CEO Sharon Price John says Build-A-Bear’s old e-commerce system is a big reason for disappointing online sales in December.
Specializing in selling small containers of shampoo, toothpaste and other items designed for traveling, Minimus.biz lives by a policy of figuring out what its customers want and how they want to shop. That strategy has kicked up sales to businesses, public institutions and nonprofits.
Minimus.biz plays up to its name by focusing on selling items like toiletries and cocoa mix in packages small enough to place in a travel bag. But there’s nothing small about its move into business-to-business sales, co-founder Paul Shrater says.
“This past year, our wholesale side eclipsed the retail side of our business,” he says, declining to provide specific sales figures. “And it’s still growing.” Minimus is ranked as No. 839 in the Internet Retailer Second 500, with 2012 web sales estimated by Internet Retailer at $4.95 million.
Part of the challenge of increasing sales to businesses, public institutions and nonprofits, Shrater says, was basically a matter of semantics: Minimus considers its “wholesale” business open to any customers who want to purchase in bulk and, therefore, get bulk or wholesale pricing. But it found that it had to clearly explain that to site visitors. “Most people thought buying wholesale must be only for stores reselling products to consumers,” Shrater says.
One step that made a big difference in acquiring more business-to-business sales was placing a placing a bright blue and yellow box in the top-right section of the Minimus home page, with the message; “FULL CASE & BULK PRICING—CLICK HERE.” “We had a huge uptick in sales in our wholesale department,” Shrater says.
Clicking that box brings up information on how to place a wholesale order, including this message: “Note: you do not need to be a re-seller in order to obtain wholesale pricing—individuals, companies, nonprofits, educational institutions and government are all welcome.”
But Minimus has also learned to take several other steps to help its B2B customers, developing a flexible strategy of working with groups of customers either online or offline based on their shopping needs. When shoppers click the full case/bulk pricing button, they’re instructed to contact a sales rep via phone or e-mail because Minimus has found that many business customers need assistance from a sales professional to complete large orders. “We can guide them through buying options and optimize how we can meet their needs,” Shrater says.
For example, he says, when a charity is buying bulk amounts of toiletries for a homeless shelter, a Minimus sales rep may advise it to save money by purchasing high-quality generic brands instead of relatively pricey name brands. “We may have gone from a $1000 order to $500, but we made the customer happy,” Shrater says. “It’s better to build a longer term relationship.”
But when organizations order supplies for troops stationed overseas with the United States Armed Forces, Minimus advises them to go with the national brands because such products have proved to be more popular among troops—and the goal of these organizations is to boost troop morale, Shrater says. “Feedback we’ve received from troop-support organizations says troops don’t want generics; they want brands that remind them of home.”
For other types of B2B customers, however, Minimus has found it more beneficial to develop special online shopping pages.
Because some charities provide ways for contributors to purchase products rather than donate cash, Minimus has set up web pages designed to let several individuals share in paying for the cost of pallets of goods. A charity supporting a homeless shelter, Shrater says, could display on its own web site or through paid-search ads an opportunity to purchase online toothbrushes or other items in lieu of making a cash donation. Clicking that site link or search ad would take a contributor to a landing page on Minimus.biz, where she could contribute toward the purchase of a pallet of toothbrushes or other toiletries. Once enough donations are made to fill a pallet, Minimus ships it for the charity.
Minimus, which runs its e-commerce site on technology from BV Commerce, is also considering developing such special-purchase pages for other commercial clients. For example, a consortium of travel agents, could use the Minimus page to let its member travel agents purchase among a select group of items to send as gifts to clients.
Minimus also operates a sister company, Minimus Products LLC, that works with manufacturers to develop small, travel-sized versions of their products, ranging from laundry detergent to cocoa mix.
While taking special steps to cater to its business customers, Shrater says Minimus.biz continues to work to maintain its service to retail customers, adding that its reputation for a quality retail shopping experience has helped it move more in to B2B sales.
As it expands B2B sales, for example, Minimus.biz ensures that its inventory levels are updated for B2C as well as B2B customers. It uses software developed in-house to monitor inventory levels—it sells 2,500 products from 300 manufacturers—and to show its merchandisers where products need to be replaced in cross-selling displays as inventory levels change.
“It’s our business-to-consumer presence that drives a lot of our B2B business,” he says. “A lot of B2B sellers may be unknown—could be one guy in a garage—but we can show we’re also a real B2C company. There’s a strong connection between the two.”
For a free subscription to B2Bec News, click here.