Amid today’s plethora of online retailers, it’s easy to find almost any kind of everyday goods, unless you’re a consumer who wants to shop exclusively American-made products. Geralyn Breig (W’84), founder and Chief Executive Officer of AnytownUSA.com, describes the innovative and efficient processes her company has put in place to fill this niche and provide shoppers with verifiably American-sourced products.
With extensive experience in consumer product innovation, Breig has built a career on identifying and fulfilling customer needs. As AnytownUSA navigates changing trends in consumer preferences, they have developed a number of procedures to bolster their transparency and integrity credentials. Brieg describes their processes for pre-screening manufacturers and crafters, optimizing their assortment of products, and riding the waves of technological change to bring customers the online shopping experience they’re looking for, at a price they’re willing to pay.
An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.
Harbir Singh: What are the biggest risks you see in this business, the things that you really would like to make sure you get right?
Geralyn Breig: We definitely want to get integrity and transparency right. That was something we emphasized from the very start. We definitely wanted to get the product assortment right. It’s very easy to go upscale with American-made products because there are a lot of beautiful hand-crafted things that are super well done, such as woodwork. But you don’t buy those things very often, you don’t need them very often, and they’re not very accessible price points. So we want to get the assortment of everyday products right at accessible price points. Then it’s up to us to meet the right sellers who have integrity, bring them on board, talk to them, go through the two-step certification process, and drive the traffic. It’s a win-win for the sellers and ourselves.
Singh: I have of course, been to your website and I thought it was really interesting in terms of the kinds of products you have there. They are very much everyday products. I thought that was really fascinating. So why did somebody not occupy this space before? Or did somebody occupy it but not do it right?
Breig: There are a few sites out there that I would say did not do it right. They did it right in their own way, I suppose. Some of them have a political angle, so I would say that that’s a much more narrow focus. Some of them actually hold inventory, so that’s going to limit how broad an assortment they can carry because they have to put out cash to hold inventory. Some of them only do 100%-made-in-the-U.S. products, and that’s going to be limiting as well. You can buy anything you want as long as it’s a mug with an eagle on it. We carry all three types that are allowable and labelable by the Federal Trade Commission. It’s just we insist people label the product appropriately along with the guidelines. We believe that we’ve got a really great assortment for people to shop, and we have the transparency of what the content is so that people can make their own decisions. If you want to only buy 100%-made-in-the-U.S., you can shop the site that way, but if you want to buy something that’s substantially transformed in the U.S. but has a little bit of imported material, that’s fine too. We leave it up to the consumer to decide.
“The more you do to make it easy for folks, … the more successful it is to enable them to come on board.” – Geralyn Breig
Singh: One of the big innovations that some retailers have done is in the supply chain, and I think that requires finding suppliers who are more compatible. I think you’re already doing that, but is the scale of that complicated or is it easy to manage? I think with clothing, for example, there is a vast number of suppliers.
Breig: Right. We are not having trouble finding suppliers. It’s a lot of leg work, but we are meeting them and finding them and signing them up at a good clip. Some folks who traditionally sold through wholesale were not originally set up to do drop shipping to individual consumers. Over the two years we’ve been working the idea, more people are able to do drop shipping. We’ve recently hooked up to a system called ShipStation that allows people to warehouse their product and ship it out more simply, so it enabled us to reach a whole other group of vendors. The more you do to make it easy for folks (a lot of whom are smaller operations) by taking more work off of them, the more successful it is to enable them to come on board.
Singh: That’s a really interesting point you’ve made: identifying suppliers and trying to find those who are not already fully occupied, but have the kind of attributes you were thinking about. Have you run into any issues of qualifying them for quality and so on to ensure that they actually enhance your online marketplace?
Breig: I wouldn’t say quality because we’re going to high-quality shows where you have to put up $40,000 just to attend.
Singh: So you’re pre-screening them from that.
Breig: That’s right, that is a pre-screen right there. I have someone who’s been a lead merchant for 30-plus years doing the screening, so she knows her stuff. It’s more that some folks we met early on had some of their production in the U.S. and some of their production overseas. If they coded the product wrong, there was a potential that we could get the wrong stuff. We had to sort that early on, and we did. And then a couple of people that we met in the very beginning who were making things such as cellphone cases in the U.S. called us up and said, “You know what? I’ve shifted my production.” They were no longer a valid vendor for us because they moved overseas. It’s more like that, but because we’re meeting people individually and have our screening process, we have enough checks on it at the moment.
Singh: It looks like you’re getting pretty close to the price point of other retailers or marketplaces that source from overseas.
Breig: Do you know why? It’s because we’re giving these folks a retail margin. So they have some room there that they can price the things appropriately.
“All of those skills, they all play and come together.” – Geralyn Breig
Singh: Very interesting. So tell us more about how your prior experience played into this. I think you already talked a bit about your work with Clarks, but also other places.
Breig: Well, Wharton was a really great start for me. I went straight out of Wharton to Procter & Gamble, which is where I got my informal MBA in terms of business, wonderful training in branding, and how to understand the consumer. I worked in the beauty category there and I worked in the beauty category again later at Avon. The constant lesson is how to listen to consumers and understand what they want. I also did retail at Godiva, and in a sense at Avon too. There, you’re listening to the customer because it’s all about selling. At Avon in particular, it’s about recruiting. I was recruiting 900,000 new Avon representatives a year, every year. And that’s what we’re doing here. When we are recruiting sellers, we need to go out and recruit an army of sellers. At Avon every year, we recruited the equivalent or more of the U.S. military.
All of those skills, they all play and come together. The only skill I’m not using right now in this business is global. But eventually the next market we want to go to is China, because the next group of consumers who are very interested in American-made products — which is ironic — is the Chinese market, because of the quality.
About Our Guest
Geralyn Breig (W’84) is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of AnytownUSA.com, an online marketplace for U.S.-made products. Their mission is to help customers purchase quality American-made goods from artists and craftsmen, small and medium manufacturers and national brands across the United States.
Prior to starting AnytownUSA, Breig was the President of Clarks, General Manager of Avon USA, President of Godiva Chocolatier International, and Vice President of Marketing for the Campbell Soup’s Biscuit Division. Breig holds B.S. degree in Economics from The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
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