Online wholesale marketplaces make orders (and re-orders) a little easier for the digital age.
Initially seen by many as virtual trade shows, online wholesale marketplaces are emerging instead as long overdue replacements for paper orders. If you haven’t already used one or more of these services when you’ve placed orders with your vendors, it’s basically e-commerce for the wholesale side of the business. It won’t replace trade shows, but it should make doing business during and between shows much easier.
The advantages are myriad. These services can streamline the wholesale process and reduce order mistakes and confusion. They may help retailers communicate better with their vendors and make re-orders faster and easier. They can give vendors a place to showcase new products for their retail customers and move old merchandise quicker. And in some cases, they can help small and emerging brands connect with interested retailers.
The first player in the field was arguably Pop-Market’s parent company Global Apparel Network, which created a tool called Visuality more than a decade ago. It was designed to help brands, retailers and designers communicate visual information: everything from product design to visual merchandising and wholesale. Visuality’s vendor customers have been using it as a tool for buyers to share new products and collections (and to place orders) for years. What Pop-Market did when it launched last year was to unite the existing network of buyers—thousands of them—into a marketplace where brands and buyers can discover each other.
Most, if not all services have an iPad app. Generally, these services make money on the vendor side, either from monthly fees or per transaction. Each of the services we spoke to for this story are well established and have facilitated huge numbers of transactions. In some cases (like Brandboom), if you’re working directly with your vendors, you may not even realize you’re using one of these platforms. In other cases, like Balluun, the service is as much a social network for fashion businesses as it is a wholesale tool. With Shop the Floor, the service from trade show operator Advanstar, it’s attached to the trade shows themselves. NuOrder and Brandboom offer photography services.
Monkey N Middle is a little different. It has all the same online marketplace features, but CEO Michael Penchansky says it goes much further in automating the wholesale process than these other services; it competes more with enterprise software giants like SAP. Monkey N Middle may be the only service that works directly (via EDI) with a retailer’s ERP system. (Full disclosure: Monkey N Middle is a sponsor of the MRket trade show and a strategic partner of MR‘s parent company, BJI.)
Here, we shed some light on five of the leading web-based wholesale marketplaces.
Founded by brothers Peter and Karl Koch in 2009 in Germany. Balluun.com
What is it? “We enable retailers to easily find and connect with brands they’d like to do business with,” says CEO Peter Koch (pictured at left). “Retailers can use the site to conveniently access and work through their vendors’ line sheets, discover new brands and products, merchandise products and collaborate with their co-workers from anywhere using Balluun’s iPhone and iPad applications before sending purchase orders over to brands. On Balluun, brands can display and share their collections and line sheets with retailers. Both retailers and brands can bring their existing business connections to the site while also making new connections. They can run their entire wholesale business, from sharing line sheets to managing orders and invoices through our application before, during and after trade shows using our web and mobile applications. This helps with business efficiency by keeping all business activity on one platform.”
Percentage menswear: 25%
Fee structure: Free for emerging designers, $55 to $125 a month for vendors. One-year contract required.
Notable facts: In February, Balluun announced a strategic partnership with Merchant Factors Corporation to offer factoring services to Balluun’s network.
Founded by Eric Ni, Ken Leung and Jason Tsai. Launched 2009 in LA. Brandboom.com
What is it? “Brandboom is a simple and easy way for retailers to view products and place orders like they would on any e-commerce site,” says CEO Eric Ni. “A huge benefit to retailers is that we are able to maintain all their orders from multiple brands in one place. Doing our job right means making the experience simple, but it also means getting out of the way. For most retailers, the first time they visit a Brandboom link, they don’t even realize they’re using our service. We want retailers to focus on the brands and products our clients are selling them, rather than distract them with our service. Any brand that’s currently working with line sheets can use our service to greatly enhance their sales operations.”
Percentage menswear: 40%
Fee structure: The line sheet tool is free for vendors. Premium service is $50 to $120 a month for vendors.
Notable vendors: Diesel, Original Penguin and Perry Ellis.
Monkey N Middle
Founded by Michael Penchansky and Stanley Mayer. Launched spring 2011 in New York. monkeynmiddle.com
What is it? “Our goal was to create a platform where any credentialed retailer could join our online community, connect with brands, browse product offerings, see real-time inventory and availability, and easily manage all of their orders online, anytime,” says CEO Michael Penchansky. “We created a familiar and intuitive e-commerce environment that every buyer already knows how to use. Not only can a buyer place orders, but they can also apply for a line of credit, pay with a credit card upon checkout and receive order confirmations/shipping notifications with tracking numbers. Department stores receive an advance ship notice when a vendor ships merchandise, but the independent specialty stores do not; we thought they should. Now with Monkey N Middle, buyers know what’s coming and when—no more surprise UPS visits!”
Percentage menswear: Small, but actively pursuing menswear brands.
Fee structure: Because Monkey’s services are different, so are the fees. It’s much more expensive than the other services here, but cheaper than a custom wholesale software system.
Notable vendors: Hook + Albert, Panda eyewear and All Black footwear.
Founded by Heath Wells and Olivia Skuza. Launched August 2011 in LA. NuOrder.com
What is it? “With NuOrder, fashion brands can place orders more conveniently, eliminate human error, and seamlessly integrate the system with their back-end systems to manage inventory (locally, nationally, or globally),” says co-founder Heath Wells (pictured at left). “Each brand is given the ability to upload their latest collection on the platform and electronically connect with their key retail customers so that they can order merchandise more quickly and efficiently.”
Percentage menswear: 50%
Fee structure: Annual subscription for vendors (based on number of users and features).
Notable vendors: Adidas, Ted Baker, Hudson Jeans, Creative Recreation and Levi’s.
Founded by Joe Shohfi and Danette Gorman. Launched June 2012 in New York, based on a system first launched 13 years ago. pop-market.com
What is it? “Owned by Global Apparel Network, Pop-Market is the only patented global wholesale platform and marketplace,” says CEO Joe Shohfi. “Thirteen years focused on making wholesale buying easier has made Pop-Market the leading cloud-based solution for brands with the most trusted buyer network of over 50,000 retailers worldwide.”
Percentage menswear: 35%
Fee structure: Customized depending on the vendor’s needs. Starts at $1,495 for six months.
Notable vendors: J Lindeberg, Scott James, Robert Graham, Calvin Klein and Buffalo David Bitton.