Zepol is a trade intelligence provider created by two bright young lads from Minnesota a handful of years ago. Back then, PIERS, for all intents and purposes, was the only game in town. They pretty much owned the market for U.S. Customs Manifest (Bill of Lading) data. At the time, PIER’S interface was clumsy and antiquated, their products overpriced and their customer service negligible. At least according to the string of disgruntled current or previous customers we encountered.
Founders, Paul Rasmussen and Jeff Wilson, neither of which had any professional background in trade, had a simple business plan: create a cleaner, more efficient search utility and undercut PIERS price by 20%. They weren’t concerned with integrating other databases, added frills, or transforming the way people did global trade. They simply wanted to woo business away from PIERS. Typical to many start-up technology businesses, one guy (Paul) was the Marketer/Spokesman while his compadre was the Tech Geek (Jeff).
For the first couple years, they were disregarded as a pesky nuisance by the powers that be. PIERS lost a few customers here and there. Usually the story included a bidding war between PIERS and Zepol, wherein Zepol would ultimately win after several painful rounds of negotiation, particularly in the commercial side of the business.
Now-a-days, Zepol is not just two lone wolves, it’s a pack of twenty men and women equally divided between sales, technology and customer service. Whereas they used to be considered a rouge company, now they are part of the establishment. Their technology has continued to improve, their customer base grown in depth and breath and their various ways and means of telling their story has expanded. For instance, their use of social media is exemplary in the industry, using blog, tweets, videos, promotional materials, downloadable report samples, internet advertising, etc. to get the word out.
At CenTradeX we once threatened to sue them for buying Google ads attached to our trademarked name; a practice that they repeated with other TI providers as well. Anytime someone searched for CenTradeX, PIERS or Datamyne, as well as a host of trade related terms, Zepol Ads would be highlighted atop of the results with a competitive message. Perhaps not Kosher but certainly cunning and aggressive.
Ironically, Zepol NOW faces the same challenge as they originally posed to PIERS THEN. In the last several years, information providers selling U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (Bill of lading) data have proliferated. There are now well over a dozen. Cost of access is plummeting. Whereas several TI Providers have been offering subscriptions at $99 per month, my latest research revealed two new ones on the scene; one with pricing at $49 per month and the other at $30.10.
Being accepted as a member of the establishment comes with a price. Developing value-added features, expanding technology, improving customer service, and acquiring more personnel all accrue overhead. Business strategy and tactics must adapt to the changing competitive milieu.
Will the burgeoning of competitors with the accompanying commoditization of data and tumbling subscription prices win out over the inverse force currently employed by PIERS and others to position themselves as “Solutions Providers”? The next few years will tell the story.