Like the outdoor enthusiasts who use their products, outdoor retail brands dislike the comfort zone, and thrive on pushing themselves to innovate and deliver new experiences for their partners and consumers.
For today’s outdoor retail distributors, this genetic makeup is a perfect fit for the current business environment. As the barriers between distributors, their retailer partners and the end customers erode, distributors are escaping traditional B2B distribution models and gaining more control over the entire manufacture, sales and distribution process to blaze paths to new sales channels and revenue sources.
From my many conversations with retail brands, I know this is an opportunity fraught with challenges. Distributors are being asked by retail partners to optimize inventory management and provide B2C-like, self-service ecommerce to automate accounts. Meanwhile, as customers increasingly seek direct access to their products, distributors are looking to expand to B2C ecommerce. Above all, in a space where the consumer views the product as an extension of his/her personality and self, brands are challenged to drive deeper customer engagement and create personalized experiences that increase brand loyalty.
Evolving their businesses to this new reality is top of mind for the thousands who will gather in Salt Lake City starting on August 2 for the annual Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, one of the largest and most important events of the year for the industry. There are companies at the show who have adopted an integrated, cloud-based platform to run end-to-end business processes. These companies are well equipped to handle the demands of digital retail because they have a 360-view of their business that allows them to proactively identify problems, and seize trends for opportunities. Running their businesses on an end-to-end, cloud-based platform is helping top retail brands tackle the biggest challenges in the industry today.
Challenge 1: Optimized Inventory Management
Many brands will identify with this situation: a retail partner orders stock at the beginning of a season according to what it thinks it can sell, and expects the distributor to hold it for them until it’s ready to sell it. This leaves distributors trying to maintain a delicate balance of fulfilling expectations without having product overages and losing potential profit in fire sales.
To gain better control, retailers need an enterprise level view of inventory that the flexibility of the cloud can enable with ease. With integrated inventory, operations and financials, businesses can easily view demand history of the product to balance partner expectations with actual demand, drilling down to even the material level to ensure accurate cost estimates, lead times and stock to streamline inventory management and enable more efficient logistics. And with anywhere, anytime accessibility to that data, employees are empowered to provide better customer service.
NEMO Equipment, for instance, a designer of innovative tents, sleeping bags and pads, and other camping gear, leverages NetSuite to run integrated financials, inventory and order management, CRM, and PCI-compliant credit card processing. With a 360-degree view of its business, NEMO can virtually compartmentalize stock by direct-to-consumer, B2B and U.S. military sales channels, as well as provide real-time updates to its website. Better inventory management has streamlined logistics processes, and pick, pack and ship time has been cut in half.
Harmonized, accurate data on the back-end is a strategic enabler. Innovative distributors are even integrating their inventory management systems with third-party POS at retailers, to pull data for true vendor managed inventory.
Challenge 2: Launching B2B Ecommerce
Fewer retail partners find faxing and emailing orders to be acceptable, and are coming to expect the ability to log onto a website for order management. Brands must also prepare to meet their partners’ demands for the types of experiences customers expect – such as buy online, pick up or return in store.
With an enterprise-level view of inventory, retail brands can implement functionally rich, reliable ecommerce experiences for their B2B customers. Plus, the cloud delivers superior functionality and scalability to add new brand properties or customer experiences without the overhead required of on-premise software.
Take 7Nation, for example, the parent company for Slingshot Sports and two other subsidiaries specializing in water sports. It leverages NetSuite SuiteCommerce to manage three different brand properties from one dashboard, enabling it to launch two new brands without increasing its overall headcount of 49. Plus, with access to their transactional data through the B2B portal, customers have greater self-service capabilities, and automation that enables Slingshot to serve multiple entities with one customer service team. As a result, self-service orders are growing at a faster rate than other Slingshot buying channels, with the growth of B2B ecommerce transactions up 60 percent in the last year.
Challenge 3: Enhancing Brand Value
For today’s outdoor retail brands, maintaining business and growth in standard channels is no longer enough. The best brands create relationships with their customers, mindful of the unique place these products hold in the hearts and minds of their “followers,” who embrace them, or reject them, with religious-like zeal. For brands positioned to meet consumers’ needs before they even know they have them, the potential to increase brand loyalty is huge. In this respect, internet savvy and brand conscious consumers are increasingly likely to want to buy their products from the source. With a unified cloud platform, distributors can provide engaging customer experiences coupled with reliable fulfillment that increases brand loyalty.
For example, Mystery Ranch recently launched NetSuite SuiteCommerce to run B2C ecommerce that is fully integrated with its NetSuite ERP system. Truly meeting the needs of their customers wherever they choose to shop—this includes delivering a sleek, engaging mobile experience, which has resulted in increased online conversions and a 30 percent jump in revenue attributed to mobile sales.
Let’s Play Outdoors, Leave the Work to the Cloud
So much of the show next week is about extending the passion and the excitement retail brands feel for the outdoors. Nearly half of all Americans participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2015. With a unified cloud platform running their businesses, retail brands can spend less time on back office processes, and focus on ways to get more people outside.