Ven-Rez looks to grow through e-commerce with help from SBDP
Friday, January 31, 2020
You may not be surprised to learn the Toronto Public Library system is the busiest urban public library system in the world. In 2018, there were more than 17.5 million visits to its 100 branches.
What you may not know is most of the library’s shelving was manufactured here in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.
Founded in 1948, Ven-Rez Products Ltd. is a leading Canadian manufacturer of educational, institutional, and library furniture. In 2005, Ven-Rez became a member of the Shaw Group of companies.
“Our clients range from libraries and schools to hospitals and community centres,” explains Flora MacLeod, Vice President, Business Development, who sat down with us to share the history of Ven-Rez and how the business is changing strategies to keep pace in an e-commerce marketplace.
In an era of Amazon next-day delivery and global selection, customers - even those in B2B - have increasing expectations.
“Even if it's a school buying off a contract, they expect to be able to go on our website, see the product, and get pricing,” says MacLeod. “We're not quite there yet. We’ve had a definite gap in marketing without a dedicated resource.”
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That’s where Nova Scotia Business Inc.’s Small Business Development Program (SBDP) has proven to be a huge help for Ven-Rez.
The SBDP helps Nova Scotia businesses looking to increase export capacity by supporting the hiring of a consultant to provide professional expertise.
Ven-Rez leveraged SBDP to address the organization's marketing challenges, including upgrading the website architecture and renderings, and developing an enhanced digital marketing strategy, including a product finder tool and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
“We wouldn't have been able to do half of what we're doing without NSBI’s assistance," says MacLeod.
Until just a few years ago, Ven-Rez's primary sales tool was a binder. A binder filled with pages and pages of photos, product descriptions, and dimensions. Now the main sales tool is the website.
"We’re working on making our site more project based, allowing people to visualize a whole room set up instead of just a chair or a desk at a time,” explains MacLeod. “It makes it easier to picture in their mind how it’s going to look.”
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Being able to demonstrate past work is a huge sales tool for Ven-Rez. “Potential customers care less about the product numbers and tend to say, ‘Oh, I really like that classroom, and I like those tables and those chairs. I don't know what they're called, but just give me that.’”
The company is working to have online renderings for every product.
“In the olden days, to put a product on the website, we would have to build it, take a picture, and then if it got shipped out before somebody got a picture, we had to wait until it got built again,” laughs MacLeod.
The renderings allow users to view products in each of the available colours and finishes – an enhanced user experience commonly expected these days.
Growth opportunities for export
Thanks to the digital marketing project, Ven-Rez is seeing a lot of growth in web traffic, which is having a positive effect on its bottom line.
"It's funny – once you add something to the website, suddenly it starts to sell."
With a dedicated sales resource in Ontario, Ven-Rez is eyeing growth opportunities for export in that market, as well as Western Canada. They are also developing a new type of shelving – European style - a key piece of the market they’re well-positioned to capture.
“We've done a couple of big jobs with the Winnipeg Public Library working directly with their architects,” says MacLeod. “The beauty of our library shelving is it does have a lot of standard components, but the end panels can be pretty much whatever the architect can dream up.”
Ven-Rez and MacLeod have developed a strong relationship with NSBI’s Regional Business Development Advisor for Shelburne, Malinda Matchett. “Malinda and her team have felt like advocates for us. I can tell that she wants us to succeed.”