Alaska Rubber Group’s Digital Transformation
When Alaska Rubber Group (ARG) first decided to make the digital transformation and build out a fully integrated B2B eCommerce site, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to just throw some money at an eCommerce company and be done with it. It was going to take a lot of time and hard work from our team. We also knew that whatever it took to do it right, we had to do it soon.
During a distributor meeting presentation in November 2019, John Gunderson, then at MDM, helped our Board realize that there would soon be an opportunity cost to delaying ARG’s digital transformation. He showed us that more and more of our customers were buying online. Even our loyal customers were getting some of their needs met shopping online. If our customers couldn’t access information like product specifications, pricing and availability online, and place an order with us, they would, and in fact already were buying them online from other distributors. That got our attention big time. eCommerce was no longer just nice to have — it has become essential.
We realized that we needed to think about B2B eCommerce as an investment that would create the digital doorway to our company, allowing existing and new customers to access all the products and services provided in our physical stores. The level of investment to pull this off was evaluated as if we were building out a new brick and mortar location. ARG currently has 10 locations across Alaska and Washington, and we decided to think of our eCommerce platform as store #11. We knew right away that we needed a best in class platform provider to partner with. For us, it was not just about launching a new website. We needed data enrichment and content services to ensure that we’d have all the necessary product information for the 27,000+ product SKUs on our new website. We chose Unilog Corp. as our partner of choice. Unilog is a market leader in B2B eCommerce and has a strong track record of providing distributors with this service in similar industries. We also needed an ARG team member with big time eCommerce chops to head up the project. Our digital branch manager, so to speak. We partnered with Unilog for the platform and product enrichment, and through our interactions with Unilog, we found Mike Powers. Mike is a 2020 recipient of the MDM Future Leader Award and has many years of experience in the B2B space. Mike had also experience with the Unilog B2B eCommerce platform at his previous employer. We were very happy to bring Mike on board as ARG’s Director of eCommerce and digital marketing.
We belong to NAHAD, of course, and to IDCO, and both organizations provide tons of value to ARG. We wanted to try and give something back in this process and so we reached out to other members to see if they might be interested in joining us on this journey, and possibly help create some opportunity for the other members of our industry's leading organizations. This endeavor has allowed us to share in some of the product enrichment costs and collaborate with some great industry leaders. Both Paula LeGros of Westflex, and Rob Lyons of TIPCO Technologies partnered with ARG for product enrichment. Our three companies cover three different regions of the country, and we all view this as an opportunity to plant a flag for the industry, to show other distributors what can be done.
For distributors that are thinking about moving into the B2B space, the ERP that you have is just as important as the website development company you select. It’s important to have a frank conversation with potential partners to learn what they can and can't do. We’re happy with our ERP, we have a good relationship with them. We recommend that you make sure your ERP can bring the resources you’ll need.
For our first year, we’ll focus on customer adoption — giving those who already know ARG the ability to interact with us 24/7, 365 in a digital way. We’re currently in a soft launch of our site with a number of our key customers that are already placing orders, and we see a bright future ahead. We see this as an ongoing investment in future proofing our business model, making what we do relevant and valuable for our customers for many years to come.
About Mike Mortensen
Mike Mortensen is President and CEO of Alaska Rubber Group and a member of NAHAD’s board.