How TickKey Intl. Connects with Buyers Around the World via ECRM Virtual Solutions  5/7/2020

If you are a supplier considering participation on one of ECRM's virtual solutions, then this is the podcast for you. In this episode, ECRM's Joseph Tarnowski speaks with Donna Lucente, CEO of TickKey, which makes an innovative tick removal product that sells in U.S. and in countries around the world. She's a regular attendee of ECRM Programs, and recently participated in our Pet Efficient Supplier Introduction.

Donna provides details on how the ECRM team worked hand-in-hand with her to ensure she had an optimal ESI experience – how they took her through the platform, made sure she was comfortable with all of the tools, and even helped her with dry runs of her presentation in advance of the ESI. She also discusses the live ESI experience, and the follow up with those buyers who reached out to her after the presentation. 

In fact, she was so happy with the experience, she has signed up for two more of our virtual offerings: our Euro Pet Efficient Supplier Introduction this month, and the Pet Virtual Session in June. Donna provides lots of details here and it will answer just about any question you might have about the ECRM virtual experience.

Listen to the podcast here (view the video below)


ECRM: Welcome everybody. Joe with ECRM here, and I have with me today, Donna Lucente from Tick Key. Now Donna is pretty much a ECRM veteran attendee. She was at one of our sessions earlier this year when we were doing them in person and she just recently participated in our Pet Efficient Supplier Introduction Program and then she'll also be participating in our pet virtual session and another ESI on the European side of the business. So Donna, thank you so much for joining us.

Lucente: Thank you for having me.

ECRM: I want to get into what your experience was like at the ESI, but before we do that, can you give everybody an overview of your company and its products?

Lucente: We manufacture a tick removal device. It's a complete USA made item. It's made out of a high strength anodized aluminum. Everything that we use to anodize is a green substance. The product is designed to go over a tick. You simply slide across the skin, flush, it'll remove it head and all, and it will also attaches to a key ring. One of the things with improper tick removal is that if you're pinching, poking, prodding, twisting, suffocating, you traumatize the tick and when they're traumatized they're going to expel their stomach contents back into the host.

When that happens, if a tick has disease and has not already started to spread, it will spread during removal. And our product is designed to work on people and pets, goes on a key ring or a pet’s collar, and is at a reasonable price compared to what it would cost to have to go and have it professionally removed.

ECRM: Awesome. I love products like that, where it says what it does and it's so simple. It kind of explains itself, you automatically get it. And that's such a great thing to have. And you're distributed around the world, correct?

Lucente: We are. We're in 18 different countries. The product does what it says it's supposed to do. We're endorsed by the American Canine Association as well as the International Canine Association. So we've really built brand recognition since we started.

ECRM: And I would guess now during the coronavirus times, it's especially important because doesn't Lyme disease impact the immune system?

Lucente: It does. Lyme disease is actually an autoimmune disease, although the CDC doesn't necessarily recognize it as such. But it truly is. I've had Lyme disease since 2005 and I will tell you, when I have a flare up, it's horrible. So for the people who live with this every day, Lyme disease is comorbid and it's one of those things that if somebody were to contract COVID-19, that comorbidity could be really dangerous. They can get really sick and it can be fatal. So you have to be very, very careful.

ECRM: So this would be an important product to have, especially if you live in a more rural area or even if you live in a city and you take your dog out for a walk in the park or anything. It's good to have just in case.

Lucente: It is. Ticks are not social distancing and you've got more people outside now for one reason or another. Obviously they don't want to stay in their homes. This year, there was a huge acorn drop in the fall, which brings the rodents closer to the home. Ticks are hatching right now, it's the season, and they're attaching to those little rodents who are getting closer to where people are. So you're dealing with more ticks, you're dealing with more disease and it's dangerous. So you want to be able to have our product and you want to be able to remove those ticks quickly, safely, and effectively.

ECRM: You participated in one of our sessions last year. That's where I saw you. That's where Cierra and you shot the video, and obviously that was in person before all this happened. How has this whole coronavirus thing impacted you and your ability to get in front of buyers?

Lucente: Well, the first thing I have to say is that ECRM has made it easy. That was one of the big struggles, you've got everybody pretty much quarantined. You had all of these shows scheduled. We were on track the first two months of this year to have our best year ever, and now all of a sudden you don't have shows, you have businesses that are shut down. You didn't know where you were going to turn and how you were going to drum that business up. And it almost seemed seamless from the time things shut down within what seemed like a matter of days ECRM had a solution and it was not only a great solution, but they held your hand and cradled you through the whole process.

So when the ESIs were made available to us, it was kind of like, how do you do this Zoom stuff? I've never done anything online. And yet when it was presented and when I said, "It sounds like a neat idea," and we had practice sessions with Zoom. We were made aware of who the buyers were that were going to attend. We had our moderators walk us through, we got lists of who was there. And I'll tell you, at the end of the ESI, the contact from the buyers was almost instant. I had three buyers out of that first meeting that I did for pet contact me within 20 minutes of ending the session. Out of the three that contacted me, one of them had an emergency and wanted us to get back in touch with them within a couple of weeks. One of them wanted samples sent out right away. And the other one was a reconnection from an actual ECRM session, an in person session who said, "I don't know why our company hasn't had this going." The way that ECRM walked us through it was, I mean, it was amazing. I was totally impressed.

ECRM: Wow. That's great. I'm so glad you had a good experience. And yeah, I mean, the teams behind this, I was blown away too, and I work here, but just the speed at which they were able to develop the solution and put it out there and get going. I know it took a tremendous amount of work on their part, but I think what you said was really important because it's not like we just slapped together a virtual thing. It's the people side that makes it happen and It's very high touch. Could you talk a little bit... take us through the timeline. Once you registered, what was your interaction with our client success managers, our sales managers? What was that interaction like as you were getting ready to do it?

Lucente: Jennifer Sibley was the person who presented the opportunity to me. I spoke with her and she explained in detail how the process would work. From Jennifer, I believe Sammi was the next person that I worked with and we went through the virtual presentation. We went through making sure the audio was going to work, showing me how to share my screen, which was phenomenal because when you can share a screen, you don't have to get a whole set up put together, you can present exactly what you want people to see. Cierra, she's just the bomb. Cierra is the person that I need on my team because throughout all of our experience, and I think we've been with you guys a few years now, if I'm lagging, she's like pushing me saying, "We have to do this, we have to do this, we have to do this." I've worked with Margit for getting prepped for your pet ECRM.

ECRM: The one in Europe, right?

Lucente: The one in Europe, yes. And Stephanie moderated the one I was on. So they set up that meeting time. They get you on. They're not just walking you through it. They are on a virtual presentation with you so that you totally grasp it and they can see you. And if something's not working, they're telling you where to go. So the tech support is so one-on-one, there's no way that you cannot get it right.

ECRM: That's awesome. Especially for someone who doesn't have experience using the tools and doing those types of presentations, it's good to make sure that all of the I’s are dotted and T's are crossed and that you got everything, so you're confident in doing it. Because the last thing you want to do is have technology stuff getting in a way of your pitch or throw you off your game.

Lucente: Right. And the moderators are wonderful because they're there so that if somebody does want to ask a question and have them present it, they will. If somebody wants to send something to you and you're talking, they'll catch it and they'll let you know what the question is. I mean, and it's like not very long after that meeting you're getting your list of buyers with their email addresses, their contact information so that you can reach out right away. Because obviously as we all know, if you're attending an ECRM show or any other show, follow up is key.

ECRM: It's all in the follow up. And the thing that you mentioned with the buyers responding so quickly, I've seen, heard more and more about that. And I think a big part of that is it's not like they're at one of our sessions or at an event and they need to travel back and then dig out from everything and then start their follow ups. When the meetings end, they're still there at their computer. It's the most efficient thing to do to just boom, get back to the suppliers.

Lucente: The other thing I found too is that some of the buyers that I already work with were attending those sessions, which I thought was nice because let's say maybe they're ordering my clip strips, but they haven't had time or they haven't seen our displays. They're there gaining more knowledge about our product as well. And it's always nice to be able to connect with your current buyers. We look forward to that when we do the shows. So to know that they're taking the time to come to these presentations as well I think is fabulous.

ECRM: On the buyer side, there are not many other places they can go. And two, we've created it to be very unobtrusive. We know they're busy, we know that if you're in an essentials category, you're overwhelmed and if you're not in an essentials category, you're helping out the people who are. At the same time, the retailers still need to find new products and stay in touch with the suppliers. So we wanted to make it in a way that's unobtrusive, that connects them with the right people and then they can go on with their day. So I'm glad that you were able to get all set up and then our guys work with you on that. What about the actual presentation itself? What was your pitch like and did you practice it beforehand?

Lucente: I am a really bad person at practicing. I am probably the most spontaneous presenter because you just get what you get when you talk to me. Our product's been on the market since 2007, I pretty much say the same thing for my initial presentation because what I have to say is more about educating people about our product and ticks in general. So what I really enjoyed was that when I was able to start the presentation, certainly you're appreciative of people coming, but then I immediately went to my website and played my little 30 second commercial, which said really a lot of what needed to be said.

And then I just basically at that point talked about how the product worked. I mean, it's a great impulse buy, it's a pet product, it's a people product. We're in pharmacies, we're in all of these different pet retailers, outdoor retailers. We fit in a lot of categories. And the product is an easy, simple product. So if you look at the video, you really don't need a whole heck of a lot more. We were able to utilize less than our 10 minutes to talk about that product. So I think that I always look for key points and I think that if everybody pulls their key points out in the beginning of what they're saying and what they're talking about, you're not wasting the buyer's time and you're able to move on and have time for questions and answers if they have them or to let them move on to what they need to do next.

ECRM: Great point. And I'm sure that the buyers love that.

Lucente: We love the buyers.

ECRM: Now we've developed these virtual sessions, which will provide an experience that's closer to what you've seen at our sessions. So are you looking forward to that, I mean, now with the one-on-one meetings?

Lucente: I am so excited. I cannot wait for the one-on-ones. I think it's a great schedule. It's shorter days. How exciting is it that you could actually spend your 10 minutes with the buyer and you know you're going to get that full 10 minutes because again, they don't have to rush to go to the other end of the building. I think the face to face is important. So if you're not in front of them in a session, you're still in front of them in a virtual session and you still have that ability to get everything that they need. I personally think with these sessions, we're even going to be able to get deeper than we were when we were having the sessions face to face.

ECRM: Excellent. And the cool thing is face to face is not going away but obviously this whole coronavirus thing is going to change the way everybody does business, buyers are getting used... not just buyers, everybody is getting used to conducting business this way.

Lucente: Everybody.

ECRM: So there's going to be a certain level of expectation and they realized they can save time traveling, so we are going to keep a lot of sessions face to face, but then we're going to mix it in and compliment it with virtual so that everybody will get something out of it and be able to do it in a way they want.

Lucente: And I think that's awesome because I know with us as manufacturers and vendors, we can't reach every single show that we want to go to. One of the things with Bernie and I is that we have all of our people behind the scenes, but we want to be the people interacting with the buyers and we can't be everywhere. We're able to attend European pet ESI because we have this opportunity. We would not have been able to have done that. There was no time in our schedule to be able to go to Europe as much as we wanted to because we sell our product there. How amazing is it that we can actually be in front of those buyers and maybe even some that we sell to that we've never been able to meet with an opportunity like this?

How many buyers maybe can't reach every show that they want to go to? And it's because their schedules are so jam packed and then you've always got to make that balance of leaving family. Sure, it's fun to get out there. I mean, ECRM puts on a magnificent feast and entertainment session. You can't beat it. It's second to none. But this opportunity I think to some degree is going to be normal maybe at a different level. But you guys were on it. I mean, there is nobody in this league that was on it like ECRM was.

ECRM: Well, thank you for that. I was a little surprised by that actually, in that how fast our guys jumped on it. But also what was interesting is that our process and format kind of lended itself to this transition to virtual and the digital world because the process and format is pretty much very similar. You have our team consulting with the buyers, learning their needs and objectives and then at the same time consulting with suppliers like you to learn their products, the categories they had, what their points of differentiation are, any specific capabilities and then curating those schedules. The same thing. It's all the same, now we're just layering the virtual on top of it.

Lucente: And I think eventually we were going to head to virtual anyway. I think it was just the nature of the beast. So what happened was we were forced into all of these things now and I just am amazed. I mean, I have some other shows that we're getting ready to do that are going virtual and it's interesting because they're asking us about our experiences and all of a sudden because I'm doing this, they want to know, gee, do you have any ideas for us? And it's tricky because they're all different leagues, but they said they haven't talked to a lot of suppliers who have had the experience with doing it. And of course, I always lend that to the fact that ECRM was ahead of the game.

ECRM: I think it's so important, the people part of it. It's cool that we have the tech part of it and for the virtual sessions, we designed a custom platform to do those. But regardless of how high tech it is, none of this... I think the key that makes these things work so well is like you said before, the people and the process and how they are there for you.

Lucente: Your staff is phenomenal. They're not working with us any different than they would if we were getting ready to go to an actual event. And yet they're working with us at a level where they have to put so much more of their time in to making what's happening happen. And they're just embracing it and they're patient and they understand that if you're younger, you might be a little bit more technologically savvy than somebody like me, but they're just, all they want to do is help and they want to just get you comfortable and get you ready. It's just perfect. I have not one thing that I could suggest to be done different.

ECRM: That's good. That's awesome. Well, what do you think is going to happen? What's your prediction on what's going to happen with this whole COVID-19 thing? How long do you think it's going to last or this whole non travel thing?

Lucente: I don't really know. This is just my opinion, but I don't think that anything is going to be safe until they actually come out with a vaccine because unfortunately as we look at what's happening, you're still not seeing that people are taking it seriously. You've got some people taking it very serious and you've got the other people out there not social distancing, wanting to get things back up and running. Me personally, I don't see anything really even changing until we get into the beginning of next year, maybe even the spring.

ECRM: I agree. I mean, just from what I've seen here. I mean, New York has been, they were a little slow to get started, but once we started doing the social distancing, we did a really good job of it. And then we just all screwed up this past weekend. I mean, I went out by my neighborhood, there's a strip of bars and restaurants nearby and on Saturday evening and it looked like Mardi Gras. There were many people, so many more people than on a typical non-pandemic night. And they were all, because the bars and restaurants are allowed to do cocktails for takeout, well, they're supposed to do take out and bring it home, but no, they were just wandering the streets and some people didn't have masks on. So I think the whole country collectively on this past Saturday said, "Screw it. I'm just going to enjoy myself." But before then, we've been doing good. As you've seen, New York's, the levels are going down, but everywhere else in the country it's, a lot of other places it's ticking up. And as long as there's a chance that it's still floating out there, I don't think anyone's going to want to be that first one to catch it again or start that second wave.

Lucente: You have to worry about it morphing, you don't know what else is coming. You don't know how it's going to change. You don't know anything. We had 12 days of decline with what was happening with cases. We had people out to the point that they had to close our parks on Saturday because people were not social distancing. Yesterday, our numbers went up. I think on May 20th when they open up nail salons and they let people go outdoor dining and they open up hair salons, I'm not doing any of those things because I think by June 20th we're going to find a problem.

ECRM: That's right. And then you know what, we have nothing open here yet. And I just literally shaved my own head. I took the Wahl clippers out, and I buzzed my own head because I was just... that's what you're going to have to do from now on.

Lucente: What you have to do. I mean, you could see my hair, it's not looking too good and I'm looking at my nails and they don't look too good, but I know I'm safe.

ECRM:  Yes, yes, me too. I didn't even use a mirror.

Lucente: You did a great job.

ECRM: I actually just, it was easy, call it three quarter inch clip over everything, one quarter inch on the sides. And then I've watched my barber do it enough where I know to like go up and keep it away. Not to go around. So this way it is not too much of a line. But you know what? I missed some patches in the back, my friend told me. But you know what? Who cares right now?

Lucente: None of it's important. Right now all that's important is that we stay healthy, we stay safe, we follow the rules. And if we do all of those things, then we hope that we've got our retailers back up and running, our restaurants back up and running, and the economy getting where it needs to be. But in the meantime, it's a balance. Is safety and health more important than economy or is it worth rushing the economy to have say safety and health go by the wayside, which will ultimately destroy the economy?

ECRM: Exactly. You said it. I mean, safety and health is the key to restoring the economy.

Lucente: It is. And I think our retailers may even find new ways of doing business as well. I mean, we've got some great stores out there and people want to shop at those stores. Maybe there's going to be a new way that that's going to happen too.

ECRM: I think so. It'll be interesting to see how it evolves, but it definitely will just like we're revolving, just like you guys are all adapting. Although I do look forward to seeing you in person again, hopefully sooner rather than later. 

Lucente: That's what we would like. We just want to give people hugs again and it's like, oh my God, we can't do that.

ECRM: Yep. Yep. I'm a hugger too. And yeah, so it's just, it's weird when I see my friends and it's just like, just standing there like, "Hi." But you know what, you got to do what you got to do.

Lucente: You've got to do what you've got to do because health and safety is the most important thing in all of our lives.

ECRM: Yep. Indeed. So thank you again. I really appreciate your time.

Lucente: Well, thank you. It's always great to see you. 

ECRM: Good luck on your other presentations.

Lucente: Well, thank you so much. We appreciate it.


Tony Giovanini

SVP of General Merchandise

Tony can be reached at (440) 528-0416

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