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Direct with You. Direct to Them.
September 4, 2018 Jessica DeWitt

Direct with You. Direct to Them.

Posted in Industry

In the words of a great American poet: “The times…they are a changin”.

Historically, and spanning multiple decades, Chameleon Glass sold exclusively to authorized resellers. Our roster of wholesale stores include both traditional brick & mortar and online retailers. The Chameleon model was and still is – to create demand in the market by making superior products. Exactly where customers ultimately decide to purchase their Chameleon Glass is of little consequence. Our business operates to serve all customers: both wholesale customers and the end consumers. We uphold our brand promise by means of creating unparalleled quality products with thoughtful and deliberate design, paired with innovative manufacturing techniques. This is the catalyst for how we build rabid brand loyalty.

The spawn of the e-commerce industry changed a lot of things. Most notably, the way consumers engage in the marketplace – how they choose to access goods, research and shop. This dynamic should be familiar to all of us, and these consumer buying trends should be driving the conversation. The model continues to align with a more consumer-centric approach. Focusing on the consumer experience allows customers to shop and interact however they prefer via an omnichannel experience. What they want, how they want and when they want – is the new norm.

The one fact we can no longer fight is that consumers are going to buy from the channel that suits them best. They are rightfully selfish with their interests, their time, their needs and their wallets.

 

Make it as easy as possible to purchase our products.

Our focus has always been creating unique products that our end customers want and need, but we can no longer neglect the shifts in market dynamics. Ignoring huge swinging market events is a very dangerous path. We learned this as we held out as long as it was viable, for over a decade as we forayed into the web. Our site only showcased our products, prohibiting purchasing, steering them to buy from you. We invested heavily into our old Store Locator feature to help customers find an authorized Chameleon reseller near them. And our business suffered greatly because of this.

This increased focus on the customers’ needs must reinforce the social capital, reputation and positive sentiment towards Chameleon. Relying on other companies to solemnly uphold those attributes and communicate directly to customers on our behalf would be silly for me to expect. Most importantly I have to ensure the Chameleon brand is fulfilling the expectations and demands of the customer in the digital age. When we damaged our visiting customer’s experience, we ended up damaging our brand. One sole disappointed customer can become exponentially harmful to our brand equity, and I had to make a change.  

Not everyone lives near a Chameleon reseller regardless of how hard we work to establish more partners in new and rural areas that may lack representation. Over the last few years, we received tons of emails from customers living in small towns or areas where they cannot purchase Chameleon Glass locally. We would gladly steer them to one of our many online resellers, but too often we’d hear that the reseller didn’t have the exact pipe, the style or color they wanted, et al.

 

A typical email thread from 2012:

Customer: I’m in love with that yellow and blue pipe, “model x”. How can I buy one?

Chameleon: Thanks for the kind words. We think that piece is amazing too. Check out our store locator feature, find a reseller near you and support your local business.

Customer: I cannot buy this from you? Are you certain they’ll have this specific pipe, in the specific color I want?

Chameleon: I’m sorry, but unfortunately we do not sell direct. Also, we cannot attest to the inventory our authorized resellers have in stock. You’ll have to check with them. If they don’t have a model x, you might find another Chameleon product you like as much.

Customer: Um…you want me to drive around town looking for this? Really? Some of these stores don’t have websites, or if they do, their inventory is not listed on their site. Don’t you have a bunch there? Please can I buy one from you?

Chameleon: I’m sorry, not at this time. You’ll have to find a shop that has a model x. I spent some time digging in our records for you and the closest location we shipped a yellow/blue model x pipe is about 275 miles from you. That was 2 months ago however. There’s a couple online resellers that have the model x pipe, but it doesn’t look like they have the yellow/blue one.

Customer: WTF? 275 miles? You’re kidding right? p.s. I hate purple.

Chameleon: Here’s their phone number, perhaps they’ll ship it to you?

Customer: I called them. They no longer have that pipe. I’m over this. #fail

Chameleon: We apologize for any inconvenience. I’ll personally email you if we ship a blue/yellow model x to a store near you in the near future.

Customer: Thanks, but no thanks. I ended up going to a local store that carries Chameleon. They only had 11 Chameleon pieces in the glass display. So I bought some other brand of pipe. Not sure who makes it…there’s no manufacturer information, but it kind of looks like Chameleon.

 

It’s not about you, or us. It’s about the customer.

Adding e-commerce to the Chameleon website was a matter of survival. Increasingly as the new digital economy advances, many consumers (younger demographics specifically) won’t embrace the old and deprecated retail model. They cannot fathom the concept of not having the convenience of adding to cart right now with their index finger, from any location and from any device.

Consumers nowadays have much higher expectations for brands than in the past. I watched very closely how many customers we lost over the years by not nurturing a direct connection with us.

 

The age of instant gratification doesn’t exclude our industry.

It’s unrealistic to presume any reseller of Chameleon would carry our entire product catalog. In fact, most of our strongest resellers carry only a fraction of our complete product line.

Think about those Adidas shoes you saw online. You could drive to a shoe store in hopes they had that model. If not, you could then drive to the mall and hit up a few stores, the FootLocker and Macy’s, etc. Come to find out only one store had them, but not in your size. You then could shop at Zappos, Amazon or a hundred other online retailers. Or, you could simply go to Adidas.com and buy direct – where you can even customize your new shoes. Similarly, we get tons of requests for customizations, such as the model x pipe, but with the choke on a specific side. The power of the internet has empowered consumers and they expect more. We can no longer afford to violate the trust and brand loyalty we’ve spent over 25 years building with our customers.

 

The world at our fingertips.

I’m guessing it doesn’t bother you when you can buy an iPhone from literally any of the thousands of online and physical stores that are available to you and your buying preferences. You can also buy direct from Apple.com. Hell, Apple went one step further and built retail stores, many of them right next door to the Best Buy. I’m sure that doesn’t excite the resellers, but Apple is in the business of selling their products. And they do it very well. No one feels threatened that Apple has figured it out – allowing people to mix and match outlets to buy their products conveniently and wherever they’re most comfortable doing so.

So, I challenge you to “think different” and embrace the customer experience.

 

My promise to you.

Our business has been built upon a foundation of the relationships with our brick and mortar stores. This won’t change how we do business. The only changes you should see are the betterments of our model. We’re still investing heavily into maintaining and improving your experience with Chameleon as well. We’ve put a lot of effort into making it easier for you to find the products you need, providing access to wish lists – a repository for future orders, ordering online while honoring terms, and many other features we’ll be releasing continuously to make Chameleon better for you. We support our resellers through pricing that affords you a minimum keystone. On top of that, we’ll continue to offer substantial volume discounts to further boost the value in buying 100% American-made quality
glass products.

You know I’ve always been straight and candid. This is no different. I understand your position and your feedback will always be well received. I realize that alone won’t help your bottom line, so this is me putting my money is where my mouth is.

 

Adapt or perish.

Direct access to our customers was driven by the market and a necessity to remain competitive. This access is critical now more than ever given the sheer number of choices the internet offers. Brick-and-mortar stores have limited shelf space and must strategically choose the products they sell. That dynamic of losing a sale due to in-store browsing is not inherently a bad thing in all instances. We fully understand that’s how consumer experiences work. However, our digital shelf space is unlimited. We must give the market what they’ve demanded. Conversely, our company must protect its brand. You can imagine the slow burn felt here learning about the customer who went shopping for Chameleon, but got sold a knockoff.

Having a direct channel with our end customers also serves them better. Sure, we could leverage the inherent advantages as a manufacturer that some consumers are drawn to, but we don’t. And we won’t. You can clearly see our website pricing levels are maintained at MSRP. When logged in you can always see what offers our retail buyers will see. Often overlooked, this connection with consumers give us the opportunity to gain important customer insights, which will ultimately help us make our products better.  

It’s 2018. Please join us.

~KK.

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