Over the last 10 years, ECRM has developed a winning combination of technology, systems and people that match retailers with suppliers in a very dynamic, efficient way. To liken them to a “trade show” is to compare the bar scene to a senior prom.
I met Charlie Bowles, founder/CEO during one of our WTCA (World Trade Center Association) conferences. ECRM had worked with several Centers putting together matchmaking events for their member companies. Mr. Bowles is one of those straight shooting, no-nonsense, street-smart visionary entrepreneurs who is a lot of fun to work with. You never have to wonder where you stand or what’s going on.
ECRM & CenTradeX worked on a joint project to develop a database, vetting system and search/reporting engine on several industry “verticals” in their Marketgate online matchmaking interface. Toys, school supplies and packaging materials were the initial areas of build-out.
As part of the development process, we attended one of 50 plus three-day matchmaking events to witness their magic firsthand. ECRM contracts with luxury resort hotels to do a complete take over. They book the entire facility. Several floors of hotel rooms are transformed into mini-mart exhibit centers displaying respective sellers wares.
Dozens of bona fide buyers for a particular product group (for example: toys would bring in Mattel, Walmart, Toys-R-us, and the likes) are provided top-shelf accommodations FREE all expenses paid. Sellers (suppliers) in turn pay an average of $10,000 for guaranteed, prequalified, technology enhanced “speed dates” with the prospective buyers taking in 30 to 40 individual face-to-face meetings with buyers during a single event.
Some have likened ECRM’s business model to nightclubs that provide free liquor to the ladies so as to attract swarms of paying male drinkers.
Prior to the event, a comprehensive evaluation of each seller and their merchandise is entered into the ECRM system. Each participant, both buyer and seller, receives a tablet PC preloaded with all the necessary vitals and meeting schedule.
We witnessed the magic firsthand. Buyers strolling through a sellers display area and within minutes selecting items, deciding quantities, agreeing on terms and confirming delivery schedule. Everything was promptly scanned into the system, thereby creating confirmation and necessary documentation.
Within a 10- 15 minute span, a forthcoming year’s worth of merchandise was transacted, not just the endless chitchat and vendor banter characteristic of most trade shows.
We interviewed people involved in all aspects of the process: hotel staff, ECRM hospitality folks, tech engineers, management and marketing personnel as well as the suppliers and buyers themselves. For the most part, ECRM had worked out an excellent mix of data, technologies, systems, marketing and people.
ECRM got their initial boost from doing business with Walmart. Thus far their success has been primarily limited to the retail products one would find at Walgreens or CVS. They have struggled to find traction both in other industries (automotive, electronics, furniture) and outside the U.S. in foreign markets.