Virtual Meetings, Real Orders: Earth Friendly Products & ECRM Connect 6/23/2020
Craig Harlan, VP of Sales for Earth Friendly Products, is an example of a supplier who has experienced the speed in which buyers are following up from ECRM’s Virtual Sessions. Not only did he receive 33 follow up notifications from his meetings during our Pet Virtual Session, but one of those retailers, Bartell Drugs, already placed an order just days after the session wrapped up – and it wasn't just for his pet products, but for some other products as well! (Click here to see our interview with Bartell Drugs General Merchandise Category Manager Howie Cohen, who aso participated in the Pet session).
In this interview with ECRM VP of Content Joseph Tarnowski, Craig gives us an overview of his company and the products they offer, and discusses how the pandemic has impacted their business – both from a sales and supply chain perspective as well as in the way they engage with buyers with limited travel options. He also provides details on his ECRM Virtual Session experience and the benefits that virtual meetings will bring to the industry moving forward.
Click here to see the full list of ECRM's category-specific Virtual Sessions.
Click here to listen to the full podcast interview (view the video below).
ECRM: Can you give us an overview of the company and the products, specifically the pet products that you guys make?
Harlan: Earth Friendly Products is the company, and ECOS is our brand. We’re family owned female-led, and have been doing this since 1967. We manufacture in the USA and have four facilities that are strategically located and with sustainability being so important, we're at the top of the pyramid there. Our facilities are zero-waste, platinum certified, carbon neutral and water neutral. The pet lineup that we recently featured here at the Virtual Pet Session has more Safer-Choice certifications than anybody else in our space. And we also introduced the first ever Safer-Choice certified pet shampoo, which is human grade because we're also Leaping Bunny certified. We don't test on animals.
Each facility makes over 200 items. In addition to pets, we have laundry, dishwashing and household cleaning products, as well as an ice melt that is also pet-friendly. We also have air care and a full commercial cleaning line. We like to say we’re safer for people, pets and the planet, and with the trends around and how everyone's looking for healthier environment, it's a great place to be. And we’re supporting local jobs throughout the community.
ECRM: How has the pandemic impacted your business, both on the product side, but also your day to day operations and how you go about engaging with buyers and retailers?
Harlan: When you look at the trends currently in cleaning and the category is relatively flat, the growth is coming from the better-for-you companies, and we're definitely at the forefront of that wave. It's also about transparency because the consumer, as well as retailers, want to know who's making their product. Is it a family-owned company? Where is it manufactured? Is it a company that's owned by a chemical company? [Which, we're not.] So we were seeing that nice run-up as we got into March, then the pandemic hits and then business absolutely exploded all in a good way. Controlling our own supply chain was so key because each of our four facilities stands alone for its geographical area, but where we needed to, we were able to shift from one area to another.
Where the supply chain really got hit was the components, such as the bottles, the caps and things like that. We've got great relationships, since we’ve been doing this 53 years, and we have great local partners that ramped up and helped us out. So in March the business just went absolutely crazy, and into April as well. But buyer meetings, trade shows, everything's been canceled with travel lockdowns, so it's kind of a new normal. You have buyers that are working from home, doing business via email category reviews. A lot of uncertainty.
ECRM: The virtual session ended up being your first experience with ECRM. What were your initial thoughts when you learned about them?
Harlan: We had put our annual plans together, and I signed up for ECRM’s Pet and Baby & Infant sessions, since we also do a Disney-branded baby cleaning line, and began the onboarding conversations with the ECRM team. Then the pandemic hit and ECRM made the decision to go virtual. I'll be honest, I was really fired up and looking forward to the in-person session, and was a little skeptical going in. That being said, my Client Success Manager reached out and we talked through it and I was so impressed with your team. I found the experience not to be transactional; it was very personal, collaborative and a real partnership. They took me through the platform, explained how you build everything up for the retailers and buyers to see who you are, walked me through all the various different steps and different check-ins.
We did a couple of practice sessions in advance, so I knew how the system worked, was comfortable using it. I had the information on the buyers’ needs and objectives, I knew their focus, I had their company overview, all neatly laid out on a schedule. It was a turnkey experience that was very well set up. And then the actual session spanned four half days, so it allowed you time at the beginning and at the end of the day to do your regular work. Talk about stress free, I thought this was just amazing. Even when there was one meeting where the buyer’s camera didn't click on, someone from ECRM jumped right in and solved it right away. We had 35 meetings and I’ve got 33 follow-up timeline requests, and two have already happened since then.
ECRM: Which of the platform tools did you use?
Harlan: I used the notes heavily. I like the ratings, which pop up once the meeting concludes, and you can rate it anywhere from one to five stars. I really enjoy the follow up tools, which I’m in the process of using right now. You go into the follow up page and you click on your particular customer, and it takes you right to their email, so your follow up capabilities are right there – the notes, the followup timelines, the RangeMe sample requests – it’s an incredibly well thought out, well-oiled process, having everything set up to be able to take those next steps. Everybody's running and gunning with everything going on with the industry right now. But to be able to have something that is so turnkey, is priceless. As you can tell, I'm a big fan.
At a lot of shows, you pay your money up front and here's your booth, here's your table, et cetera. With ECRM its the personal touch ongoing during the program, and the followup afterwards that makes the difference. What separates companies and businesses out there, it’s customer service. And you guys are doing all the right things around that. And most importantly, for all of us, it delivers results.
If I'm a supplier and I'm on the fence about ECRM, here’s the advice that I'd give: If you want to get things done quickly. If you want to really meet key decision makers across a broad spectrum. If you want to generate quality leads, but more importantly, you want to grow your business and grow your brand. You need to reach out to the ECRM team. Based on my experience, you will not be disappointed.
ECRM: You just hit on our core goal – which is to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the buying and selling process. What role do you see virtual playing once this whole pandemic it's done?
Harlan: I think from the supplier’s perspective, how many CFOs are out there, rubbing their hands together, thinking of all these things they can cut out of next year's budget. Same from the retailer side as well, and I think that's where it's going to be driven from ultimately. As I've talked to buyers during the virtual session, I could sense from the conversations that they feel the virtual platform is very convenient and it's very effective. So I think we're going to see a paradigm shift to more of these. Face-to-face is never going to go away, but I think virtual is here to stay, and kudos to you folks, because you're already ahead of the curve.
Our factory (www.huafengfoil.com) situated in China is specialized in private label for disposable aluminum foil products. After reading comments from Craig Harlan, we are very positive and will finalize the decision to attend the July 20-22 Household/Houseware US & Europe program. I hope when we come onboard, we will have the same positive feedback to the community. Thanks Tony Giovanini and Craig Harlan
Tony can be reached at (440) 528-0416