A conversation with Sonya Ruff Jarvis, Founder of the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit, which will be held on November 6-8, 2019 at the Hotel Monaco Chicago in Downtown Chicago, IL

The Summit celebrates its fourth anniversary this year. How has it evolved?

Internet retailing is fast-paced, and one way the Summit has kept up is through feedback and insights from our advisory council members. These are professionals who are in the e-trenches each and every day. And because the Summit is invitation-only and intimate, we are able to have candid conversations with attendees to pinpoint their specific issues, challenges and successes to incorporate into the event’s agenda.

The advisory council members — retailers and digital influencers — are engaged, and give advice in their areas of expertise.

The conference sessions have gotten stronger each year by identifying areas that can assist the home improvement retail and manufacturing industry to compete against sectors that have long been standard bearers in ecommerce, such as electronics and apparel, whose online transactions accounted for 30% and 22%, respectively, of their total sales last year.

The Summit listens intently to its attendees and, as a result, has added technology service providers as participants. These providers, which the Summit qualifies, offer software, logistics and digital marketing solutions that will assist our attendees in getting up and running or expanding their online businesses.

Internet marketing is widely used by retailers and suppliers across the country. Why, then, is an event like the Summit still relevant?

Currently, there is no face-to-face online retail event that’s focused on helping the home improvement category capitalize on the organic expansion of ecommerce in this sector.

Annual online sales of home improvement and garden products are growing at double-digit rates. But the home-improvement market, in general, lags in optimizing the internet as a distribution channel. Currently, this is one market where the biggest ecommerce player is not winning, probably because that player has yet to focus on these products in a big enough way. Consequently, there are across-the-board opportunities for retailers and suppliers that compete proactively in this arena.

The Home Improvement eRetailer Summit is relevant because:

1.) It is designed exclusively for the home improvement online retail sector.

2.) It is a curated environment, managed through an invitation-only process, that creates an intimate and concentrated opportunity for attendees.

3.) It is based on reciprocal relationship building and presents real potential for participants to gain insights and takeaways they can apply to their ecommerce business challenges.

What are these opportunities out in front of home improvement dealers and suppliers for online marketing and selling?

Incremental Growth – taking advantage of the internet as a distribution channel clearly offers revenue gains for the home improvement and lawn & garden categories, especially since online shoppers are looking for more of these types of purchases online.

Expansion – retailers and suppliers have the chance to expand their brand and mind share with consumers. It’s worth noting that something like 60% of purchases start with online research.

Diversification – online retailing gives suppliers and retailers a straighter shot to hit a new shopper target: Millennials. CouponFollow conducted a research survey in January 2019 that showed Millennials make 50% of their purchases online. Retailers and manufacturers are missing out on this gigantic market segment when they don’t engage in online retail in some way, shape or form.

What are some of the common misconceptions among dealers and suppliers about what ecommerce can (or can’t) deliver?

That depends on what segment of the market you are talking about. But I believe the overall challenge is finding the right partners to collaborate with. Indeed, that’s why I developed the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit — to build relationships and trust through reciprocity instead of following a one-side-takes-all track.

Suppliers need to recognize that while Amazon is the major player, it is not the only player, especially when it comes to home-improvement and hardware products. There are independent online retailers that serve the home improvement and lawn & garden markets. And there are brick and mortar home centers and hardware stores that are expanding their online services for these goods.

Drop shipment options shouldn’t frighten suppliers, either.

The Summit has had manufacturers like Honey Can Do speak about how drop shipping can be profitable. Our event in November will have Rakuten Super Logistics discuss how implementing the right fulfillment logistics can help suppliers be more competitive.

Suppliers should also remember that online transactions aren’t just drop shipping or nothing; online retailers have distribution centers to pull from, too.

Retailers that want to sell home improvement and lawn & garden products online must help manufacturers understand their sales approaches so they can work together for the benefit of their customers.

It is sometimes a misperception among dealers and suppliers that it’s harder to control prices when selling online. It’s not impossible, but it takes strategy, monitoring and policies. Many of the Summit’s attendees are doing just that, and they’ve been willing to share their experiences.

Where do you think the industry needs to improve in order to be more fully engage ecommerce?

Companies need to make a commitment to fully integrate online retail into their business models versus conducting ecommerce as an afterthought or, worse, a separate enterprise. Fifty-six percent of online shoppers still prefer the brick and mortar shopping experience over online. So the more successful retailers are taking a holistic approach that doesn’t leave customers or dollars on the table.

What new twists can attendees expect from the upcoming Summit in November?

We are making a strong effort to invite more bricks and mortar home improvement retailers that are interested in initiating ecommerce or expanding their online retail presence. We want to hear their unique perspectives.

This year’s Summit will be more interactive. Peter Giannetti, with HomeWorld Business, will be moderator for the Summit, which is structured for direct engagement between the speakers and their audience.

As previously mentioned, the Summit is adding qualified technology service providers. These providers are invited to offer software, logistical and digital marketing solutions for attendees’ online challenges.

Any predictions about where ecommerce might be headed in the future?

Getting the logistics right is huge in order to build a profitable and sustainable online retail business. As we progress down this road, I believe that logistics and fulfillment will become more refined. You will see companies with these capabilities launch programs and services that make it easier and more efficient for dealers and suppliers to compete. Plus, software platforms will offer even more plug-ins and simpler-to-use options to enhance their value add.

How would you, as the Summit’s founder, like to expand this event over the next few years?

The Summit’s attendees keep asking for more time for education, insights, and to build on relationships they are establishing. There are so many relevant topics that we want to get to and just never enough time. That’s why we are considering adding another full day to the event in the future.