be upset by these inefficiencies, but do not be above them—the pains are why you were able to start your business in the first place. Your mission is to herald a new era of productivity working hand-in-hand for your customers.
DC360: Regarding COVID-19, what is the biggest adaption your company has made?
Powers: Entering 2020, Gearflow was an office-based Chicago company. Entering 2021, it is a Chicago-based company with distributed employees. The pandemic has demonstrated that our team members can contribute to the company wherever they live without sacrificing the value we give our customers, suppliers, and—perhaps most significantly—our families.
DC360: What existing trends will the pandemic accelerate?
We got to the year 2030 in 2020 with digital transformation. The lifestyle that was “one day” suddenly became how we work, how we go to school, how we catch up with friends, and all things related to communication. The future is here. Thus, the companies that aid in the seamless procurement of our products and services by making us more productive will continue to do well.
DC360: What new ideas will become trends?
Powers: I am not a tarot card reader, but I believe that market and political pressures are forcing a resurgence of “20th-century ideas” reimagined for the 21st century. In 2020, everyone felt our dependence on Chinese factories for essential products. The 50-year contraction of U.S. manufacturing and industry resulted in strained supply chains, and we realized just how reliant we are on the timeliness of shipping containers.
Just decades ago, we were the world’s manufacturing epicenter. I believe there is a consensus that wants to return to self-sufficient U.S. supply chains and high-quality jobs. How the manufacturing and industry revival happens here will be exciting to watch. We have cutting-edge technology to deploy, goodwill from consumers, ambitious entrepreneurs, and the best workforce in the world to make it happen.
DC360: What post-pandemic needs will become opportunities?
Powers: Continuing the thoughts from the previous response, I believe that the U.S. is primed for its second industrial revolution. We need entrepreneurs willing to risk their time and capital to solve big opportunities in the fields of energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing. Data, robotics, and technology can transform these foundational industries to run better and cleaner than ever before.
I believe that one or two “industrial tech hub” cities will emerge as leaders in this coming wave of “smart” industries, much like Silicon Valley and Seattle represent the majority of retail tech giants and innovation. At Gearflow, we are honored to play a role in the American industrial revival by helping to keep the equipment that makes it possible running smoothly.
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