Consumers Interstate Corporation (CIC) recently re-launched their online sales portal, SuperSupplies.com. This privately owned distributor boasts not only a third generation management team, but also that 65% of their total orders are placed through the web. Industrial Distribution got the chance to speak with Kenn Fischburg, CEO of CIC, about what makes their eCommerce offering unique.
ID: We were excited to see the release about a week ago about Consumer’s Interstate Corporation (CIC) re-launching SuperSupplies.com and reinvesting in that web portal. You said that you spent years talking to your customers, gathering feedback, and spent a lot of money to make this happen since there were no prior online designs available. Are you speaking about the first time you launched the site in 2001, or with the current re-launch?
Both, to be honest. In 2001 when we launched the first site, we were pioneers in the industry. No one in our industry in America had an online order form where you could order multiple items all at once. The ease of operation was simply not available. We had to force our IT people, the developers, to create a new function specifically for us and SuperSupplies.com.
ID: They probably thought you were crazy for that?
They did. They said “Nobody does that.” If you remember that even with Amazon in the early days: you saw an item, you entered it, and added it to the cart, and then you went back to pick out more items. You added items one at a time. That is not what customers who are doing repetitive buying want to do. The concept of creating a customized order form, finding out what the customer wants, making a list that they could go back to every day or every week or every month and just reorder the same items easily was a very streamlined process. We were rewarded for our innovation with publicity and a competitive edge. That was in 2001. Now, in 2012, we are doing the same thing again but with a different kind of state-of-the-art.
ID: What kind of features did you build into the new 2012 website?
The main thing that we’ve done is build the Control Center, the section on SuperSupplies.com for our customers to go to which enables them to provide or implement innovative controls on their procurement process. One control is the live monthly spending budget that we call The SilentSupervisor™. The end result is that the buyers who buy things will have to stay within budget. It’s like a calorie counter: if you have a monthly maximum that you can’t go over, you can only spend so much in one department. A corporation can implement a monthly budget limit on any department at any time. The buyer will see a budget and where they stand every time they access their account or place an order. It’s in their face. It’s right at the point of ordering. That is one element that helps reduce spend for companies. Most standard B2B websites are mainly transactional and offer a lot of products in their online catalog with a good search engine. Ours offers much more. The transaction is important, but helping the customer know who is buying what, when and how much is spent is important. Controlling this procurement with an online and dynamic spending budget provides constraints ‘right at the point of ordering’.
Another piece of the puzzle that our customers have asked for is a General Ledger accounting system. We now have one available on our site. The way that works is that we take the customer’s GL codes and apply them to the products that they use from us and at any time, 24/7, they can go in and get an accounting for their usage not just in our quantities, but in terms of their own GL codes. It helps them eliminate the need for using additional cumbersome software to keep track of these simple things. For our kind of supplies: packaging, office supplies, janitorial supplies – the high volume, repetitive, low value items – having an online GL accounting system is very valuable.
The third rollout helps companies to get office products under control. The day of the free pen is over. If companies what to control their spending, one of the best cultures to start at is the office products. We do something that is counterintuitive: we help a customer reduce what they spend by constraining what they buy. We make it very difficult for a customer to overspend. Instead of making it easy for people to buy as much as they can, we make it as hard as possible. For some of the users it is a culture change.
ID: How does a person respond to the website telling them what they can and can’t order as opposed to their manager? I think we’ve gotten used to computers telling us “no.”
I think that if a corporation explains and educates the staff that it is in everybody’s best interest and that the culture is going to change, then it can be a good change. If they are transparent in their cost reduction efforts, and if the employees understand that, then they are all swimming in the same direction. If it is just forced on them, they might not like it.
ID: How are things working with the new site so far?
Very well. It took over two years to develop and we launched on January 14th. Our customers are giving us good responses and input on what to improve. We have gotten a lot of responses for tweaks, which tells us that our customers are engaged and letting us know what they like and what they don’t. We are picking up new customers.
ID: Over 65% of your business is coming through this web portal. This figure is extremely unique for this vertical. What do you attribute that to?
It is the only way that we help customers reduce what they spend. It is the only way we go to market since 2001. We help implement a streamlined process. The companies that we talk to are interested in those two things. It is good for our company to have everything come in through the internet, it makes it more efficient. It makes the accuracy from the customer standpoint easier, better, more defined. Our competitive edge is helping customers reduce what they spend and get control of their procurement process.
We have two business models: one of them is through our warehouse with our trucks and customer service and salespeople. The other is retail websites distributing around teh U.S., like www.CleaningProductsWorld.com and www.toiletpaperworld.com, which was one of the first retail website selling janitorial supplies in America. The retail web business that we began in 2001 and the B2B businesses that we started in the same year began as two different types of trends. Now, the two different types of customer are merging.
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