Category Archives: Integration

DistributorCentral Announces 400 Percent Increase in Product Traffic

DistributorCentral (PPAI: 220404 | UPIC: DC) announced today that overall product views have increased over 400 percent in less than two years. So far in 2015, products in the DC database have seen by distributors and their customers an average of 3.6 million a month. Compared to 2013, when DC averaged less than one million product searches per month, this represents a tremendous increase in potential sales generated from DistributorCentral data.

DistributorCentral attributes this growth to not only an increase in the Supplier and Distributor members but to the strategic partnerships they have formed.  DistributorCentral is proud to list over forty different integrations and partnerships for its customers, including providing product data for commonsku, Essent, eBlox, PromoCorner, and Artwork Services USA members.

DistributorCentral is also a part of a group of professionals committed to improving the IT efficiency in the promotional products industry through collaboration. The goal of this project, along with 20 of the largest suppliers, is to implement new and better ways to do business based on a set of standards that are compatible for the greater good of the industry.

“Participation in these efforts not only contributes to increased exposure, but also improves the overall user experience; which we constantly strive to do,” says Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral.

“To support the increase in traffic, in 2015 we moved to the best in class cloud-based hosting that provides a faster, more secure environment for all of our users,” says Nokes.

A 400% increase in product views over two years is good news for Supplier members that list their products in the Pro version of DistributorCentral.  As DC’s product feed populates over 8,500 distributor websites via DC’s website system, integrations and software partners, supplier’s overall statistics have grown exponentially.

Nokes foresees the rapid growth to accelerate in 2016 as more supplier, distributor, and partner members come on board.

For more information about DistributorCentral visit www.distributorcentral.com and on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

 

 

 

DistributorCentral Launches DC ARTStudio

DistributorCentral (PPAI: 220404 | UPIC: DC) announced their new value added service called DC ARTStudio.  Members can now order production ready artwork services directly from their accounts.  Services will be provided by software partner Artwork Services USA.  Distributor services include vector art, digitizing, virtual samples, flyers, brochures, image retouching, and product templates.

DistributorCentral members can take advantage of a special introductory offer of a 50% off flat discount for one month with offer code 1M50DIS.  “In addition to the initial 50% off, DC members receive better rates than the general industry. We’ve made it very easy to order artwork and it’s completely integrated with their account.” said Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral.

“We are truly excited by our partnership with DistributorCentral to provide a critical service to its members; one that can be such a stumbling block for executing the order accurately and on time. We hope the members can take advantage of our special rates and speed of execution.” said Varshal Thakor, President of Artwork Services USA.

For more information visit: http://distributorcentralartstudio.artworkservicesusa.com

Get The Freight Right

Use Technology To Calculate Freight Rates With Quotes And Orders

Kaity Morris and members of her customer service team are certainly sympathetic when customers express frustration about having to calculate freight quotes when ordering promotional products. They’re mostly quite pleased the frustration is not directed at them.

Morris is Customer Service Manager at HandStands, a Salt Lake City-based supplier focusing on air fresheners and technology accessories. When HandStands quotes a price for an order, shipping costs are included up front. No waiting. No guessing. No problems.

“It’s an extra plus in our customer service,” Morris said of having a real-time freight quote tool included in pricing calculations. “Our customers know shipping costs right up front.”

Obviously the technology to calculate freight costs when placing an over-the-phone or an online order is nothing out of the ordinary. Imagine the hesitation if consumers placed online orders at everyday retail websites with the expectation that yet-to-be-determined shipping costs would be added to the posted cost.

“Who’s going to buy something online if they don’t have the freight? As a consumer, can you imagine going to Amazon and then waiting two days for them to send you the shipping costs?”

That’s Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral and one of the team members who developed a freight calculation tool for the promotional products industry. It’s been just over a decade since DC made this function available, yet Nokes knows there’s some reluctance on the part of both suppliers and distributors to have shipping costs included in quotes and pricing, usually because of concerns about accuracy.

According to Nokes, the ability to nail down shipping costs is actually simple and easy. Accurate freight rates can be calculated in advance using real-time data from shipping providers and incorporating internal product and packing standards. The more data and variables plugged into the equation, the more precise the quote.

“Now suppliers are able to present shipping processes and pricing in a manner that’s accurate and positive,” said Nokes. “Helping customers determine how shipping will impact pricing becomes an appreciated aspect of the sales process.”

Feel the love
Tom Mertz, President and CEO of TradeNet Publishing, manufacturer of printed promotional products near Kansas City, offers no pretense about his reasoning for incorporating DC’s Freight Quote function in every quote and order.

“We want the distributor to love TradeNet,” said Mertz. “We realize our customers are busy people and are often working on a quote at night or on the road. If they can tell their customer what the freight will be, we’re making it easier for them to make the sale.”

Mertz said distributors have acknowledged they want to know freight costs up front. “A distributor will take the path of least resistance,” he said. “If they can get an accurate quote from one supplier and not from another, which supplier gets the business? It positions TradeNet as being in partnership with distributors by helping them make the sale.”

Economics is no small part of the equation where TradeNet is concerned. Mertz said a review of customer service calls prior to implementation to Freight Quotes was that 25 percent of incoming calls were related to inquiries and issues associated with shipping costs. Now those calls are rare.

“TradeNet was ultimately able to direct our Customer Service team to spend more quality time with distributors,” Mertz said. “We were able to better concentrate the efforts of our CS team to make it easier to make the sale and to do more business with us.”

Distributors sing a similar song. Rich Graham, Chief Imagination Officer at Dallas-based Big Promotions!, said having accurate shipping quotes at the time of sale is something “you just gotta have and that’s pretty much how it is.” Graham said Big Promotions! relies on the DC freight calculator, indicating it’s especially required for customers who make online purchases during the nighttime hours or on weekends.

Dave White, DEW Ad Specialties, Kansas City, said it’s important to have access to a freight calculator function because of ever-changing costs. “It’s hard to keep up with fuel surcharges that seemingly change on a daily basis,” said White. “It helps us to know we’re being provided accurate shipping pricing without any surprises.”

Simplified and Customized
While online Freight Quote programming is robust and detailed, the ability for a supplier or a distributor to add it to online or over-the-phone price quoting is not. Where DC’s tool is concerned, it’s a matter of the supplier or distributor completing a spreadsheet with as many shipping standards as possible, including product dimensions and weight per shipping quantity. The more detailed the standards and the shipping criteria, the more accurate the quote.

“We hear stories about suppliers using whatever boxes they can find to ship products in,” said DC’s Nokes. “The process of including shipping costs in quotes typically results in improvements of processes and functionality.”

Nokes said the DC software interacts with FedEx and UPS to generate real-time rates. The integration with the two primary shippers factors in the fluctuating fuel surcharges and thus keeps pace with changing rates.

TradeNet’s Mertz said the accuracy of freight quotes through DistributorCentral has exceeded his expectations. Over years of implementation and across thousands of orders representing hundreds of product lines, the quotes are directly aligned with actual costs.

“At the end of the day, we’re looking for a quote that’s fair in the aggregate to TradeNet and the distributor,” Mertz said.

Fully customizable, the Freight Quote tool allows suppliers and distributors to provide customers with shipping discounts or free shipping on selected products or special offers. The DC freight tool is automatically integrated with DC-hosted websites and can also be integrated into custom third-party websites.

“With this freight tool, suppliers are actually helping the distributor sell on line and give more precise quotes,” said Nokes. “Distributors, through their suppliers or on their own websites, benefit by making easier for the end user.”

Real-time inventory means real-time opportunity

Distributors everywhere have reason to smile. Some of the brightest IT minds in the promotional products industry are working to provide distributors better information and thus improve selling opportunities.

When PPAI hosted its inaugural Technology Summit as part of the 2014 Expo East tradeshow, it was a given technology leaders gathering from across the industry would discuss technology trends and issues. What wasn’t a given was that within a matter of days some of those technology leaders, formerly aware of each other in name only, would collaborate to successfully implement a newly developed data standard.

The result: real-time inventory information at the fingertips of thousands of distributors searching for promotional products.

Apologies for dropping lingo that sounds like something out of an IT101 manual, but bear with me. “Inventory Interface Standards” are a component of the new Promotional Products Data Interface Specification for Web Services. The Standards were developed as a joint initiative by key personnel at Starline USA, Hit Promotional Products and Bic Graphic USA.

Here at DistributorCentral, the ability to quickly and easily integrate inventory data into existing product research tools was a key takeaway from the Technology Summit. DC’s expectation in moving quickly to integrate this methodology is for suppliers to embrace the added value of real-time inventory data as part of product data, just as many of them have embraced the added value of providing detailed shipping information which allows distributors to see real-time freight costs.

DC hosts nearly 10,000 websites for distributors who understand how critical it is to have accurate product information in order for their customers to make informed purchasing decisions at the point of purchase. Giving distributors and their customers the ability to see detailed, real-time inventory data – down to sizes and color choice – represents one more way to save them money and cut down on unnecessary calls.

Real-Time InventoryGranted, real-time inventory on individual supplier websites has become commonplace. What’s new and unique is incorporating that data into aggregated industry research tools and website hosting platforms such as DistributorCentral. Each supplier has a slightly different way of storing and providing (if at all) data for use on external websites or third-party search tools which has historically made the aggregation of that data challenging.

The new standard allows suppliers, with very little development effort on their part, to standardize the way inventory data is provided. Once a supplier implements this methodology it is a simple matter of enabling it within their product data on DC. At that point every distributor in the industry has instant access to that supplier’s inventory data.

Distributors will be pleased to see a growing number of suppliers embracing the new standard. Well-known supplier Jetline recently adopted the standard and others are expected to follow suit. Dana Zezzo, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Jetline, said he appreciates DistributorCentral’s “out-of-the-box thinking” when it comes to improvements to the database.

Said Zezzo: “When DC suggested adopting this standard and providing inventory data with our product listings, and that in doing so we would enhance our product listings and encourage more distributors to pay attention to Jetline’s product line, it was an easy decision.”

Jon Norris, Systems Operation Manager at Starline and Incoming PPAI Technology Committee Chair, acknowledged DistributorCentral is the first industry service provider to implement the standardized supplier web service feed. That’s a critical step, according to Norris, because DC’s involvement “provided integral feedback on overall improvements to the system and DC’s high search volume helped us tweak the scalability of our own service at Starline,”

More good news. According to Norris, inventory data is just the beginning. He expects additions to the standards to include order status updates and more.

Looks like those IT guys who got together at Expo East got the ball rolling. Their collaboration on standards is bound to benefit the industry as a whole and keep distributors smiling.

David Shultz

Right On The Money – Sales flourish when online product data is accurate

 

Candice Phrogus is notRight on the Money intimidated when it’s time to update product information or change pricing on Alpi International’s robust website. Login. Enter password. Find product. Update product information. Save.

And done.

“In literally less than a minute I can go in and change things,” said Phrogus, who directs marketing and online product management at Oakland-based Alpi. “I don’t have to email anyone. I don’t have to call anyone. I can do it myself.”

Ah… if only Candice were really done. While that simple backend update made on the DistributorCentral product platform instantly updates product information on Alpi’s website, as well as in DistributorCentral’s centralized product research database, she still has other product search engines with whom to contend.

“It’s a challenge to update on every single platform,” said Phrogus. “Each seems to have a different format and you have to email in the information or call them up. Even then, it can take as long as 24 hours (for the data) to refresh.”

Technical, logistical and communicative difficulties associated with keeping online product data current have long plagued the promotional products industry. Until recently, some product data platform providers manually updated pricing using suppliers’ catalogs or written updates as the source. When placing orders, distributors were compelled to contact suppliers directly to confirm pricing and data were correct.

Bryan Lewis, President of LP Marketing, a Kansas City promotional products distributorship, said it’s frustrating when a customer locates a product and places an order through his website only to find the pricing was wrong after the customer placed the order.

“Distributors kind of get in the middle when pricing is wrong or the product has been discontinued but not removed,” Lewis said. “If the supplier won’t honor the pricing, then often we’re the ones taking the hit. If we’ve included discount pricing as part of our offer, the wrong pricing might cost us an additional five to 15 percent.”

Lewis said suppliers typically blame the service provider for not updating the information on the database. He knows, however, in the case of DistributorCentral, suppliers have the ability to update their own product data. It’s one of the reasons his team members at LP Marketing are “very proactive” at letting suppliers and DistributorCentral know when product information is wrong or outdated.

“We’ll quickly go in and locate that product on DistributorCentral and submit an inaccurate product information report,” Lewis said. “We appreciate what DC does to keep product information as updated as possible.”

According to Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral, suppliers do not take for granted getting alerts and feedback from distributors.”

“Suppliers love having feedback from distributors,” Nokes said. “It’s an example of suppliers and distributors working together to be successful. Where DC is concerned, every supplier can have a team of thousands of distributors working to help generate sales.”

Tim Parcher, president of Solid Dimensions, an Ohio-based manufacturer of environmentally friendly wood promotional products, acknowledges it can be “extremely complicated and time intensive” to make updates on some systems.

“The harder the job is, the greater the risk some things won’t be verified, some things will be misrepresented and errors will be made,” Parcher said. “We know the DC system best and can make updates instantly. Other databases can make it very difficult to keep products updated.”

Parcher said distributors’ primary issue remains accurate pricing. For that reason, Solid Dimensions strives to direct distributors to the company’s DC-hosted website and thus bypass the possibility of working with bad data.

“Everyone has their verified pricing system, but that’s part of the glitch,” Parcher said. “Verification’ doesn’t dive down deep enough to cover such things as options and features and discount codes.”

At DC, Nokes said suppliers can do much to help distributors by coming to terms with the realization their product information ultimately goes to the end user.

“Distributors prefer presenting consumer-friendly product data,” said Nokes. “Suppliers can benefit everyone’s cause by submitting product information suited for consumers and businesses.”

Nokes said distributors as a whole are increasingly asking for freight costs when securing quotes or, at the very least, when an order is placed. It’s an expectation in line with technological advances in making online purchases.

“Look at any successful e-commerce business and you’ll see all options being made available to the buyer, including pricing, shipping, materials, size and more,” Nokes said. “Other data platforms in the industry haven’t got to the point where they can handle it all. They’re still leaving much up to distributors to complete the orders.”

According to Nokes, “cultural differences” exist among the primary promotional product database providers. He said the primary example is data is free and accessible on DistributorCentral. Nokes said the idea of requiring suppliers to pay to have their product information made available and then also charging distributors to access product data is out of sync in the competitive world of e-commerce.

“DistributorCentral’s position is the product data belongs to the suppliers and our job is to get it where distributors and buyers can have open and total access to that information,” Nokes said. “We request suppliers to take responsibility for keeping their information accurate on DC for the benefit of the buyers. We’re happy to forward that accurate data – in whatever format is needed – to other platforms and websites. Why would we not?”

Solid Dimensions’ Tim Parcher said the industry has matured to a point it’s more about being competitive within the marketplace.  He said promotional products remain the best bang for the buck and one way to remain competitive is to have an accurate, up-to-date pricing structure.

“Gone is the system the industry used 20 years ago when products, pricing and catalogs were introduced on January 1 and were there until December 31,” Parcher said. “That’s not reality.”

Parcher said both distributors and suppliers understand the dynamics of continuous pricing and the need to change product information and options on an ongoing basis. He said a variety of ever-changing factors ranging from import costs to regulations to shipping can have an immediate impact on cost and product data.

“The gallon of milk you by in August isn’t going to cost the same as it did in February,” Parcher said. “We’re not working on annual fixed prices anymore.”

At Apli International, which features a variety of promotional products with an emphasis on stress relievers and unique pens, pricing stays static throughout the year but information about product information requires updates on a weekly basis.

“It’s not uncommon for the print shop to call and say a certain item can handle a bigger logo or there’s room for a second imprint,” said Phrogus. “It’s helpful that I can make changes very quickly in the DC system. I also like that DC is web based as opposed to desktop based, so I can make changes on the phone if I want. That’s cool.”

Virtual Samples via Technologo

As part of a promotional offering, virtual sampling capabilities as provided by Technologo are being integrated into all websites as hosted by DistributorCentral. Technologo provides unique and advanced virtual sample technology allowing real-time presentation of logos and messaging on products regardless of shape, color, texture or imprinting.

The collaborative initiative is part of a promotional offering that extends through September 8.

“Technologo’s virtual sampling tools fit seamlessly into DC-hosted websites of both suppliers and distributors,” said Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral. “We’re confident our customers who rely on DC for website hosting will quickly discover the numerous benefits and increased sales associated with the ability to create online virtual samples for their respective customers.”

Technologo

During the promotional period, DC-hosted URL addresses will be enabled to use Technologo virtual sample tools at no charge. Those who opt to subscribe to Technologo services during that four-week timeframe will receive another month of virtual samples capabilities at no charge.

Mike Betts, President of Technologo, said the integration of an enhanced virtual samples tool into DistributorCentral’s website platforms will allow suppliers and distributors to “test drive” a premium virtual tool.

“DC-hosted website users will be able to experience the capabilities of realistic virtual samples in real time,” Betts said. “Technologo makes it easier to set up personalized presentation materials for their clients, who in turn are in a better position to make purchase decisions.”

For more information about Technologo’s virtual sample technology being available on DC, visit www.DistributorCentral.com

FULLY LOADED: Order Management Is Best When It Comes With The Works

 

Fully Loaded

It’s been seven years since Denver-based Catch Fire Marketing expanded from print marketing into the larger world of promotional products. Owner Steve Bocher was prepared to take the plunge and was looking for an integrated order management system that allowed Catch Fire to hit the ground running.

Turns out everything he was looking for – web hosting, online proof approval, billing, email hosting, search functionality and more – was available from a single provider. And the price was right: Free.

Steve Bocher“As a new distributor/owner, DistributorCentral was a blessing,” said Bocher. “I could get a web-based product solution, a solution for my website and all the tools I needed. DC made it crazy easy to be in business.”

If it seems Bocher may have been a bit surprised by DC’s capabilities. That comes as no surprise to Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral. Nokes said the all-encompassing order management system within DC is sometimes obscured by singular features sought out by distributors. When priorities are placed on DC’s website hosting and product search capabilities, the total package of services sometimes gets overlooked.

Jason Nokes“It’s possible to run an entire business on DistributorCentral,” Nokes said. “Our goal has always been to provide both suppliers and distributors with a full package of tools that increase efficiency, lower costs and generate sales.”

According to Bocher at Catch Fire, it’s beneficial to have a system that’s fully integrated with a database containing 300,000 products and that hosts websites and email. He said the true value starts on the first floor.

“At the most basic level, to be able to seamlessly go from order to proof to purchase order to invoicing is what gives us the most value,” Bocher said. “Those four things are the cornerstones of business that any distributor deals with in the promotional products industry.”

Those critical “cornerstones” are part of a larger framework of services. The DC distributor-focused online order management system is a full-scale utility representing an alternative solution to help distributors streamline business and present far more product information than paper catalogs.

DC’s order management services include the ability to:

• Create and send purchase orders to suppliers
• Receive invoices and make payments to suppliers
• Enable merchant account and PayPal integration
• Manage proofs and artwork
• Provide full reporting tools
• Provide CRM features for customer management
• Import/export customer lists
• Integrate websites and social media
• Issue reorder reminders
• Export to QuickBooks and integrate third-party software

DC’s Nokes said distributors’ use of DC pays dividends almost immediately. Suppliers are typically able to respond more quickly to orders placed online, many actually offering online order discounts. Because the order process is simplified, the distributor saves time and errors are significantly reduced.

All at no cost. For good reason. Suppliers are willing to help sponsor DistributorCentral because they have complete control over product information and can give 100 percent of their distributors access that that information. Other services providers limit access by suppliers to update their product data in real time which can delay pricing updates and frustrate distributors. DC al-lows all distributors to view the product data and (again, for free) build websites for customers to purchase those products.

“If there’s any one notion DistributorCentral has had difficulty in overcoming it is that people often believe when something is free, it can’t be that good,” Nokes said. “DC is rapidly dispel-ling such thinking. We see continued growth as distributors realize DC’s free order management system is more robust and produces traffic equal to or greater than that seen from providers that charge usage and placement fees.”

Nokes points out that suppliers’ product information as posted on DC is typically more accurate. Suppliers are given full control of their product information housed within DC. When not beholden to the placement process and fees charged by other product platform providers, suppliers can quickly and easily ensure their product data is up to date. DC provides the ability to export and forward updated product information to other product platforms, thus requiring suppliers to generate updates only one time. Distributors in turn benefit when they know they’re dealing with accurate pricing.

“We’re always implementing ways to make the DC process simpler, more accurate and more accommodating,” Nokes said. “We know how important that is for distributors who expect such service. When making distributors happy, suppliers realize the importance of incorporating DistributorCentral into their day-to-day processes.”

There’s no need to convince Steve Bocher of DC’s value. With order management, web hosting and the like all being with DistributorCentral, he’s grown Catch Fire Marketing into a truly full-service promotional products provider and an industry leader.

“DistributorCentral is literally part of Catch Fire’s daily routine,” Bocher said. “Our administrators check orders with pending proofs and make it part of their routine to track orders. Our graphic designers use the system for proofs. I would say almost every designer I’ve had over 14 years has been impressed with how integrated the online proofing system is compared to where they were working before.

“DC makes dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s very easy. All you have to do use it.”

eBlox integrates with DistributorCentral to access product data

Two primary web technology-oriented service providers serving the promotional products industry are teaming up. The collaborative relationship will enable their respective clients improved product data dissemination and more convenient access for distributors.

eBlox, an experienced web technology solutions provider based in Austin, Texas, is now able to directly extract data from the centralized product database hosted by DistributorCentral, headquartered near Kansas City. The integration is the first of its kind for both companies.

According to Brent Buford, eBlox CEO, the primary advantage of the integration with DistributorCentral will be both speed and improved accuracy.

“One of our biggest challenges has been getting data from suppliers in a timely manner,” said Buford. “The ability to source directly from DistributorCentral will streamline data flow with the added advantage of the data being more accurate and up to date.”

While product data is critical to eBlox’s ability to support customers, Buford said the company’s primary focus is providing customizable e-commerce solutions to the promotional products industry. Relying on DistributorCentral to access suppliers’ product information enables eBlox to concentrate on building robust e-commerce solutions for its clients.

Jason Nokes, President of Distributor Central, said the integration with eBlox represents another sales channel for suppliers. Making product data available on DistributorCentral enables suppliers to automatically have data available across the industry.

“Integration with eBlox is another example of how DistributorCentral makes it easy for suppliers to more efficiently disseminate up-to-date product information across the industry,” said Nokes.

The integration of eBlox and DistributorCentral is the result of collaborative testing and review by both companies’ technical support teams.  eBlox will initially use the DistributorCentral feed for a limited group of key suppliers with expectations to grow the number as it switches current manual processes to rely on DistributorCentral product data.

About the companies:

  • eBlox is a leading provider of highly customizable e-commerce solutions for the promotional products industry, including company stores, distributor e-commerce and supplier websites. Current clients include 3M, Norwood, AIA, Proforma and more. eBlox provides turnkey web solutions including search engine optimization, consulting,  development, integration and maintenance.
  • DistributorCentral is a full-feature, open centralized product database for the promotional product industry. The only product platform available free to suppliers, distributors and service providers, DistributorCentral enables suppliers to own and manage their own product data and makes it easier for distributors to locate, order and deliver quality products to end users.