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How Ecommerce Services Help a Family Business Grow Online

McCombs Supply Co, Inc

McCombs Supply Co, IncMcCombs Supply is a family business started in the 1950’s. It sells appliance parts to businesses and do-it-yourself consumers through its brick-and-mortar warehouse store, and it ships 30,000 packages per month from orders that come in through the McCombs Supply website, Amazon, eBay, Jet, Pricefalls, Sears, and Walmart.

The company was featured in a Descartes case study that delved into how McCombs Supply uses ShipRush software to manage shipping for their online orders from multiple platforms using both USPS and UPS.

We spoke to Ken McCombs III (the grandson of the founders) to learn more about how the retailer markets his business to generate the volume of online orders.

McCombs Supply sells to both consumers and to businesses – it’s about a 50-50 split, Ken McCombs III told us. He’s the third-generation – his grandparents Ken and Doris McCombs started the business in 1953.

He uses sites like eBay and Amazon to attract sales, and of the total online orders, his own site McCombsSupply.com accounts for a growing percentage of sales – about 28 – 30 percent. Interestingly he first used ProStores to set up his store, but moved to BigCommerce when eBay discontinued its store-hosting business.

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Ken attributes an outside agency for much of the growth in online sales. A couple of years ago he began using Zentail to help manage his multichannel selling, including marketing. Ken creates new listings and sets minimum and maximum prices, and Zentail’s algorithm makes sure he has the optimum pricing online.

Marketing Strategies Include Advertising, Blogging, and Social Media
Zentail also manages his Google advertising. Ken sets the budget, and Zentail manages the campaigns. “I’m getting a 6% conversion rate right now,” he said. He believes that’s the most effective form of marketing for his website.

He was candid regarding the challenge of trying to advertise on Google himself – it was pretty confusing, he said, and recommends outsourcing it. Try to find the right firm that you feel comfortable with, he suggested.

Ken and his father used to spend 20 hours a day managing the online activity for the business, but by outsourcing the online and paid-search marketing, Ken has much more time to spend on adding new products – he’s able to add about 100 new products to the ecommerce sites each month.

McCombs Supply also publishes a blog and markets through social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter, and soon, Instagram. Ken found an interesting way to generate content – he hired a former sportswriter whose newspaper column he had followed. The writer spends half his day researching and writing for the blog, and half his day working the phones and selling.

How does he know if the blog and social media activity is paying off? He generally uses 5% off coupons in the posts to help measure their effectiveness, he explained.

Selling through so many channels, we asked Ken what he thought of multichannel selling and if he had any tips for other sellers. He said eBay was the marketplace on which everybody should be selling. Amazon, however, will compete with you when it sees a popular product.

Amazon also prohibited him from selling several brands for which they were not authorized distributors, he said. It’s a growing problem on the OEM side, he said, but since they’re primarily an aftermarket distributor of parts, it’s not a major problem for his business.

With the marketing he does through Zentail, it all points to his own site rather than his marketplace listings. “I let Walmart and eBay and others do their own marketing. I figure that’s why I pay them fees.”

Repricing and Google Shopping
We also checked in with Zentail President Daniel Sperling-Horowitz who explained how his company helps McCombs Supply – it’s more than managing online advertising.

McCombs uses Zentail to centrally manage their listings across all channels, he explained. From Zentail they create optimized listings on Bigcommerce, Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Jet, etc. Zentail automatically reprices McCombs Supply’s listings and synchronizes its inventory.

As for marketing, Sperling-Horowitz explained, “Our Programmatic Google Shopping service has basically turned Google Shopping into a marketplace because (Ken and his father) tell us what they are willing to pay (GS ad spend / GS revenue – we call this “effective commission”) and our system dynamically assigns CPC bids for each of their SKUs to ensure we consistently hit the effective commission across their catalog. In other words, we enable extremely efficient and controlled ad spend which ensures Google Shopping is profitable.”

He said McCombs has a highly optimized shopping experience and organic search presence. “Once the sale is made their customer service and consistent fulfillment performance reinforces the shopping experience. Their entire team works tirelessly to serve the customer and it shows.”

Fast Shipping with Perks
McCombs Supply is able to provide quick handling time and optimized shipping thanks to ShipRush software. To save on shipping costs, McCombs uses ShipRush’s Rate Dashboard, a one-screen view of all the carriers’ prices and delivery times to rate shop packages between UPS/USPS for zones 5-8 or anything over 10 pounds. This helps McCombs’ employees to select the most efficient and cost-effective shipping option for each package. Ken estimates he saves about 10 percent on shipping every time he rate shops.

ShipRush also provides Ken’s business with the opportunity for new revenue streams. As the case study explains, “Fast order processing allows McCombs to make additional profits by offering express shipping, where customers are charged a premium. “When an express order comes in, we drop everything we are doing and get that order out immediately. McCombs can make 40 percent profit on shipping for items it ships out express,” notes Ken.”

McCombs Supply starting using ShipRush in early 2000 – it used to ship 150 packages per day and can now process 150 packages an hour.

By using tools like ShipRush and Zentail, the company is able to focus on what it does best – sourcing, fulfillment, and customer service.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.