Moving from manufacturing-only to direct selling online

Last year we took a quick look at the benefits of manufacturers moving into direct selling, so we thought we’d pick this topic up again here and offer some tips and guidance on moving from manufacture-only to online retail.

The fact is, there’s enough room for retailers and manufacturers to sell products online – and by selling direct, you have much more control over your image and the way consumers engage with your brand. However, with an established manufacture-only mindset, you’re going to need to do a bit of rethinking and adjust your business model to suit this new avenue of revenue.

Tips for developing a direct selling business model

Assuming you’ve already done your research and are confident that you can turn direct selling into a profitable venture, before you start selling, you need to address some key areas to get you ready:

  • E-commerce website – you may already have a website that displays your products and offers information, but if you’ve only ever supplied to trade customers before, you’re unlikely to have an online shopping function. Your new audience will now expect to be able to buy from your website, so rebuild, adapt or add-on to cater for this essential element.
  • Your team – make sure you have staff and facilities in place to deal with sales and service queries, complaints and delivery/returns, along with clearly written policies for them to refer to as they get used to this new way of working.
  • Marketing – now you’re a retailer as well as a manufacturer, you’ll need internal or external resources to deal with marketing your products direct to consumers. Taking your products online means you need to understand and utilise a variety of new skills, from Search Engine Optimisation to social media, so get professional marketing advice if needed.
  • Deliveries – make sure you have a reliable logistics partner in place so you can keep your delivery promises. It’s a totally different kettle of fish managing deliveries to multiple single-purchasers, than bulk deliveries to a smaller market.

Things to watch out for

With such a hefty new project to think about it can be easy to take your eye of the ball, but you’ll only realise direct selling success if you keep all the plates spinning, so:

  • Don’t neglect your retailers and always be honest! Especially in the early days, your existing retailers are still going to be the primary source of your sales, so you don’t want to alienate them. Retain your good relationships and continue to nurture them – and while you’re under no obligation to tell them, it’s a matter of courtesy to advise of your intentions, and it wouldn’t hurt to use the opportunity to reassure them of your continued support.
  • Be prepared to make ongoing adjustments – you might know your products, but you only really have experience of working with trade customers, not direct consumers. As you start to understand the buying process and customer journey when purchasers use your own retail platform, you should tweak it to offer ongoing improvement.
  • Use your experiences to assist your retailers – share any knowledge gained if you think it will help. Much better to work in harmony with your retailers than pitch yourself in direct competition.
  • Build your brand – your retailers may already have a huge market share due to their visibility and branding. You need to do the same – this goes back to the marketing element discussed above.
  • Information and confidence – selling online means more than just having a place to buy your goods. You need to also ‘sell’ your knowledge by providing relevant and helpful information, and build confidence through positive reviews and ratings.

If you’re thinking of taking your products online, you’ll need to balance out the costs of set-up and staff capacity with the potential increase in revenue – while it’s certainly possible to make a successful transition into direct selling, it’s worth getting some realistic projections and professional advice before you make the leap.