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This year I am celebrating my 20th year in the promotional products industry. Much has changed since 1993 (like actually using a camera for “camera ready art”), but one thing that hasn’t changed is the struggle with product data. For years product data has been found only in printed catalogs, buried in the back room of supplier IT departments, or held hostage by service providers.
DistributorCentral set out in 1999 to address many of the inefficiencies that plague our industry and in the last 14 years I’m happy to say we have done a great job. Except one thing has been lacking; our model has always been “open”, but we charged suppliers which limited participation to a specific segment of the industry. This year we took a big, bold step and formally announced that DC is open and free for any supplier to list products, free for all distributors to use (as it always has been), and free to any service provider for their use.
So what does this mean for our industry? An open, centralized product database means everyone can participate and share the same data. For suppliers, it means you can easily maintain and control product information in one place that feeds the entire industry. For distributors, it means you have access to accurate, up-to-date product data that is maintained by suppliers. For service providers, it means the struggle to get product data from suppliers is over.
As obvious as this all seems, it hasn’t happened until now. Unlike other industries, pricing in the promotional products industry is viewed with suspicion and most industry veterans are skeptical as to whether electronic information is accurate. I understand how this came about, but it is ridiculous! Do you ever expect the price shown on Amazon to be wrong? No! So why do distributors feel like they have to call suppliers to verify pricing and why have we accepted this as the norm? No more!
The reception to our new direction has been overwhelming. Companies that we haven’t spoken to in years are contacting us and supporting our decision. Suppliers are calling us, texting us, IM’ing us, tweeting us, emailing us, and PM’ing us through Facebook (and before you ask, yes, we’re still a for-profit company and have many paid customers that leverage the full suite of great DC tools). All of this helps confirm we have made the right decision and we are excited about the future!