Tom Funk, ecommerce director for cookie cutters manufacturer Ann Clark Ltd., has applied his ecommerce expertise at several online companies including Keurig Green Mountain and Vermont Teddy Bear.
Now, as the ecommerce director at a bakery supplies company, Funk is helping a manufacturer steeped in retail ecommerce experience also grow its B2B online sales. Here he shares his insights on growth strategy.
DC 360: What is driving B2B companies like Ann Clark to expand online?
Funk: We began over 30 years ago in Vermont, hand-making metal cookie cutters, selling primarily to gift stores and specialty retailers through a network of sales representatives and wholesale direct-mail catalogs. About 15 years ago, our B2C ecommerce business just took off on AnnClark.com and through Amazon. And it brought our wholesale business along for the ride. Growing nationwide brand visibility, plus our increasing proficiency with B2C digital commerce operations and logistics, website management, email marketing, all helped us grow our B2B business online.
DC 360: What are your biggest internal or and external barriers?
Funk: I bet we’re not alone in feeling our wholesale business is sometimes the poor stepchild to B2C ecommerce. It’s challenging to ensure our B2B marketing, website usability and design, and tech investments don’t lag the investments made on the B2C side.
Externally, the kitchen and home categories have been on a roller-coaster ride. Baking boomed during Covid-19 quarantines. But it was a tough time for our brick-and-mortar retail customers. Now, retail is back, but not without economic challenges like inflation and changes in consumer behavior.
DC 360: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?
Funk: Much of our recent growth comes from product line expansion. We’re the country’s biggest cookie cutter manufacturer. But some of our strongest growth comes from baking supplies and ingredients like Ann Clark food coloring, icing mix, baking parchment, piping bags and rolling pins. New products attract new wholesale customers and also give existing customers more ways to grow their business with us. We just launched large 4.5-ounce bottles of food coloring aimed at commercial bakeries, culinary programs and food-service organizations. We are superfast to market with new ideas, getting new products onto Amazon B2C and our Wholesale website in a fraction of the time it takes at other companies where I’ve worked.
DC 360: What is the most valuable piece of advice you have on how to launch online B2B sales or increase them?
Funk: Just get started and learn by doing. We leveraged B2C ecommerce strengths and applied them to B2B without overthinking the special requirements of B2B. There will always be opportunities to optimize your B2B website in future iterations with special tools like recommended assortments and quick-reorder.
DC 360: Regarding COVID-19 and supply chain disruption, what is the biggest adaptation your company has made?
Funk: Made-in-USA is Ann Clark’s superpower. It has been for 30 years. So, when COVID-19 supply chain disruptions hit, we were in a perfect position to maintain dependable supply and short lead times. We’re passionate about making everything ourselves, right here in America. Our cookie cutters are made of U.S. steel and don’t have to sail for weeks and weeks across the ocean before getting into stores. Our food coloring and other baking supplies are certified food-safe and made at our food production facility in Rutland, Vermont. It didn’t require any adaptation: We were ready in the batter’s box when that pitch came across the plate!
DC 360: Looking back over the past few years, is there anything you wish you had done differently in ecommerce?
Funk: I wish we’d realized sooner how effective and profitable our wholesale ecommerce operations could be, compared to the B2C side of the business. There are still opportunities we’re just beginning to pursue.
DC 360: What excites you the most in new digital commerce technology?
Funk: Original content + omnichannel strategy. We’re creating a lot of original digital content — how-to videos and tutorials — and publishing it on whatever digital platforms our consumers use. Ann Clark embraces omnichannel. We have no preference or desire to control whether consumers buy from our website, or from Amazon, or from one of our wholesale customers. We want to spread the joy of baking, provide solutions and distinguish the Ann Clark brand from cheap importers that view products like cookie cutters as a commodity, and are less in tune with our baking holidays, traditions and occasions. I strongly believe that authentic, digitally-active brands like Ann Clark make the best selling partners for retailers.
DC 360: Going forward, what do you see as the most significant commerce challenges and opportunities?
Funk: One challenge is decreasing trackability of Google and Meta ad campaigns, and what a cookieless web looks like for marketers. On the flipside, I see opportunities in SMS text marketing, social commerce and influencer programs. I’m also cautiously interested in Amazon B2B as a growth opportunity.
Tom Funk will speak at EnvisionB2B 2023 in the session, “Avoiding Ecommerce Mistakes: Do What I Say and Not What I Did,” on Wednesday, June 21.
Peter Lucas is a DC360 contributing editor covering digital business technology and strategy.
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