June 27, 2012, 2:23 PM

Vitamin maker Schiff Nutrition steps into e-commerce

The company has hired LuckyBrand’s Charlie Cole to lead the effort.

Lead Photo

Charlie Cole

Schiff Nutrition International Inc. generates more than $350 million in sales annually by selling its products to retailers, but Schiff’s direct-to-consumer online sales account for virtually none of the revenue. The vitamin and nutritional supplement manufacturer, whose brands include Move-Free, MegaRed and Airborne, aims to change that, and soon.

The company launched a basic e-commerce site about six months ago at SchiffVitamins.com using off-the-shelf software, but is in the process of building a more advanced e-commerce presence from the ground up, the retailer says.

To that end, the company recently hired Charlie Cole away from LuckyBrand.com, the e-retail site for Lucky Brand Jeans, where he was vice president of online marketing for the brand, now operated by Fifth & Pacific Companies Inc.  Cole works as Schiff’s vice president of e-commerce and leads the development of the brand’s new e-commerce operation. Cole started with Schiff just weeks ago and is in the process of selecting a new e-commerce platform and hiring staff. Along with the company’s brand managers, he is working to understand what information consumers will want to see online about the brands.

“The development of the site is about making direct sales, yes, but it is also about giving people a place to embrace the brand and embrace it in a way that moves them to the point of sale, whether that’s online or in a retail store,” Cole says. He says he’ll be picking the e-commerce platform based on how flexible and easy it is to develop it in a way that fits brand managers’ goals. “The commerce piece of it I’m not worried about,” he says. “That’s formulaic. I want a platform that allows brand managers to swing for the fences.”

Like many consumer brand manufacturers entering e-commerce, Cole says Schiff values the strong relationships it has with the retailers that sell Schiff products, and so taking sales from them is not the aim of its e-commerce development. “I can guarantee that we will never undercut our retail partners on price,” Cole says. “When you inherit a business that does $350 million in retail and zero in e-commerce, you know which side your bread is buttered on. The way we see it is if someone interacts with the MegaRed brand online, that’ll increase his proclivity to buy it at a retail partners’ outlet, in store or online. We are looking where we can add value.”

Cole says he’s not yet sure what types of online assets Schiff will create to add value for consumers, and he’s relying on insights from brand managers and Schiff’s current marketing programs to show him what consumers are most likely to respond to. “When I arrived here the team raised their hands and said out loud: ‘We don’t know what we’re doing in e-commerce, and you don’t know what you’re doing in consumer packaged goods.’ So we’re working off of each other to find the way forward,” Cole says.

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