In 2014, MDM is recognizing distributors that are innovative in their approach to their markets. Redwood Plastics, Vancouver, BC, was selected as an MDM Market Mover for its focus on reaching its customers through online channels, even before the distributor had an effective e-commerce platform.
2014 MDM Market Mover
Company: Redwood Plastics
Headquarters: Vancouver, BC
Leadership: President & CEO Pat Curley
Details: Redwood Plastics created an online strategy to engage customers in as many ways as possible. That strategy has led to increased sales conversions and company expansion.
When Redwood Plastics’ first attempt at building its online presence through an e-commerce site failed, it would have been easy to backpedal and go back to business as usual. After all, five years ago was a different online world – particularly for distributors. Online wasn’t as critical then. But the industrial plastics distributor saw it as an opportunity to engage with customers even without that purchasing portal.
With that first e-commerce platform, “we just didn’t do it properly,” says Angela Rodenburgh, director of marketing. “We didn’t go all in and do the research at the forefront.
“But we saw an opportunity to do a lot of conversations, SEO and gain the searchability results from an online standpoint,” she says.
Because Redwood’s competitors weren’t embracing it, it also offered an opportunity to really differentiate this seven-branch distributor from some of its much larger competitors.
The philosophy behind the strategy is to increase engagement, and in turn conversions, through digital platforms. By opening up the lines of communication, it establishes Redwood as the go-to place for questions about industrial plastics. “It’s not just broadcasting messages about ourselves,” Rodenburgh says. “Probably 80 percent of our time is being engaged by answering questions on LinkedIn, on Twitter or on another site. Only 20 percent is broadcasting.”
No one really cares when a company says how awesome they are, she says. So the focus needs to be on something more practical to stand out and get a return from the time investment in an online strategy, because measuring that return can be a challenge.
“With B2B it’s a different ballgame,” Rodenburgh says. With B2B, customers tend be immediate buyers and very open to telling companies where they saw a certain promotion. With B2C, she says, it’s a lot rarer to hear, “Hey, I found you on Twitter.”
The efforts have paid off. The company recently opened a department that solely uses online platforms to contact customers. Customers can email questions or talk to inside sales reps via online chat or video conferencing. And inside sales people can provide detailed responses to requests for quotes received via email – often better responses than what field sales reps could provide, Rodenburgh says.
“Some of the requests that come in may seem really out there for our field sales reps, and many of them just don’t want to deal with them, so they don’t really,” she says.
And the company is already planning to expand the department due to growing demand.
Online also allows for more targeted marketing and messaging across the varied markets and sectors in which Redwood operates.
“We’re not selling the same things in our Vancouver branch as we’d sell in Michigan,” Rodenburgh says. “So why would we want the messaging to be the same?”
The online opportunities aren’t just external, either. The company has an employee blog that is available to the public where hiring and event news are posted. “It helps build a sense of community between our employees and our customers,” Rodenburgh says. “It shows that we’re real people too, not just salespeople.”
It’s also a recruitment tool, she says, because it helps to highlight the culture at Redwood for potential employees who may not know much about the company otherwise.
Redwood Plastics is building a new e-commerce site that is expected to launch by the end of this year. “This time we’re going all in,” Rodenburgh says. “We don’t want to just be an online inventory store.” The site will focus not only on the stock shapes available, but allow customers to customize products online or upload drawings that experts at Redwood will then use to create custom products.
This is how people are looking for information now, Rodenburgh says, and as the generations shift, the numbers using online tools first and most will keep growing. “If you’re not where they’re looking, they’re not going to find you,” she says. And if customers don’t find you, you simply won’t be there for long.