This is the second part of a three-part article about business-to-consumer distribution software.

Several software firms offer B2C solutions that fit the needs of most janitorial and sanitary supply distributors who are venturing into the market. Some software solutions fit into existing ERP programs and allow distributors to extend their reach past B2B and into the B2C market through various forms of marketing, such as email blasts and mailings.

Software solutions currently on the market also offer an array of functions geared to the consumer market. One function allows consumers to choose among various shipping and payment options that are less likely to be needed by clients with contracts, who are regularly invoiced and have set shipping preferences. 

Other consumer-based functions seen in the software include search engine optimization, which helps distributors modify their websites so they are more easily found by consumers searching the Web, and Google Analytics, a tool used to understand website users and glean valuable information about the relationship between marketing campaigns and sales. 

T. Frank McCall’s, a distributor in Pennsylvania, began in 1876 as a feed store. Those early roots as a consumer retailer are still visible throughout the organization, which still operates a small retail store and serves many small businesses in Chester, where it is located, says Andy Parker, the company’s vice president of sales.

Consumer customers already constitute a lot of T. Frank McCall’s business. The decision to focus more on the consumer market comes at a convenient time, since the company is upgrading its business systems, which will allow it to offer online ordering, stronger analysis and more control over inventory. Although Parker looks forward to the prospect of increased revenue from the consumer market, he believes distributors need to strike a balance with their reliance on technology.

“Technology will enable us to deal with consumers more, but the one way we, as a small to mid-size independent distributor, compete with the Staples and W.B. Masons is service, and that’s what we need to continue to do,” says Parker. “If we lean too much on technology and we lose touch with the customer, then we will lose customers.”

Software should not decrease the flexibility of an enterprise, says Parker, especially when dealing with individual consumers and issues that arise with minimums and discounts on shipping and overall pricing. 

Pricing products is the “elephant in the room” for Central Sanitary Supply as it adapts to a B2C model, given that online pricing is extremely competitive, says Carson.

“We can’t just all of a sudden start shipping product nationally at an aggressive online price while we are still charging a higher premium to our local customers, where we actually have account reps serving,” he adds.

One way for distributors to deal with this pricing dilemma is to take on two identities, one that takes on business-to-business customers and the other that deals in the business-to-consumer realm, says Carson.

“I am not entirely sure how we are going to breach that,” he says. “I think that it will become an issue for anybody making the transition.” 

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New Distribution Software Opens Up B2C Jan/San Market
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