A bevy of new virtual B2B platforms enable brands, manufacturers, and retailers to connect, see new lines, and access everything you want to know about designer collections 24/7
One Saturday afternoon last fall at David’s Ltd. Jewelers in Charlotte, N.C., operations, sales, and inventory manager Whitney Ledbetter was showing Precision Set wedding bands to a couple. The pair asked to see the only style—a 0.5 ct. t.w. channel-set band—the store didn’t have in stock. For most jewelers, this is a dreaded scenario, but Ledbetter had a secret weapon: a subscription to OPT Central (optcentral.com)—the wholesale inventory management, e-commerce, and sales and marketing tool that allows retailers and designers to connect, keep current with product, and check pricing even when brands aren’t open for business.
Logging in to the platform, she queued up the SKU the customers wanted and priced out the ring in all available metals (18k white gold, palladium, and platinum) and four different diamond qualities. Most important, she closed the $1,500 sale that day, as opposed to waiting until Monday morning to call the vendor for all the information—what most merchants are forced to do. On Monday morning, Ledbetter phoned Precision Set to fulfill the order.
Courtesy of POP-Market
Satya is one of the brands you can find on POP-Market.
“It used to be that after 5 p.m. or on a Saturday—because that’s when most shoppers come into the store—you were in trouble if you had a question about a piece, but OPT gives us 24/7 access to our vendors who use it,” Ledbetter says.
Since OPT Central opened in 2008 with just three brands and 12 retailers, it has grown into a community of 1,000-plus jewelry-specific merchants and 150 jewelry vendors. And various other online showrooms in the B2B category started up around the same time. Among OPT Central’s competitors: JOOR (jooraccess.com), NuORDER (nuorder.com), POP-Market (pop-market.com), and Brandboom (brandboom.com). While they mainly serve fashion brands, all are eyeing the accessories category for growth.
The sites promise to eliminate sourcing inefficiencies—starting with written orders, which bring the inevitable errors that result from indecipherable handwriting—as well as offer a host of other features such as line sheets with high-quality photography and product descriptions, the ability to place orders and automatic reorders, auto updates on line additions and changes, easy access to media mentions, digital access to vendors’ catalogs and look books, training exercises, and search capabilities to expose vendors to new stores and designers to potential accounts. Best of all for retailers: Many of these services are free.
Courtesy of Brandboom
Lazare Diamonds on Brandboom
“It would be nice if more brands would participate,” says Ryann Rinker, director of merchandising for Tivol in Kansas City, Mo. Tivol was one of the first OPT Central users. “If salespeople use it and their store’s brands aren’t on it, you can cross search and find something similar from another company.”
The notion that buyers may prefer placing orders on a website instead of—or in addition to—shopping a show or visiting with sales reps isn’t new, but it’s an idea that may finally be gaining traction. Jewelry veterans with a good memory may remember Gemkey.com, an online trading platform that debuted in 2000 and quickly folded about eight months later.
Norwalk, Conn.–based Reed Exhibitions, the producer of the JCK shows (and owner of this magazine), dipped its toes into the warming showroom waters last year with JCK Marketplace. The sourcing site allows retailers to search for products from JCK exhibitors year-round, bookmark favorites, and save notes. (It doesn’t offer shopping functionality.) Internationally, the Pitti Immagine Uoto men’s clothing show in Florence, Italy, boasts a similar tool, E-Pitti.
After a decade of trial and error, online B2B sourcing finally may be catching on. “The days of buying a few days or times a year are gone,” says Joe Shohfi, who founded POP-Market with his wife, Danette Gorman. “We are now personally used to shopping regularly on Amazon.com and Zappos.com. We thought, ‘Why can’t it work this way in the show sales world?’??”
Courtesy of NuORDER
NuORDER collects press clips of its brands like House of Harlow.
Shohfi was among the first to roll out an electronic visual display product in 2000. Visuality was a patented email tool for sharing professional product photos; it made Gorman’s job at the time—sourcing fabric from all over the globe—easier. Last June, the pair relaunched Visuality as POP-Market, using Visuality’s core image-based technology. POP-Market shows users visual summaries of customers’ order histories and offers drag-and-drop functionality with familiar shopping cart icons. A Suggested Buys feature lets partners create orders, reorder best sellers, and consider additional purchases.
Heath Wells and Olivia Skuza, founders of Beverly Hills, Calif.–based NuORDER, believe their platform will help brick-and-mortar retailers as a valuable sourcing tool for a highly competitive market where consumers have lots of choices. “Customers have the option to shop online,” notes Wells. “And you can’t go to trade shows every day of the week. The only medium you have is…a catalog or an array of product.”
Brandboom, with offices in Los Angeles and New York City, lets vendors create line sheets containing up to 50 products for free, featuring discounts or embedded video—“You can customize it for each buyer,” says cofounder Eric Ni—while a free iPad app lets users access the platform on the go.
The site does not enable retailers and vendors to search for one another. (“There are already a lot of avenues for stores and vendors to meet,” says Ni.) Rather, it focuses on being a strong sales tool, allowing partners to efficiently place orders. One point about which Ni is particularly proud: real-time inventory tracking. “Brandboom.com updates inventory levels as soon as sales are made in the system,” he says.
OPT Central, meanwhile, offers a built-in emailing and sharing system branded with a retailer’s colors and logos, enabling stores to share product images with clients; a tool to quickly publish potentially viral content; and brand-created, -managed, and -updated content for retailers’ websites.
“OPT addresses the many challenges a brand and its retailers face in providing information, marketing support, and tools that allow them to work in a collaborative partnership, grow sales, and reduce expenses,” says John Erdman, copresident of the New York City–based firm. (The other copresident is Cory Kwiat of the Kwiat family of diamantaires; Kwiat and OPT Central are not related.)
JOOR, which debuted in 2010, declined to speak to JCK, but told WWD in June 2012 it had 350 paying brand clients and 10,000 registered buyers. Those familiar with the site say it is the only B2B platform that charges per-sale transaction fees.
Some designers see the sites as useful business tools. At press time, New York City–based jewelry designer Kara Ross was in a free trial with OPT Central. “You can create baskets of goods that buyers might want. OPT is a time-saver,” she says.
Valiance Curri, wholesale director of Satya Jewelry in New York City, abandoned her brand’s wholesale website in July 2012 to use POP-Market for its intuitive functionality, such as the ability to set up automatic ship dates (as opposed to manually logging them in). She also gravitated to the site’s image-sharing service. “We had to send clients pictures through email—through airmail,” she recalls.
Jewelry designer Natalie Torres, owner of 3-year-old Art of Henri in Beverly Hills, is about to exhibit at her first trade show (JCK Las Vegas) and says she may sign up to use an online platform that interacts with Salesforce, her inventory management system. While she knows trade shows are helpful for establishing a brand, particularly as a new company, she doesn’t want to limit her connectivity to face-to-face interactions. “When you’re able to do some of this work online, it cuts your time in half,” she says.
And if time really does equal money, retailers stand to benefit from online showrooms. “Anything that makes our job faster and easier makes you money,” says Rinker.