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171: Exploring Updates to the eXchange Platform with Randy Derr

Written by Rob Stott

June 6, 2023

It’s been a while since we checked in with Randy Derr, director of distribution and eXchange at Nationwide Marketing Group, about the powerful product purchasing platform. While we were together at the Oasys Summit in Nashville, we sat down with him to talk through recent updates, future plans and more.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast. Once again, we’re here in Nashville for the Oasis Summit. Nashville, Tennessee, Music City, keeping us busy, keeping us on our toes, and having a lot of fun, Mr. Randy Derr.

Randy Derr: We absolutely are. The event last night… The scavenger hunt was a success, a big hit.

Rob Stott: It was a lot of fun.

Randy Derr: It was.

Rob Stott: Neat way to… We were talking about this, I don’t know many cities could handle a thing like that, going out and meeting strangers and just having some fun on camera. But you talk about networking with one another, networking with a whole bunch of Nashville visitors or locals was a lot of fun.

Randy Derr: Yeah, I’m kind of jealous because some of the teams got to do some things that I wish my team would’ve had the opportunity to do, like try on some stranger’s boots, right?

Rob Stott: Oh, yeah.

Randy Derr: So, things like that are like… Or the disco dancing without somebody seeing it.

Rob Stott: Don’t get caught, yeah. It was a good time.

Randy Derr: So, yeah, it was good.

Rob Stott: No, we’ve had some fun, but obviously fun is only a part of what goes on here at the Oasis Summit. And a lot of updates to eXchange to talk about, but before we even dive into that, I want to start here at this Summit. What have these few days been like for you? And representing an eXchange here at Oasis in front of our CI community, what’s that like? And what’s your approach to an event like this?

Randy Derr: So, at any time we can get in front of the membership, show them what eXchange is and how it can help them benefit and grow their business, it’s been an eye-opening experience for them. So, the more events we can participate in like this, and in fact, this is the first time we actually had our own table and we’re able to set up some one-on-ones and had a couple of breakout sessions. The feedback’s been phenomenal. So, for me, it’s been a great experience and I’m looking forward to continue to do those kind of things at these events.

Rob Stott: Talk about those round tables? I actually, unfortunately, didn’t have a chance to sit in on one, but what did I miss out on as someone that didn’t sit in on a eXchange round table?

Randy Derr: Yeah, so with each member, it might be a little bit different approach, more about what their challenges are with getting into the website, looking for the particular brand or vendor partner that they have a relationship with. It may be some feedback on what they would like to see the platform be able to provide to them with regards to resources and information. So, each conversation is really a little bit different, and that’s kind of the way I came into this event, being open-minded, because the only way eXchange gets better is by getting the feedback that we’re getting from the membership.

Rob Stott: Yeah, and I’m actually going to steal a question from one of our trade partners that was here that talked with you, and I thought it was a great one, and you did too because that’s immediately what you followed up, you were like, “That’s a great question.” The one thing that you’d love for a member to take away from this experience, what would that be from the eXchange standpoint?

Randy Derr: The ability to utilize it in your day-to-day business. We say it all the time, it is kind of like a catchphrase, but it gives them the ability to save a lot of time when they’re looking for particular products to solve a solution that they may have and to provide them with competitive pricing. I know that some of our vendor partners don’t like the fact that there’s competitive pricing available across multiple options. At the end of the day, though, it’s been my experience that they’re all probably relatively close in pricing. It just keeps them honest. But at the end of the day, we’re here to serve our membership and it’s a better situation for them.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And love that message about serving the membership. And you talked about it too, the fact that there are so many different ways members go about using this platform and things that this platform does for them in return. A lot of updates since we’ve chatted about eXchange, and my head’s spinning, where do we even start?

Randy Derr: Right, right.

Rob Stott: Because it’s a constantly growing platform. I think… Yeah, I heard you say the number earlier, 12-CE specific distributors on the platform now?

Randy Derr: That that is today, yeah.

Rob Stott: Today?

Randy Derr: And that list continues to grow.

Rob Stott: Yeah, so I mean, that’s just one area that eXchange has grown. But what are some of the other important updates that have in the last year or so, to the platform, that stand out to you?

Randy Derr: So, one of the big ones that we took action on was, we did a survey about a year ago and our members expressed challenges with the clunkiness of the website, searching for product, too many clicks and things of that nature, so I look at the metrics on a regular basis. And user adoption has grown exponentially. The number of sessions has grown exponentially. The number of orders that are being placed through the website have grown exponentially, but the amount of time that a session lasts has dropped dramatically.

Rob Stott: Oh, cool.

Randy Derr: And it’s because we improved the search function, accessibility to finding the products that they want and even processing an order and submitting the order.

Rob Stott: Right.

Randy Derr: So, from that standpoint, we’ve hit the mark and addressed that situation-

Rob Stott: Well, and it makes… I mean, it’s funny to think about it this way, but your approach to eXchange is similar to how a retailer should be approaching their own website, is you want to minimize the friction between searching for a product and that end checkout experience, and neat to see it sort of play out in one of our own platforms, right?

Randy Derr: Yeah, and quite honestly, it took me a couple of minutes to kind of say, “Why would that be dropping? Oh, that’s why.” We addressed that issue.

Rob Stott: I mean, less time on site sounds… A media standpoint, that’s a negative, but in reality, when it comes to this experience, you want them to be spending less time from login to that checkout experience.

Randy Derr: Exactly, yeah. So, that was one. The other one would be the continuation and expansion of the offerings on eXchange. We’ve grown from about, I’m going to say six or 7,000 offerings about a year ago to today to about 30,000 offerings.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Randy Derr: And that list will just continue to grow and grow and grow based on what we’re ingesting from our vendor partners that we’re integrated with.

Rob Stott: Okay, so I want to go to a high level real quick to what this platform is, for someone that might be listening that they didn’t hear our previous talks on this platform. So, give that elevator pitch on what eXchange is and how it, from a retailer’s perspective or a custom integrator’s perspective, what’s the benefit to them of this platform? What are they getting out of their membership with Nationwide and being able to access this eXchange platform?

Randy Derr: Yes, so the biggest benefit is, it does save them time, because traditionally, the member vendor relationship is usually one-on-one. So, if a member wants to buy some product from them, they either have to pick up a phone and call them, or they have to go to that particular vendor partner’s portal, if they have a portal. In this instance, we aggregate information from today. Outside of just CE, there’s about 20 vendors up there, so they have the ability now to go in there and search for products from 20 different resources as opposed to having to make 20 different phone calls or 20 different site views and things of that nature. So, saving time’s important.

Plus they have access to it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they can transmit orders at any given time to the vendor partner. And then the other thing is, just the competitive analysis capabilities to see… Making sure that they’re getting a fair price for the product that they want to buy, or receiving a fair price for the product that they want to buy. And also finding out where inventory is at by warehouse location and who has it and who can get it to them quickly. So, those are probably the three biggest benefits that eXchange provides the membership.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Another two… Yeah, we talked about this a little bit earlier today, the ability to experiment with their own inventory and lineup, and particularly with their websites, there’s a integration, I don’t know… Is it tied specifically to RWS or retailer web services sites?

Randy Derr: At this point in time it is not, because there’s some backend functionalities and improvements that I know the RWS Site On Time team is making to their platform to afford us, long term down the road, the opportunity to integrate the eXchange website or product offerings that are in eXchange today so that it’s a seamless integration and those members can then add that product to their website.

Rob Stott: Is this still to come?

Randy Derr: They can do that today. They can add any product that they want to their website. What we’re trying to do is build a seamless transaction where a member comes in, or a consumer comes in, sees the product on a member’s website, adds it to a cart, and then long term, eventually utopia would be, they just submit the order and it goes processed through eXchange right to the vendor partner, and then the product gets shipped to either the consumer or to the retailer for buy online, pickup in store.

Rob Stott: But that idea, that… It’s the ability to add a product, test out, maybe it’s a new category that you haven’t been able to sell or don’t know if it would work for you. You have that ability to experiment with it without the in-store, in your warehouse, your own warehouse, taking up space, I think is a really awesome added benefit that, probably, I don’t think it personally gets talked about enough.

Randy Derr: It does not, because when… Traditional retail thinking is, “If I’m going to put something up on my website, I have to bring inventory in and put it on display.” In this case, you don’t have to. So, to your point, there’s a lot of different seasons throughout the course of the year. There’s a lot of different products that are relevant to those seasons, so they can get in and get out pretty quickly without having to make any investment in displays and floor samples.

Rob Stott: You mentioned some of the utopia situations. What are some of those things without… I don’t want you to give away secret sauce or secrets that are going to make it so that I can’t leave Nashville in one piece, but what are some of those things that you’re thinking about that you want to see with this platform over time?

Randy Derr: So, one of the things we did this past year was we integrated with D-Tools. EXchange is now a vendor partner on D-Tools. There’s a possibility that we may look at a few of those other project management tools and do the same thing with those. So, I think that’s an opportunity that’s probably closer to happening than longer down the road. The integration is one of them that we just talked about, but as a service, I think scaling it to maybe offer it to retailers outside of our network, that would be an unbelievable opportunity and situation-

Rob Stott: Absolutely.

Randy Derr: … for the platform itself.

Rob Stott: No, and-

Randy Derr: Just like D Tools is a platform that can be subscribed to by any custom installer, right?

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely. No, I like-

Randy Derr: Same thing could happen with the eXchange.

Rob Stott: It makes sense, because I mean, it’s all web based, right?

Randy Derr: Yeah.

Rob Stott: So, it’s a easy… Well, I say “easy,” I know there’s a lot of backend work that gets done to make it the platform it is, but that would be a unique opportunity and area for growth there. But it kind of all boils down to something we’ve heard a lot about this week, and that’s efficiency and streamlining things. And I know those are kind of buzz-wordy terms in the industry, but to your point, and you think about some of the things we talked about already right here, just how it improves business and saves time and saves money, that’s important at the end of the day. So, to see sort of what you’re doing with eXchange and how it applies to the conversations that are happening, it’s clear that this is an area of emphasis and something that is important to, not just this whole space, but you in particular and what’s going on with eXchange, and neat to see a lot of work’s been going on.

Randy Derr: Very much so. Very much so. And like I had mentioned to somebody earlier, we’ve made a lot of improvements over the past couple of years, but we’re still at the tip of the iceberg and there’s a lot more we can do with it, long term. So, I’m excited about it.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Lot to come, for sure, so… I know. We’ll have to make sure that it’s not another year before we talk.

Randy Derr: No, absolutely not. But appreciate the time and we’ll do it again.

Rob Stott: Absolutely. And we’ll get back out there and keep spreading the word about eXchange.

Randy Derr: Appreciate it.

Rob Stott: We’ll help you where we can, too.

Randy Derr: Appreciate that.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Thanks man.

Randy Derr: Yep.

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