The Supply Side: Field Agent launches Plum marketplace for supplier services

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,061 views 

Field Agent, a company based in Fayetteville, was founded 12 years ago on the principle of solving problems for retail suppliers. Today, the company continues to evolve by launching a new B2B retail solutions marketplace called Plum.

CEO Rick West said Plum will work like a consumer marketplace where companies can list their services for sale on one platform. He said Plum came about after talking with brands and retailers about ways to simplify hiring third-party services that help manage and grow retail sales.

“It’s time for retail solutions to enter the e-commerce age,” West said. “Traditionally, retail solutions have made companies jump through too many hoops. If customers can purchase cars online with just a few clicks, why not retail solutions?”

He said brand managers are tired of the process that can include phone calls, meetings, follow-up with emails, and at least two more meetings to get a contract approved for a $500 service. As consumers, West said, everyone in the business world is also looking for simplified ways to get information, access services and pay on demand.

He said Plum features a self-serve, e-commerce interface that offers brands and retailers a convenient, one-stop destination for audits, insights, merchandising, marketing, e-commerce, and other retail solutions.

Field Agent has done the legwork to verify the legitimacy and quality of the services offered on the platform. They include retail auditing, brand photography, merchandising, on-shelf retail analytics and performance analytics, location-specific auditing, review and insights. West said the services could be shopped, purchased and launched in a matter of minutes with no contracts, phone calls or sales presentations. He said sales-heavy approaches to retail solutions weren’t working for them.

“Plum envisions a new future for B2B solutions, substituting a few simple clicks for traditional sales calls,” he added.

West explained that the business model allows Field Agent to garner revenue with a commission payout from all the services sold on the marketplace along with hosting and marketing fees. Some of the services sold on the site are Field Agent-owned, such as the Aisle 9 professional brand and product photography business and the location-specific auditing, reviews and ratings that Field Agent offers.

He said Plum would also include services for packaging and displays, on-shelf availability management, deductions management, and training and development specific to retail link and other Walmart-specific systems.

West expects the marketplace to offer about 50 services to start. He said it’s too early to tell how many services will be provided in each vertical.

Rick West

“I know there will be more than one or two because businesses want choices, but I can’t say exactly if there will be three or maybe five options in a certain category. We will continually work to vet any solutions provider who joins Plum, and only time will tell how big the marketplace could grow in the next few years,” West said.

Fayetteville-based Webata signed up to sell services on Plum. Webata is a retail intelligence and performance analytics provider for suppliers to Walmart and Target. Webata’s services include helping suppliers ensure the product inventory they have in stores is also accurately displayed as available online. Webata co-founder Gabe Wight said aligning with the Plum marketplace makes sense to help more suppliers better manage their omnichannel business.

“We do this virtually, instead of physically sending humans into stores to check pricing at the shelf and count inventory. Webata can get the information in a matter of minutes to help suppliers get more inventory transparency in what is sometimes a cumbersome process,” Wight said.

He said Webata typically serves suppliers with over 50 SKUs (items) up to 1,000.

“We are happy to partner with Field Agent and be part of the Plum marketplace launch because we believe this is a good way to market services to suppliers of all sizes. Everybody selling into retail can benefit from better transparency and quicker turnaround times in accessing services,” Wight said.

West said the Field Agent brand is essential to the success of Plum, and while the marketplace platform will be accretive to Field Agent’s bottom line, it won’t likely be the top revenue driver. When asked why Field Agent opted to give the marketplace its Plum brand, West said it was important that the market offer all types of product services. He said it is a Product solutions-Led Marketplace, and that’s where the name Plum originated.

“The Field Agent brand is as strong as it’s ever been with our services that help brands provide a better shopping experience. We will continue that gig-econ work that focuses on-shelf audits, product ratings and reviews and that service is offered on Plum,” West said.

He said Field Agent is happy to broaden its scope with the Plum marketplace and is excited to see how brands — large and small — will interact with the platform.

Field Agent employs around 100, recently adding 10 more employees. West said the company staffed up ahead of the Plum launch with programming engineers and a marketing group.

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.