Selling products into retail chains like Walmart has its challenges. Still, two former aerospace and defense industry executives rolled up their sleeves and hung a shingle in downtown Rogers to help suppliers do just that.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Jon Allen founded Woodridge Retail as a consulting firm for suppliers needing help selling products online. Allen was recruited to Walmart in 2014 to work as a consultant for the retail giant’s global shared services and business leadership operations, where he focused on change management across enterprises. He spent three years at Walmart before leaving in 2018 when the company outsourced the work to India.
“Walmart was in the midst of its ongoing digital transformation, and that was where I focused my work for more than three years,” Allen said.
Before joining Walmart, Allen spent seven years at Raytheon in Garland, Texas, working as a communications organizer for intelligence, information and services. Before that, he worked in communications for the company’s missile systems division.
Allen said he returned to consulting and problem solving as the pandemic unfolded. He brought in managing partner Paul Crotty, who spent 25 years at Raytheon working in communications management. He logged a decade at Dallas-based E-Systems before that.
Allen and Crotty said they saw an opportunity as the pandemic paralyzed many businesses that were not selling goods online. Using contacts from their aerospace days, they secured partnerships for proprietary software analytics to help small and medium-sized suppliers determine why their products were not selling. They also helped brands launch into e-commerce.
Crotty said the main focus of Woodridge Group is to build an ecosystem around its client base, equipping them with the tools and insights they need to grow their businesses. He said a challenge for Woodridge and retail, in general, is the constant change. He said some brands don’t have the time or personnel to manage a fast-changing retail environment.
“It’s like trying to hold a balloon underwater; you have to stay focused and keep applying pressure to achieve success. That’s our specialty, relentlessly clearing the way, advocating for and equipping our clients for success selling online,” Crotty said.
The partners said they gained experience working in high-consequence situations from their former careers, and that’s how they approach their new venture. Allen said they had assembled tools, a group of retail insiders, and problem-solving outsiders to tackle challenges suppliers have in growing online business.
Allen said the pandemic created a new reality for suppliers, and there is no going back. He said suppliers had to shift fast to e-commerce, and those already selling online had to figure out how to cut through the masses of sponsored ads that kept them on page five or six with retail searches. The partners began by helping suppliers get onto Walmart marketplace and Walmart.com but have expanded that service to other retailers.
A brand that makes LED lighting had a fully stocked warehouse but needed to accelerate online sales at scale when the pandemic hit. Woodridge got to work to help the brand grow sales. Allen said the first order of business was to create Walmart-specific content because too many times, new-to-e-commerce brands try to use the same content for multiple retailers, which is a mistake. Woodridge uses retailer-specific, high-ranking search engine optimization wiring configured for the different sites. The group also employs a graphic artist and has a product imaging studio in its Rogers office to help brands deliver 360-degree photos and videos to best showcase the products.
Allen said consumers demand more product imagery for their online purchases, and retailers like Walmart are somewhat behind in getting suppliers to comply. He said Walmart had left a lot of the online page extras like photos and videos up to the brands, and with online sales being a tiny fraction of their overall revenue, many brands were lax in beefing up their online presence. By improving a supplier’s web content, brands made gains with their Quality Content Score (QCS) on Walmart’s new Supplier Excellence Quality Program (SQEP).
Allen said Woodridge continued to advocate for the LED brand and manage the online business. Within a year, a Walmart buyer asked the supplier if the brand would consider becoming a Walmart.com supplier. Today, the brand is sold on Walmart.com and fulfilled by the retailer, and five of their items are under consideration for store placement in the spring.
A national bird products brand hired Woodridge to manage a multimillion-dollar account with Walmart. The brand wanted to grow online sales and reduce return rates. Woodridge helped the company raise its QCS to 90 and make its items more discoverable on the site.
“Standard product photography, lifestyle photos, and videos told the product’s story and demonstrated features unique to this brand. As a result, search results, content, and discoverability were significantly improved, which enhanced the shopper experience. By answering shoppers’ questions and improving the online experience, the brand improved sales, added repeat customers, and reduced return rates,” Woodridge noted in a case study.
Allen said his team first does a deep dive into the problems and challenges preventing a brand’s online success. Crotty likened it to pulling out a knotted string of necklaces from a jewelry box. He said the team works to unkink the knots so the brand can line up its strategy and work toward success.
While Allen and Crotty know there is plenty of competition in product consulting, they say their strength is in offering a full suite of services and working with brands that need help in specific areas.
In the past 20 months, Allen said the market is ripe for product consulting services, with online sales growing at warp speed. He said the company chose Rogers for its flagship office because that is where all roads meet in retail. His feasibility study also found Northwest Arkansas ranked third in the nation for places to launch a startup.
Crotty lives in the Dallas area and travels to wherever the client needs to meet. Woodridge is opening a satellite office in Dallas, so it can more easily work with Texas-based retailers.
Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.