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WIDGETEER BUILDS A BETTER BUSINESS AND SEARCHES FOR BETTER EDI

The first product was short-lived. The company was not.

Bill McHenry, founder of Widgeteer, is proof of the mantra that all business is about change. (And, we might add in a blatantly self-promotional way, better EDI.) He launched his company with a partner and a product that was great. A product that was a definite winner. A home run.

Except that it wasn’t.

Few businesses evolve exactly as planned, and McHenry’s product never gained traction. For many entrepreneurs, it would be time to fold the tents and move on, maybe to a job with a regular paycheck.

For McHenry, however, this was just Step One. What followed was the idea that became the company he runs today.

Bring great brands to North America.

Ceramic dishes

In 2013, after becoming more and more involved in the housewares industry, a light bulb went on for McHenry. The economy is global. Why not find interesting brands from around the world that weren’t currently marketing their products in North America — and be the company that does that for them?

After that, McHenry sought out companies that had the kinds of products he believed could succeed in the North American marketplace. He partnered with these brands to provide sales, marketing and logistics.

The first brand that Widgeteer began selling in North America was Valira, a maker of cookware and household products based in Spain. For Widgeteer, it was the Aire Collection of cast aluminum cookware that made the most sense. Lightweight and quick to respond to changes in temperature, it is also coated in multiple layers of non-stick coating so food releases easily and the pieces are easy to clean. A true partnership, Widgeteer and Valira continue to work together today.

Since that initial venture with Valira, McHenry has learned what he considers essential to the success of his business model.  First, the product needs to be truly unique and different — many European brands, for instance, have a design sensibility that makes them stand out in North America. Second, the supplier needs to be the manufacturer or at least have tight control of the manufacturing process. Finally, the companies with products carried by Widgeteer need to understand that marketing is a time-sensitive activity and be ready to respond to requests for materials in a timely fashion.

“Another thing I learned was that I would only work with people I like,” added McHenry.

A benefit of that last point? Strong personal relationships can lead to connections at other companies and even new products. In fact, Widgeteer worked with one of its clients, Geneva-based Moha, on the design and production of a new kind of vegetable peeler.

Aroma veggie keeper
Cooking pot
Cheese saver

Know the benefits of a good 3PL partner.

Everything that Widgeteer carries is shipped to the warehouse of its 3PL partner in Prospect, IL, just a stone’s throw from O’Hare Airport. McHenry chose the company as his 3PL provider because the owners shared his entrepreneurial bent. It’s a relationship that has flourished and he now considers them important strategic partners, and suggests that it’s vital for a company like his to seek out not just services but the right people.

McHenry also noted that, “…not only are they a great 3PL provider for us, we’re even developing some other plans with them to help grow our businesses together.”

Use Drop Shipping to get a foot in the door.

Packaged box

Early on, McHenry and the team at Widgeteer recognized the value of offering drop shipping capabilities. The company began using it to entice retailers to carry their products, at least in their online channels.

“I do it to try to get a vendor number, and I do it to try to get into their stores,” McHenry explained.

McHenry is realistic — he understands that it’s risky for large chains to purchase an unproven product and put it in thousands of stores. With drop shipping from Widgeteer, retailers can offer his products online and get some sense of the demand for them. At the very least, it entices major retailers to take a look at his product line.

McHenry sees drop shipping as the way of the future, but he knows that brick-and-mortar is never going to go away and he values the sales volume it provides. For him, it’s not really a choice between one or the other. It’s about making sure his company has capabilities that are valuable in the marketplace.

“I think it’s going to be kind of a combination of things, between brick-and-mortar and online,” he added.

Be flexible.

Early on, McHenry and the team at Widgeteer recognized the value of offering drop shipping capabilities. The company began using it to entice retailers to carry their products, at least in their online channels.

“I do it to try to get a vendor number, and I do it to try to get into their stores,” McHenry explained.

McHenry is realistic — he understands that it’s risky for large chains to purchase an unproven product and put it in thousands of stores. With drop shipping from Widgeteer, retailers can offer his products online and get some sense of the demand for them. At the very least, it entices major retailers to take a look at his product line.

McHenry sees drop shipping as the way of the future, but he knows that brick-and-mortar is never going to go away and he values the sales volume it provides. For him, it’s not really a choice between one or the other. It’s about making sure his company has capabilities that are valuable in the marketplace.

“I think it’s going to be kind of a combination of things, between brick-and-mortar and online,” he added.

Get EDI right. Even if it takes a few attempts.

QuickBooks, Amazon, and Lingo dashboards

As he added more brands and began working with more retail outlets, McHenry found that EDI was, “…an incredible challenge.”

He started out with one of the largest providers in the category, but found their rigid processes made things arduous for a small, growing company like his own, especially one without a full-time IT department. After some time, Widgeteer switched to another provider, and planned to implement a QuickBooks integration that would connect all the dots in his organization.

This QuickBooks integration, however, did not go smoothly. It was stalled when McHenry first met the team from eZCom, and he sensed that changing his EDI provider again might be a good idea. But he was eighteen months into the latest attempt at a QuickBooks integration. While progress had stalled, he waited and hoped the project would get back on track. When it didn’t, and a true integration remained elusive, Widgeteer decided it needed to move on again.

“It was very frustrating, especially for a small company,” said McHenry.

He hasn’t been with eZCom long, but McHenry is optimistic about handling EDI more easily and the company’s integration with QuickBooks. He is shifting to QuickBooks Online and will begin the integration with eZCom as soon as that move is completed.

Don’t underestimate human errors. Or the cost of humans.

The goal for McHenry is a seamless, connected supply chain that is automated and straightforward.

If every Widgeteer order needs to be copy-and-pasted into QuickBooks by a person earning a salary or an hourly wage, costs go up. It’s time-consuming and hardly efficient. Add in the costs involved in paying employees, along with the expensive mistakes that can occur when data is entered manually, and it’s obvious that automating as much as possible is the best business solution for Widgeteer or any other company.

Sell more. Handle less.

Orders are exciting but in an ideal world, they aren’t handled by people. Instead, order information is transferred to the 3PL, labels and tracking information are generated, the item ships, and all data flows back into QuickBooks.

“The only person who has to touch it is the person in the warehouse who hits Print on the packing slip and has to go and pick it up. That’s what I want to get to.”

Graph of sales increasing

Remember that it’s a process.

For every overnight success in the business world, there are legions of others who made a steady climb upwards. What Widgeteer demonstrates is the importance of seeking to constantly improve — product offering, processes, partnerships, supply chain. And that’s a lesson for every company leader.