Sometimes “grow” can feel like an emotionally-charged four letter word. As a small business, it’s often a challenge just to maintain a successful pace, let alone find new places, new customers, and new revenue streams in which to stretch ourselves. Historically ECHOtape has been a company that thrived by selling to large commercial and industrial customers who buy cases and palettes of our tape. That’s been good to us, and we are definitely grateful. But… and there’s always a “but”… what we haven’t done is take the plunge and try and sell large retailers like Lowes and Home Depot. To grow, it was time for that to change.
The Onboarding Mission
Clearly, setting our sights on the big box stores seemed like a natural progression in our company’s growth, but we knew it would be a tough nut to crack, and very different from our commercial customer base. Never-the-less, our mission was clear — it was time to tackle big orange. The. Home. Depot. More specifically, their website. We already sell to many customers who “private label” our tape, or in other words, bundle our tape with a “kit” comprised of multiple items, and then sell that kit to Home Depot. However, the brand ECHOtape is not currently available online at Homedepot.com. With 20-25 million weekly visitors to that website, this virtual store was the perfect first step for ECHOtape to enter the retail channel without biting off more than we can chew.
But the big question was, “How?” We knew that we needed a unique niche product to introduce our brand to the masses, which is why we spent much of 2012 and 2013 evaluating the market. Through extensive research, we decided on introducing specialized Repair Tapes that offer what duct tape does not — the go-to repair tape for most contractors and homeowners. For example, our All Purpose Repair tape offers customers a product that leaves little to no residue and stretches and wraps more easily than duct tape. Our All Leak Repair Tape works in extreme temperatures and can stick to mostly anything. Once we landed on the right product, getting them into the virtual ‘doors’ of Home Depot’s website, Homedepot.com, would be easy. Right?
The Steps to Onboard
As it turns out, not so easy! We had no idea that the process would be as long and as involved as it turned out to just get our 7 Repair Tape SKUs into the Homedepot.com system. In total, the process took…well, let’s break it down.
Step 1: Earn approval of our product by a Homedepot.com buyer by providing detailed product information, specifications, and even packaging that would be used: 5 months.
Step 2: Complete a Standard Buying Agreement (SBA), which is an in-depth form that requires lots and lots of information, culminating in us receiving our shiny new vendor number: 4 months.
Step 3: All onboard! Well, not quite yet. First we had to read through the 19 page onboarding guide, watch an onboarding webinar (1.25 hours), and read the Commerce Hub (CHUB) guide (3 pages).
Step 4: We were assigned an amazing onboarding specialist named Ronda, who sent us a wonderful personal email about herself and welcomed us to the onboarding process. Ronda ran weekly calls to make sure that ECHOtape would get onboarded within 6 weeks.
Step 5: To complete the onboarding process, we had to get through these 4 steps and ensure that everything worked:
- Commerce Hub (CHUB), which is the system Home Depot uses to transmit orders, keep track of inventory, issue payment, etc.
- Item Data Management (IDM), which is the tool we use to manage and maintain all of our SKU’s
- We needed to sign up for a new UPS account in order to drop-ship our products.
- And finally, we needed to run a test order to make sure it was all working as it should.
Wow! In total, the process to get 7 repair line SKU’s in the Homedepot.com system took nearly an entire year, and that’s before they were made available to the public! But now that we have an assigned Home Depot coordinator to ensure our success as a vendor, we are ready to go live.
Lesson #1: Be prepared for the long haul. We know that getting our SKUs regsistered in Homedepot.com is only the first of many steps, and we know that the entire process could be years away before we make much headway in the retail market. However, as we noted in our Bad Habits post, nearsightedness can kill a company’s long term growth. We believe that the carrot is large enough that it is worth this kind of long term investment.
Lesson #2: Each stage served a purpose, so we know that Home Depot isn’t simply delaying things for amusement, but this experience helped hand hold us through the entire process and challenged some of our processes and to think outside of the box.
Lesson #3: It takes a village. In order to get our Repair Tapes onboarded, we had to involve ECHOtape operations, customer service, shipping, product management, marketing, and finance before a single SKU was even registered. We now know that early resource investment will be necessary, so next go-around each department will be ready.
Lesson #4: Onboarding is only the beginning, so while it is a good sense of achievement, it is merely the first step down the road to expanding our brand through retail. The next step is that we need to work on promoting the products and working with the buyer on programs that will help us successfully sell our tape online.
Lesson #5: Getting our tape on Homedepot.com is different from getting our tape into physical stores. There will be an entirely different process involved, including additional packaging and point of sale requirements.
In conclusion, we’re nearly two years into this process, between R&D and onboarding, just to get one product line embedded in a retail outlet. Will it all be worth it? We believe so, which is why we’ve worked so hard to make it happen so you can find ECHOtape from the comfort of your own home, from Portland, Maine to San Diego, California.
Do you have a funny story or anecdotes about your onboarding adventures? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.