‘Our model was different than that of many online retailers,” says Shoplet.com co-founder, CEO and President Tony Ellison of the late-1990s “Internet bubble” that saw scores of online ventures go out of business after a brief period of success. “We’ve built Shoplet brick by brick, and was never looking to get rich quick. We were turning a profit before dot-coms were in vogue starting in 1997.
“We’re not the normal story of someone having an idea and going to an IPO to raise funds; this is a private enterprise,” he adds. “Our profitability and concentration on customers is why we didn’t have the problems others had. We were growing triple digits year-over-year, and were cash flow positive, so we didn’t really have any reason to bring in money from the outside and in the process lose control of the company.”
Since 1994, Shoplet.com has offered businesses and consumers discount office supplies, computer hardware, office furniture, ink and toner supplies, cleaning and maintenance equipment and paper. The company offers more than 600,000 SKUs, a number that will likely increase before the end of the year, Ellison says.”Our vision has always been to offer the largest and widest selection of business products, and create a single-source environment whereby our customers get free next day delivery and save 10 to 35 percent on their purchases,” he adds.
The company is also enhancing its mobile sites and building a “Shoplet Select” site for long-term and regular business customers that offers contract and corporate pricing as well as reduced freight rates. “We’re very focused on customizing and enhancing our customer experience and increasing the lifetimes of our customers,” Ellison says.
International expansion is also in the works. Earlier this year, Shoplet launched a website in the United Kingdom – www.shoplet.co.uk – with additional expansion into Canada planned this fall and future expansion planned into China and India. “We are taking the playbook that has been very successful for us in the United States and using that to expand internationally,” Ellison says.
“Between 2005 and 2013, we’ve seen a seismic shift from offline shopping to online; we want to be a part of the transformation of the industry.”
Making an Impact
A concentration on customer service is another reason Shoplet outlasted many of its contemporaries in the e-commerce world. “We believe in offering the best selection, the best service and most effective platform to transact from,” Ellison notes.
The company prides itself on providing exemplary service in ways traditional as well as new, such as through social media and online. “We don’t outsource our customer service overseas; it’s all done here in the office,” he adds. “When you call, you’re not directed to a series of lengthy teleprompts; we strive to pick up the call immediately on the spot.”
Shoplet’s customer-centric approach extends to the tools it offers. Business customers are offered a free e-procurement system that allows them to streamline their purchasing process, and manage their spend. The system allows users to set up budgets of department, location or even individual users and purchasing policies. Similar e-procurement systems on the market cost at least $750,000.
“We wanted small- and medium-sized companies to have the same sort of tools and advantages at their disposal as Fortune 500 companies,” Ellison says.
Shoplet also makes it easier for its customers to make environmentally responsible buying choices. In addition to offering thousands of eco-friendly products on its own, the shopping cart on Shoplet.com offers suggestions of alternative products when non-green products are placed there. “We believe that even small operational changes can make a big impact when it comes to sustainability,” Ellison adds.
‘A Phenomenal Synergy’
An experienced executive staff drives Shoplet’s customer service efforts, growth strategy and other corporate initiatives. The company’s upper management has a combined 150 years of industry experience. “Although many of our staff is fairly young, we have a good mix of experienced people, which creates a phenomenal synergy that allows us to compete successfully,” Ellison says.
Ellison and other managers encourage all staff members to be as innovative and creative as possible. “We encourage ideas and innovation,” he adds. “There’s no such thing as a bad idea at Shoplet; we’re willing to try everything and are not afraid to fail.”
Shoplet employees are given projects and duties that play to their individual strengths. “We believe in motivating people by unleashing their true potential, finding what they’re interested in working on and seeing it through to completion,” Ellison says. “We want to give people projects they’re keenly interested in and see those projects through to completion.”