How To Stay Agile In The Face Of COVID-19: Client Q&A

While there is no shortage of negative stories out there when it comes to the pandemic, we’d like to take a moment to focus on some of the success stories that we’ve come across. We love to see retailers that continually put their customers first, have a dedication to quality goods, and in understanding the complexities of the current situation, have shown incredible adaptability.

One such retailer is our client Blackstone Products, a leader in outdoor appliances and a company dedicated to bringing people together in the craft of outdoor cooking. Since this pandemic started, the idea of having people over for a BBQ seemed all but lost. However, by using their advertising budget strategically during this time, and innovating their site to showcase product offerings, they saw an astronomical increase in sales. We spoke to Tracy Owens of Blackstone to get her insights on how merchants can step apart from the competition, even during these uncertain times:

Were you expecting such a high increase in sales with the current COVID situation?

No, we were not.  We typically see an influx of orders coming in around mid April as people ramp up for summer activities and camping and Father’s Day, but this far outpaces our expectations in a huge way.

Did you invest more in advertising, or was this organic growth from people who were trying to find creative ways to feed themselves during this time?

Actually, we have spent less in advertising this year compared to the prior year.  What worked in our favor, however, is delaying our TV ads by two weeks, which really targeted the populations staying home and watching more TV.  We used our advertising dollars to position our ads on better channels to have more visibility without spending more money.  We also upgraded our customer website platform at the end of March which now makes us more discoverable on Google and social media without costing us more money.  We had planned to upgrade our website prior to the COVID situation and it really worked in our favor for the masses of people working remotely and spending more time on the internet than they typically would. 

Any tips for merchants that saw their demand increase suddenly? 

The best tip we can give is to just use your ERP systems to their fullest capacity to keep up with the demand of the consumer.  Know what your system will do for you to alleviate the already extra workload for your employees.

What are the main challenges and advice you have?

The biggest challenge we’ve faced with this increase of transactions has been getting our orders into our ERP system and out the door as quickly as possible.  We have an adequate number of staff on board to process them, but not utilizing our ERP system to its full extent has been a learning lesson for us to grow from.  Our advice to other merchants also experiencing higher volume would be to use the delays in carrier delivery and competition to your advantage!  With Amazon and similar vendors processing orders slower for non-essential items, we’ve been able to provide faster delivery for the exact same items that could be purchased from other vendors like Amazon, charging a slightly higher price and generating more revenue just by beating them to the punchline.