In the first of what we hope to be a series of retailer interviews, I caught up with Zachary Applegate of PlumberSurplus and OutdoorPros: Tell us a little about yourself and your company: My name is Zachary Applegate, I am the Search and Marketing Manager for the Gordian Project which is currently the parent company for two ecommerce websites PlumberSurplus.com and OutdoorPros.com. PlumberSurplus.com has been live since August 2004 and offers tens of thousands of plumbing, home improvement, and building products in a range of categories including Kitchen and Bathroom, Water Heaters, Lighting, Pumps, Tools, Access Doors, Valves, Commercial and more. OutdoorPros.com went live in March 2008 and offers outdoors products, outdoors equipment, and outdoors gear in a range of categories like Apparel, Camping, Cutlery, Gifts, Lighters, Lighting, Optics, Outdoor, Safety and Duty Gear and Skateboarding. We are continuing to both build out our current ecommerce websites and look for new opportunities as we grow and evolve as a company. With the slower economy, and with DIY/trade purchases likely slowing down at this time of year, what kind of things are you doing to weather the season – if you’re affected at all? Earlier this year we focused on making profitable decisions as a company. Along with streamlining a lot of processes and costs, we evaluated things like our pricing philosophies, marketing philosophies and shipping philosophies. Those improvements have made an impact and facilitated the company’s continued growth while boosting the overall health of the company. We have also focused heavily on supply, varying product offerings and diversification in order to hopefully limit any issues which may face. I noticed you actually have a free shipping section customers can browse. How do you determine which products qualify? Do they stay the same all year round or are they dependent on other factors? We think that for certain products free shipping can be a very big carrot for customers, because of that we have many ways with which we determine whether products get free shipping or not. Sometimes we partner with manufactures or suppliers for free shipping, sometimes it’s part of a promotion we might be running and other times its self funded. So for all of those reasons we have some products, which more often than not, always have free shipping and others which may only get it for a certain period. Although we have found our current free shipping logic works well, we are thinking about moving away from specific product based free shipping to more of a cart total based free shipping logic to see if that works better. How do you make sure you can afford a shipping promotion? When its funded by a partner that’s great but we also want to make sure there are not other opportunities which might be better than free shipping when discussing that. If it’s co-funded or self-funded we often look at the products which will be effected by free shipping and what we think we might get charged on average to ship those products. Currently this is done on a product by product basis to make sure that we can afford to run a promotion like this for each specific product. What’s your take on nurturing loyal relationships with shipping carriers vs. rate shopping? Our Supply Chain Manager, Jeff, does a fantastic job working with UPS and other carriers to build healthy relationships, and negotiate fees and rates. For PlumberSurplus.com, one of our biggest shipping issues is freight or LTL (Less Than Truckload) charges since we sell a lot of larger items which cannot be shipped via UPS or FedEx. Getting a handle on those charges and evolving our shipping philosophies and rates has helped us a lot and made it so that we can pass on good shipping rates to our customers. Do you have any tips for negotiating with shipping carriers? (Keeping in mind UPS’ planned rate hike of 5.9% in January) While Jeff handles much of the negotiations I can say that while negotiating your rate is important, volume and ancillary charges also seem to make a big difference. Regardless how a shipping account is setup make sure that you can ship as much as possible or consolidate accounts or carriers to allow for more negotiating power on rates. Many carriers especially freight carriers have a lot of ancillary charges they tack on which can get expensive. Often times these can get negotiated down or removed depending on the volume and types of shipments you are shipping through a carrier. You also run an outdoor gear site called Outdoor Pros and link to it from PlumberSurplus. Have you reached out through email or other means to existing PlumberSurplus customers and converted them to OutdoorPros customers for the holidays? We have, along with some cross site banners and information we promote each site in the others transactional e-mails we send out to promote cross site purchases. Could you comment on the challenges/benefits of running multiple stores? It’s been very interesting to say the least to run two ecommerce websites. Many of the things we have learned directly cross over to the other, however we have come to learn that each website represents an entirely different market. People buy and look for items differently, the way we promote and market in some places has had to change and while we are going to continue in this direction of additional websites the important thing for us is to take stock of the wins and losses across all websites to build a broader knowledge base and a more robust ecommerce solution. Big thanks to Zachary. If you’d like to be interviewed for future installment of “Interview with the Retailer” drop me a line at linda dot bustos @ elasticpath.com.
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