B-to-B Goes ‘Plug and Play’
You’re flipping through a 500-page catalog for a major player in the janitorial and sanitation (jan/san) supplies market sector when you happen upon a section displaying waste containers. The catalog carries a host of well-known brands — including wastebaskets, can liners and other products made by United Receptacle.
What you may not realize is that the other company’s catalog that you’re viewing actually features page layouts, photos and graphic designs produced not by that catalog, but by manufacturer and distributor United Receptacle.
In addition to producing its own catalog each year to showcase its full product line, United Receptacle also helps many of its business-to-business (b-to-b) partners create pages for their catalogs. United provides ready-to-use catalog layouts of its merchandise, explains Andrew Lesh, market/product manager for United Receptacle.
United is a manufacturer and cataloger of waste containers, smokers’ urns and planters. It targets the jan/san supply market, as well as vertical markets such as the office products industry, hospitality, scientific/medical, school equipment and other commercial applications.
The company started out more than 85 years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., making metal cabinets. It later segued into the manufacturing of World War II ammunition boxes and metal kitchen cabinetry, and eventually made the waste receptacle business its primary focus, relocating to Pottsville, Pa., in 1956.
In 1970, the company was sold and subsequently purchased by Sam Weiss and Milton Greenberg, who retired in 1982.
The Weiss family still runs the family business. In 2003, after 28 years with United, Richard Weiss succeeded his father Sam as president and CEO.
Today United offers 900 products in its catalog, with a total of more than 10,000 varietals considering all color options, as well as personalization choices such as logo decals. Its largest market is the aforementioned jan/san industry, and its best-selling product type is outdoor waste receptacles. A significant portion of its customers sell via mail-order catalogs.
According to Weiss, catalog marketing is one of the fastest-growing market segments of his waste-receptacle business today. Having grown up in the family business, he has been involved in all aspects — from manufacturing and engineering to finance and marketing. Weiss continues to maintain a personal relationship with many of the company’s largest catalog marketers/customers, carefully monitoring the sales performance of each product they offer.
With United being a manufacturer as well as a cataloger, Lesh believes the services and support he and his team provide to other merchants who sell United’s products is important to the success of both businesses. More broadly, he continues, manufacturers’ support is critical to the mail-order industry as a whole.
Understanding United’s B-to-B Catalog
Like that of many b-to-b marketers, United’s catalog is not a selling vehicle, but an information tool. It’s a piece of literature annually mailed to distributors and business customers to familiarize them with the product line, so they can better market it to their end-user b-to-b buyers.
Selling a United Receptacle product requires a three-tiered b-to-b sales structure in which United is the manufacturer, which markets to the distributor/cataloger. Then the cataloger sells to the end-user companies, among which are major corporations, universities, hospitals and hotels. End-users may place orders worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. And therein lies the bread and butter of United’s business: “We have over 6,000 active distributors selling products for us,” says Lesh. These distributors focus mainly on the jan/san market, because it’s so broad and wide-reaching, but they also cover hospitals, hotels/hospitality, corporate, universities, you name it. The list goes on as far as the mind can imagine. “Anyplace you can think of a trash can,” jokes Lesh.
United also works with three major wholesalers from the office products market to supply its merchandise to offices and corporations.
In all, United mailed more than 50,000 copies of its catalog in 2005 to customers and prospects, says Lesh, who also notes that some national accounts may have more than one sales office.
Of United’s customers, only about 100 rely on mail-order sales as their primary business, but many others use catalogs as selling tools for their b-to-b sales forces.
Lesh says, “We do some active merchandising support and marketing to the mail-order and catalog industry. For example, we’ll target a mail-order company and create a sample page for their catalog, showing them how our products could look in their catalogs if they were to include 10 to 15 SKUs appropriate to their marketplace.”
If the cataloger seems interested in the idea, a United sales or marketing rep conducts a full line review of what the cataloger might want to add and where it could maximize revenue.
Distributors: Armed and Ready to Sell
Selling waste receptacles is big business, requiring the help of wholesalers, distributors and sales agents. “[Selling trash cans] may sound mundane and unimportant,” admits Dick Friedman, president of RTF Group, a contracted sales agent for United. “But say you’re in charge of choosing new receptacles for a major operation — a university, a hospital, a huge facility like a major amusement park or a corporation like United Airlines. You don’t want to choose the wrong type of receptacles and make a half-million-dollar mistake for your company.”
That’s why it’s so important to United to get its products represented correctly to potential buyers — both by an educated outside sales force and on the pages of any catalogs that prospects see.
Friedman lauds United for its deep understanding of powder coating, liner types, bags — all the options in waste receptacles. Lake Bluff, Ill.-based RTF Group sells United products in the three-state market of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. “We focus on the facilities maintenance market, which is vast and far-reaching,” says Friedman.
RTF’s six agents work with independent and national distributors that have anywhere from five to 500 salespeople. “Our goal is to educate them about the products we represent, and give them sales tools, like the fully illustrated product catalogs and other information, so they can comfortably and knowledgeably sell,” says Friedman. “We don’t earn a dime until the sale is made, so it’s in our best interest to make sure every one of our distributor sales representatives is armed and ready to sell.”
The catalog layout and production expertise United Receptacle provides “is extremely important when we’re dealing with our customers in the catalog business,” Friedman notes. He explains that as catalogers, “They have one shot, and one shot only to grab the interest of their customer.” Therefore, it’s important to choose the right product displays, take professional in-use product shots, and produce coherent page layouts for use throughout the distributor’s catalog.
Market Snapshot: Universities
Take, for example, a cataloger who targets the university market with products including, but not limited to, receptacles. “United would select eight or nine of its products most appropriate to that marketplace, bundle those together in an appropriate page display, and develop the graphic layout in the persona/image of that particular cataloger’s format,” says Friedman.
Not only does this step make it easier for the cataloger — who then can opt to accept the page layout as is — it also gives United a “leg up on getting its products placed,” Friedman notes. “With the customer’s identity already in hand, you have something tangible to show and ultimately display in the catalog. Then, it’s the expertise of the cataloger to get the message into the hands of the correct buyer to make the sale.”
A customer such as a major university account is big business: It could easily spend $50,000 to $100,000 on outfitting an entire campus with new receptacles. United offers all its customers “have it your way” customizable options, for example, different colors, or the addition of school or corporate logos.
Creating the Layouts
The idea of creating catalog page layouts for its b-to-b catalog customers is a concept United pioneered and brought to the jan/san industry in the late 1990s, notes Lesh. “When we started doing it [as part of the sales process], and everybody really liked it and appreciated it, we realized how important it was.” Now, he says, more manufacturers are following United’s lead and offer some help with catalog page production.
While United uses an ad agency to help create its own catalog, for its clients it handles things a bit more personally. “We have in-house specialists whom I work closely with to produce usable page layouts,” says Lesh. “When customers are ready to say ‘yes’ and place the products in the catalog, we’ll even provide the electronic pages for them.”
United’s in-house catalog experts are Marketing Development Manager Sheryl Beltz and Graphics Specialist Mike McCord, a veteran of the printing industry who’s been with the company for seven years. McCord says his first step in creating a usable catalog page for a United customer is to see that customer’s print catalog. “Typically, we get a copy of the cataloger’s most recent catalog, if one’s available. Then we make the page layout resemble their style as much as possible.”
This allows for what McCord refers to as a “plug-and-play” scenario. “When the company looks at how we’ve placed our products on their catalog pages, they can imagine just plugging that catalog page right into their existing book and going to press.”
McCord’s key goals as United’s designer include: optimizing the page real estate; creating a page that resembles the look and feel of the customer’s catalog; and always providing camera-ready artwork.
“We provide the artwork in 300 dpi and with CMYK images. We use QuarkXPpress, which is widely accepted, but also can provide PDF or Adobe Acrobat format files if a cataloger prefers,” he says. For copy, McCord tends to stick with “vanilla, out-of-the-box fonts to make translation easier. Sometimes, if we try to pick up too unusual of a font, it gets lost in translation.”
Deciding which products to place and what size layout to produce for a customer or prospect is a collaborative effort that involves input from the customer, as well as the sales rep or distributor. As McCord explains, “They may say, ‘We want to add a page of receptacles to our next book,’ or ‘We’d like to try a module or a page to start.’ We’ll work with that.”
Similarly, if the cataloger looks at the sample layout pages and wants to run the pages but with a slight change in focus, United can do that. If they want changes to the layout, such as different products placed or emphasis on something else, those alterations can be accommodated.
For this reason, catalog photography at United Receptacle is done with multipurpose uses in mind. “When we take a shot, we consider whether we may need to use that image for our customers’ purposes down the road,” McCord explains. “So when we take the shots, we consider the perspectives and the lighting, as well as a product’s placement relative to other products.”
McCord actually shoots some of the product photos himself in-house. The company also uses professional photographer Bill Downs for its own print catalog photography, and then has the option of digitally picking up some of those shots for other uses, such as its outside work.
Flyers: Niche Opportunities
In addition to the catalog, United produces flyers that are niche-oriented to specific customer segments. For example, a flyer titled “Smokers Solutions” updates product data on urns and combination receptacles that offer solutions to dealing with cigarette waste — a growing concern for many companies and communities, says Lesh.
United Receptacle has other unique programs, too. For the three wholesalers it works with, United has a program whereby it will create a flyer especially for them that is, in essence, a mini-catalog personalized to their business specs. It features all of the United products that wholesaler offers. Says Lesh, “This allows the wholesaler to hand a mini-catalog to its customers who are interested in waste receptacles, and be able to say, ‘This is the full line we offer.’”
For all of its customers — catalog, retail, wholesale — a benefit to working with United Receptacle is that it drop ships products to a customer’s door. Friedman of RTF Group lauds this tactic, saying it alleviates him from having to house and manage inventory.
United has two warehouses in Pottsville, Pa., as well as a manufacturing facility that produces merchandise and ships direct. The only products that aren’t always drop shipped are smaller items (e.g., wastebaskets) that come in multipack cartons. These items may be purchased by a wholesale distributor and broken down into smaller units before being sold, but that’s not the case with typical United products like waste receptacles.
The Web’s Role in the Sales Cycle
In addition to creating sample catalog pages, United provides materials for merchants to use on their Web sites. Distributors, catalogers and end-user customers also can refer to the United Receptacle Web site, “if they want a good, quick, in-depth review of the breadth and depth of the United bundle,” Friedman explains.
Other catalogers’ Web sites are another place United’s creative team sometimes finds its work in use. Says McCord, “We provide images to companies to use on their Web sites.” Additionally, United provides its entire database of product specs in an Excel spreadsheet to any catalog customer who wants to post that level of detailed information. Or a cataloger can choose to use only the information that applies to its business.
Online shoppers find United Receptacle products on various Web sites. For example, MedicalResources.com offers United’s Medi-Can step can receptacles with biohazard decals. CSNsupply.com sells United products to schools, churches and the corporate market. And IndustrialHouse.com sells United’s items for use in modern home environments.
“You never know where our products might turn up — a school, a hospital, an office. They all have a need for waste receptacles,” says Lesh. “And we offer them the best.”
United Receptacle At a Glance
Founded: 1919 in Brooklyn, N.Y., as United Metal Box Co.
Present headquarters: Pottsville, Pa. (since 1956)
# of employees: 129
Total # of catalogs mailed in 2005: 50,000
# of b-to-b distributors: 6,000
# of SKUs: 900 items, 10,000 varieties
Distribution centers: two
Printer: Payne Printing, Dallas, Pa.
Design: SK Advertising, Pottstown, Pa.
Alicia Orr Suman is a freelance writer specializing in direct and catalog marketing. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.