by Lisa Evans
As busy, multi-tasking retailers, we’ve all got too many things to do and not enough time to do them…but how can you make wholesale product researching and ordering a more efficient process? The answer? The Internet, naturally. For this topic, the IR team decided to go directly to the web’s original source for online wholesale buying and selling. We sat down with Lisa Rioni, CTO of Sumner Communications, to pick her brain about how the nation’s largest online directory of wholesale product sourcing came to be, and how it remains the web’s top resource for retailers everywhere.
“WholesaleCentral.com first began back in 1996. It was just a year or two after the Internet went public so there really wasn’t a lot on the web at the time, but at Sumner Communications, being a leader in publishing for the wholesale industry with our printed supplier directories, trade show directories and the top B2B trade magazines, we knew we had to go out and be on the web as well; we had to provide a resource for the industry,” Rioni remembers. Understanding the Internet would be an invaluable tool for retailers to research and find new products, the Sumner team took action.
“At the time, I researched a lot of different business models and a lot of different web sites to see how people were using the web and how other industries were being served, and what we found was that the biggest and most successful web site at the time was Yahoo.com. I thought, ‘Well, we have directories, and we bring buyers and sellers together, so we are going to put a directory of wholesale suppliers out on the web.’ And so that’s what we did and that’s how WholesaleCentral.com came to be. We were the first company to get a wholesale directory up and on the Internet. It was an immediate success, and has literally been growing steadily ever since. We’re proud that we’re the first and the original wholesale directory.”
The wholesale directory site we see in 2016 is a robust amalgam of wholesale suppliers and buyer resources, including a detailed trade show calendar, an updated offering of product deals and steals, a link to closeout suppliers, and more, but the heart of the site remains true to it’s purpose from 20 years ago: helping buyers find reliable wholesale suppliers and good quality products. Rioni explains, “the site has definitely changed as we’ve grown. We’ve added a whole lot of features for the buyers over time. We listen very, very closely to the suppliers that are listed on the site, and to the buyers who use the site. We are in daily contact with the buyers and the suppliers, and we listen to what they are telling us about what they need – and that keeps changing. Our buyers tell us what they need to work effectively, and we build those things into the site.”
“The site has also changed technologically, too, of course,” Rioni continues. “For the buyers, the technology may seem transparent, or it may feel the same, but it has really changed. The technology of the web is always evolving behind the scenes so we always have to stay current, to stay state of the art, with the most obvious recent change having been mobile. We are now morphing our site to mobile. It’s a huge project but we are well under way. We will also shortly be rolling out expanded supplier profile pages, the goal for these being to give additional information to the buyers so they can make the best product choices for their stores.”
Priority number one for the WholesaleCentral.com team has been to provide retail buyers with the tools they need to find and source products as quickly and efficiently as possible. The actual process of a buyer using the site couldn’t be simpler, Rioni notes. “It’s super easy. You go to our home page and we offer two ways to do a search. A buyer can search for suppliers by category: there’s a beautiful list of suppliers by category right there on the home page, and once they click on something, you will see all the sub categories, too. A buyer can click on any category of merchandise they are interested in buying, and we now have close to 500 total categories and sub categories to choose from. That’s really the main way that buyers are searching the site to find suppliers. If you’re an apparel retailer, you’re going to want to search for apparel, it’s fairly specific as this is a B2B environment and the buyers know what they want.
“For those companies that are searching for one specific product, we also have a product search option where you can search by name– this search is fed by all the companies that are listed in the entire directory. In one, neat little search box on our home page, buyers can search over 1,000 wholesale suppliers for that one product. Buyers can search either by category, or by product, it’s their choice or their preference.”
The WholesaleCentral.com Buyers Network launched in October 2002 as a direct result of buyers requesting additional tools from the Sumner team. “Launching the Buyers Network was a way for us to provide a higher level of access to those buyers who were willing to give us a bit of demographic information about themselves,” Rioni recalls. “Buyers give us some basic info about themselves and about their company, and in exchange for them sharing that information with us, we are able to give them a higher level of service to help them buy products in the categories that interest them. We give buyers a whole range of benefits. They get a free magazine subscription to Independent Retailer, they get to use the Product Locator Service, which is a fantastic way to source any hard to find product or a highly specialized product. We also offer a really great newsletter, with a lot of special deals and promotions that are exclusive for Buyers Network members only.”
Having held the number one online spot for B2B wholesale buying and selling for 20 years, WholesaleCentral.com does not take the site’s reputation and integrity for granted. “This is important and something that separates us from other wholesale supplier websites.” Rioni says. “There are really only a handful of companies out there, and no-one else does what we do to make sure the suppliers are valid and reputable. This is what makes us a high quality and trusted website that buyers return to again and again.”
Rioni goes on to explain the company’s process for selecting wholesale suppliers to list on the site. “We are very diligent about how we screen the suppliers. We review every single company, and not just once, it’s continuous. When a supplier comes to our site, they want to be listed with us, so they give us a lot of information about themselves, but before we accept them, we have a human being from our Quality Control team check them out. The team member will check out the supplier’s website and products, will contact them directly, and will go through everything to make sure they are who they say they are. We confirm that they are true wholesale suppliers. Once they are accepted, throughout their membership with WholesaleCentral, we continue to contact them several times every year to ensure everything is going smoothly.
“If we get contacted by a buyer who alerts us to a problem, or whether there may be any kind of fraudulent or questionable activity with any supplier, we look into it immediately and investigate every claim. Our Quality Control team attempts to work out any problems, but if they do find that a supplier is having repeat problems or has done something that we don’t feel is reputable, we pull that supplier off the site. We are all human, but we strive diligently to keep WholesaleCentral.com safe.”
Rioni reiterates the company’s continued focus on quality. “We are the first wholesale directory site, we are definitely the biggest, and we’re just the best. The people here, our team, are first and foremost dedicated to producing a high quality product that delivers the best results to buyers who are searching for suppliers. When you do that, everything falls into place. Everything else works. If you’re doing the best job bringing buyers and sellers together, everything else takes care of itself.”