Print still key to Wilmar’s growth

Although Wilmar Industries is taking the plunge into e-commerce next month, the repair and maintenance products cataloger still sees print catalogs as “the cornerstone of our marketing program,” says Michael Grebe, chief operating officer of the $193 million company. Indeed, in August, Wilmar relaunched the Supply Depot catalog, which it acquired from Houston-based HMA Enterprises in 1996, and it plans to target other segments of Wilmar’s audience with spin-offs of its 1,000-page core catalog.

Part of Wilmar’s allegiance to print catalogs is that its core customer – maintenance managers of small and midsize apartment buildings – has yet to embrace e-commerce. “Apartment maintenance managers don’t have access to a computer when fixing the plumbing under the sink,” Grebe says.

The Moorestown, NJ-based company’s Website launch coincides with plans to target larger accounts. “The larger apartment complexes, which are usually run by property management companies, want to conduct business via the Internet,” Grebe notes. When it goes live in November, the Wilmar Website will sell 15,000 SKUs and give customers access to account information such as special pricing and buying history.

The print strategy

Conversely, the relaunched Supply Depot, which test-mailed this summer to 8,000 maintenance managers of small apartment complexes, is Wilmar’s first direct-mail-only effort; the company typically relies on a combination of catalog mailings and visits by fields sales reps. “But this is a segment of customers, mostly in hard-to-reach areas, that can effectively be marketed to through catalogs rather than a field sales force,” Grebe says.

Wilmar already mails each year nearly 100,000 copies of its core book, which its 235 sales reps use as a reference tool. The cataloger prints up to four versions of the flagship catalog. For instance, after buying New York-based competitor Kurzon Supply late last year, Wilmar printed a specialized version of its catalog under the Kurzon name, to take advantage of existing brand loyalty. Other versions target maintenance managers by geographic region.

But Wilmar is getting more sophisticated in terms of targeting. For instance, although the company currently publishes an institution supplies supplement for use by its field sales staff, it is considering spinning off a 150-page catalog exclusively for healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and similar large institutions, says Bill Sanford, Wilmar’s senior vice president/chief financial officer.

Sanford estimates that the institutional market is $13 billion, compared to the $3 billion apartment housing market. “Wilmar is very focused on the opportunities in other end markets and will invest more resources in these areas in the near future,” he says.