GEMPLER'S MAKES ONLINE CATALOG SHOPPING SIMPLE
For GEMPLER', Inc., the Internet was a natural progression. President Steve Schlecht founded the company with an eye on consumers' needs and he knew that the anytime, anywhere nature of e-commerce would be a big benefit for his customers whose dawn-to-dusk work hours made shopping difficult. So, when talk about online commerce began in the mid 1990s, they were one of the first to jump in.
The move was a smart one, positioning them as an industry leader online. GEMPLER'S is ahead of most agricultural Web sites because it brings with it a proven reliability from its off-line catalog business. People know the name, and with that recognition it has established a customer base of more than 300,000.
Today, about 10 percent of sales comes from the company's Web site, www.gemplers.com. But that wasn't always the case. They moved into uncharted territory when making their Internet debut in 1996.
"We saw the Internet as becoming an important direct marketing channel," says Schlecht. "Today it is an important part of our business - it's the fastest growing part of our business."
GEMPLER'S first Web page simply showcased its catalog of industrial-grade agricultural and horticultural products - with no online buying. By 1998, however, the site had matured into a full-fledged e-marketplace that offered about one-third of its catalog products.
Today, visitors to the Web site can find all of the catalog products and more. Online shoppers, for example, have access to the complete line of Carhartt products, only some of which are available in the print catalog. That is an online benefit that they would like to expand. By forming alliances with other companies, it will enable them to offer a larger inventory of products on the Web.
The site has a well-organized business-to-business design with product tabs that include "safety," "footwear" and "tires" and allows shoppers to go to a site tailored to their specific needs. The site also lists clearance specials, offers tips, and allows shoppers to browse by brand 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How did GEMPLER'S become so tech savvy? The key may be its commitment to the basics. They have a Web development team, but all of its departments participate in the online effort. The success of its online business, Schlecht believes, is directly linked to its off-line experience.
Their warehouse and customer service centers are used for both phone and online services. Online orders placed by 3 p.m. Monday through Friday are shipped the same day and e-mails are answered within an hour during business hours.
"We have a direct marketing skills set that is very transferable to the Internet," Schlecht says. "The only difference online is that you type your own order."
Still, Schlecht doesnít deny the importance of Internet know-how. Testament to that was his decision in August to hire Mike Atkin as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales. Atkin was instrumental in launching the Lands' End Web site and worked for Madison, Wis.-based e-commerce consulting company, Berbee.
At GEMPLER'S, print and online advertising complement each other. The catalog, for example, includes icons that indicate when more information is available on the Web.
"We are forging relationships with agricultural portals online," says GEMPLER'S Director of Business Development Kent Gutzmer. "We recognize the possibility of strong visitor traffic to these sites and have already partnered with a number of companies including Powerfarm.com and Agweb.com." They also see potential with their Linkshare affiliate marketing program and their relationship with the Harvest Partners Preferred Customer Program.
IPM Solutions, formerly a print publication, is now solely Web based at www.ipmalmanac.com, with links to and from GEMPLER'S homepage. IPM Solutions and www.gemplersalert.com - an online extension of Gempler's ALERT newsletter - illustrate GEMPLER'S authority in Integrated Pest Managementy and safety and employement law compliance.
Schlecht has come a long way since 1986. The company now offers more than 12,000 products and employs 130.
"Everybody sees the Internet as a big opportunity," says Atkin. "Our task is to stay ahead." AM
Jennifer Mears is a freelance writer based out of Madison, Wisc.