Thirteen years ago, Sustainable Supply was founded by Brian Fricano as an online distributor selling industrial supplies, green products, plumbing and cleanroom products.
Fricano had originally expected the new business to create additional income for his family so his wife could stay home and care for their children. But a funny thing happened: sales exploded.
“Two days after my wife came home (from the hospital with their newborn baby), we started getting a lot of orders,” says Fricano, who was then still working full-time as a sales manager for a large industrial enterprise. He soon realized he needed immediate help and quickly recruited his father and mother to help fulfill the orders. Both still work there today.
His father’s background was particularly helpful as he had a background in industrial distribution, having previously worked in the logistics supply chain group for Grainger. He currently helps fill that role with Sustainable Supply, and Fricano’s mother acts as controller of the company, overseeing much of its finances.
Within two short years, Sustainable Supply, then headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, became one of the fastest growing online companies in the country, growing more than 500% over three years. In fact, Sustainable Supply has been listed on Inc.MagazineList of 5,000 fastest growing private companies in the United States for five consecutive years while winning Internet retailerof the Top 1,000 for each of the last seven years.
This year, the company, which moved to Broomfield, CO in 2013, expects sales to be between $20 million and $30 million and is cautiously optimistic for an increase of around 25%. This projection certainly seems possible as sales in the first few months of 2022 are up 50% year over year.
While these numbers seem remarkable, the strategic moves Fricano has taken to grow its business are risky, to say the least. But then again, he was never afraid to take a controversial stance against maintaining the status quo. He says it’s partly down to his entrepreneurial spirit.
Starting the business
Fricano began his distribution career working in inside sales for Grainger where he learned a lot about the different aspects of the distribution industry. He then became a sales manager for Bradley Corp., a company that provides innovative products specified for commercial restrooms and industrial safety applications.
He also realized that there were opportunities online for a company that wanted to focus on selling green products. “There was no one who had really taken the lead in selling green products,” he says. “We saw an opening.”
For six months he worked to develop and improve his proposed website while working full time at Bradley. Eventually, with concern, he approached Bradley executives and told them of his plans, unsure of their reaction. His concerns turned out to be unfounded.
Not only did Bradley support him, but his fledgling company became a distributor of their products.
As sales increased with the company’s focus on selling green products, Fricano realized that there were opportunities based on customer requests to sell complementary parts such as accessories for construction and plumbing to accompany existing products.
Product expansion soared. When Sustainable Supply was originally established in 2009, it carried 10,000 products, but grew over the years to eventually offer one million products in areas such as building materials, plumbing, home maintenance and products. MROs that were shipped from over 50 distribution centers and manufacturers.
But Fricano realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain such a large amount of inventory. So he recently made the difficult decision to drastically reduce the number of products the company carried.
“We really looked at the products we were selling and decided to drastically reduce our inventory of dead SKUs and slow moving products. We wanted to specialize and stop selling commodity products,” he says.
He points out that Sustainable Supply is much more than an online business selling products. Instead, he describes Sustainable Supply as a true industrial distributor that adds value to the products it sells and offers its customers the expertise of its 20 employees who collectively have over 100 years of distribution experience. of the supply chain.
A “frightening” movement
While a sharp reduction in inventory initially caused his company’s sales to decline, Fricano’s next move was much more controversial: Last year, he decided to stop selling on Amazon.com, Amazon Business and other markets. Sustainable Supply had been selling through Amazon for two years and the move had led to strong sales, especially in MRO products.
The “frightening” move, he says, allowed the company to focus on sales through its four owned-and-operated e-commerce sites: SustainableSupply.com, EyewashDirect.com, TotalRestroom.com and PortableHandwashing.com. The result: Sales volume increased with the company’s existing customer base, closer relationships were developed, and Sustainable Supply saw an increase in brand loyalty.
Most sales through Amazon were one-time purchases, which meant that Fricano and his team couldn’t develop the relationships that were so important to Sustainable Supply. “It seemed to us that many customers were actually loyal to the platform and not to us as a seller. We wanted to change that.
As it cut inventory and phased out Amazon, Fricano introduced more useful website features, including better content, faster checkout, and payment and financing options.
“We couldn’t be happier with the results so far,” says Fricanoso.
Three of those sites are doing extremely well, Fricano notes, and that seems to justify his decision. The only website that is down – and only slightly – is PortableHandwashing.com, a change that has been expected since the pandemic slowed. Yet this site has grown dramatically over the past couple of years.
“Amazon was a channel that we used and it was a two-year program to determine if it was worth it for us. We reviewed the data and determined that the Amazon channel was transient and not intended for recurring business activity. We really couldn’t build the relationships we wanted with customers,” he adds. Also, he says, there were supply chain issues working with Amazon and it was time-consuming and time-consuming. staff effort to work with them.
Fricano says Sustainable Supply and its websites have already made up much of Amazon’s loss in a relatively short time.
Throughout this time, Sustainable Supply has strengthened its mission of selling green products and services.
“When we started selling green products in 2009, it was more of an add-on in the eyes of many customers,” he says. “Today, in many cases, green products are expected,” adds Fricano, noting that architects and builders involved in creating LEED-certified green buildings must use these types of green products.
Additionally, Sustainable Supply offers a carbon-neutral shipping program that offsets transportation emissions from all shipments at no additional cost to its customers. Fricano notes that his company also purchases carbon offsets (which he says would be easy for manufacturers and distributors to implement) for all of its facilities, in addition to offering telecommuting and work programs. cycling, and using high-efficiency lighting and buildings. – large-scale recycling.
Fricano believes the future is extremely bright for sustainable sourcing as customers gradually return to work in their offices, which means increased demand for health and safety products. Restaurants are finally continuing to expand and remodel after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, and factories are increasing their operating capacity, leading to an increased need for MRO products. The construction industry appears to be strong, and his company offers full-service contractors working with Fricano’s project managers and their teams – from offering design work to specifying and delivering the products needed on the job. worksite.
This year, Sustainable Supply will also be looking to invest in its digital marketing efforts and drive traffic to the company’s four websites. The company seeks to add web content to improve search engine optimization and search rankings.
“Content is a hugely important driving force,” he says, noting that his company will add writers to generate and improve content for clients.
“Our plans are coming to fruition and we couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of our business,” he says.
Jack Keough is president of Keough Business Communications. He was editor-in-chief of Distribution Industrielle for 26 years. You can reach him at [email protected]