DELAVAN–Most people look at a General Electric refrigerator water filter as something that needs replacing every six months.
Jeff Peterson and Mark Becker, however, look fondly on the 11-inch plastic part as the product that in 2009 put their start-up company onto a path of five successive years of sales growth exceeding 25 percent.
Peterson and Becker founded Geneva Supply in a 12,000-square-foot airplane hangar in Burlington.
Since then, the global wholesaler has ascended through an Elkhorn warehouse and landed in a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Delavan.
Along the way, employment skyrocketed from one to 32.
Selling only business to business, Geneva Supply made itself a middleman to help manufacturers sell products more efficiently to Internet retailers, big box stores and other distributors.
For Geneva Supply, that primarily involves Amazon.com, Home Depot and a large association of distributors, manufacturers, agents and affiliates serving the light construction/industrial market.
“We have positioned ourselves in the middle of the supply channel with the goal of bringing products into channel segments that a manufacturer needs help,” said Becker, who, along with Peterson, has a background in wholesale.
The fourth quarter of every year is Geneva Supply’s busiest season.
Sales in October and November generally account for one-fourth of the year’s total, said Becker, the company’s chief operations office.
That’s not because consumers turn to Amazon and other online retailers for Christmas gifts of water filters, Kingsford charcoal or any of the 100,000 other items Geneva Supply ships from Delavan.
It’s more because online shopping ramps up in advance of the holidays and consumers find and buy everyday items they need, Peterson said.
“At that time of year, there are many more people on Amazon, and they see all the things that Amazon offers,” he said.
Peterson and Becker started the company with the water filters bought at a discount from GE.
They showed up on pallets, each individually wrapped.
The price of each, however, was too low to qualify for Amazon’s free shipping.
“We didn’t know the water filter market, but we did know you are supposed to change them every six months,” said Peterson, chief revenue officer.
“We thought, ‘Why can’t we package two of them together, which would qualify for free shipping?’”
The company did, and the two-packs sold.
Geneva Supply then experimented with larger packs and found a market with service technicians who liked the cost savings.
“Our manufacturers use us to kit, re-box, re-label and consolidate products,” Becker said.
They also use Geneva Supply as a marketing arm.
The company shoots photos, engages in social media and creates Amazon web pages for the manufacturers’ products.
“Manufacturers do what they do … they make things,” Peterson said. “But they aren’t always adept at the sales and marketing side, particularly when it comes to online channels.
“They often don’t understand the domino effect of what it takes to do big business in online channels.”
Peterson said Geneva Supply helps manufacturers capitalize on Amazon’s reputation for low prices, quick shipping and an overall positive shopping experience.
“A lot of the buying decision is the ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling consumers get shopping on Amazon,” he said. “We do the ‘warm and fuzzy’ really well. We learn what manufacturers need and become the one-stop shop for them.”
With the success of filter sales, Amazon asked Geneva Supply to solve another problem.
The wife of a high-ranking Amazon executive ordered what she thought was a Moen faucet.
It arrived, followed shortly thereafter by her plumber and his trip charge.
The plumber asked for the faucet’s valve. The wife had unknowingly ordered just the trim piece.
There was no valve with the order.
“We then started packaging the trim pieces with the valves,” Peterson said. “We quickly became a problem solver for Amazon.”
Gaia Herbs is another example.
The company was selling direct to Amazon but had packaging and breakage problems.
Geneva Supply solved those, handled the company’s Amazon sales and helped the company nearly triple its annual Amazon sales.
Consumers never see Geneva Supply’s name associated with their orders. The product’s web page says the item is sold and shipped by Amazon, another “warm and fuzzy” feature, Peterson said.
“The customer buys from Amazon, which buys from us,” he said. “We ship to Amazon fulfillment centers, and they ship it to the customer.”
‘WHAT CAN WE SELL?’
Geneva Supply works with about 150 different manufacturers in home improvement, sporting goods, consumer electronics, personal care and hydroponics.
It has surrounded its wholesale business with a suite of services that includes web page set-up, Internet-friendly product pictures and current product info and pricing.
In 2011, the company formed a third-party logistics division that allows manufacturers to use its warehouse as an extension of their own.
“We have the greatest jobs in the world,” Peterson said. “Every day is a challenge that we have fun with.
“Mark and I have lunch together about 90 percent of the time, and all we do is talk about opportunities: What can we sell online?”
– See more at www.gazettextra.com