OKLAHOMA CITY -- Looking to broaden its opportunities for new technology partners and a stronger customer base, Fleming Cos. here spun off assets of its business-to-business portal May 2 to Cerespan.com, a new stand-alone portal initially focused on the retail food industry.
The new portal links more than 4,000 stores to more than 150 consumer-product suppliers already signed on with Fleming's Visionet, an existing extranet for communicating product and price information, among other types of data, to the wholesaler and vendor community. Headquartered in Atlanta, the new portal, Cerespan.com, will build on Visionet's customer and vendor relationships to make them available, with additional technology features in a more open fashion, to those in the retail food-industry supply chain.
"As we began evaluating Visionet last summer, we recognized we had a key B2B vehicle. Why not move to give the whole industry a head start?" said Fleming executive vice president for business development, Bill Marquard. "The portal has grown quite a bit within Fleming, but its real potential is to stretch across multiple food retail industry companies by becoming an open system." He explained that while with Visionet any distributor including Fleming can have a premium channel to communicate just to the stores it serves, the new portal's open architecture enables Fleming and others to issue their bulletins to all manufacturers. The main core of the new portal offers a consumer-products promotion workstation to enable this direct communication.
While Fleming is a majority owner in Cerespan.com now, it expects to become a minority owner as the venture expands to include new technology and investment partners to further ensure its independence. Marquard claims that the reason for the new portal spinoff is not related to Fleming's earlier announced cost cuts. "Quite the reverse. We knew the site would be much more valuable if made available to the whole industry." He noted that the more investors and participants involved in the new portal site the better. "We'd rather own a small piece of a big pie than a big piece of a small pie."
Fleming's involvement in the new portal "is related to growth initiatives that Fleming just announced in distribution, value retailing and e-commerce, including fulfillment supply and business-to-business," added Fleming media spokesman Shane Boyd. The portal already facilitates in excess of $5 million per week in retailers' orders placed with consumer packaged-goods manufacturers who are subscribers.
"The whole point of the new portal is to help our retailers operate more efficiently," Boyd said. Besides the consumer-product promotion application, the Web-based portal features an order-management system, and bid/auctions that enable retailers to aggregate buying power with vendors, intranet capabilities, item catalogs and bulletins for paperless marketing.
The new portal is designed "to offer a one-stop shopping service to simplify and improve the quality of life for retailers," said Steve Aase, vice president of sales, marketing and community development for Cerespan.com. Aase explained that while the average lag time for a retailer to respond to a manufacturer now is typically a couple of weeks, with the new portal a manufacturer can post a promotion for retailers instantaneously. While many large stores buy direct anyway, the new site's instantaneous capability can broaden coverage, especially for smaller manufacturers, according to Fleming officials.
Educating the retailer and creating a chance to be more proactive is part of the business model behind the Cerespan.com site, Boyd noted. The portal offers strong opportunities for analytic capabilities, such as a forum for pricing. For example, Boyd said, if a manufacturer wants to post a Fourth of July promotion, "this is a way for retailers to look at the ads, point-of-purchase data, and exact pricing information to assemble a more cost-efficient deal for hotdogs, chips, burgers and tablecloths."
The new portal enables manufacturers to communicate merchandising information immediately through the site, to which retailers can quickly respond for precise order fulfillment. Likewise, if a manufacturer wants to offer a celebrity spokesman for the same Fourth of July promotion, it can include a video stream of him on the site to "turbocharge" the promotion, Boyd said.
He added that distributors like Fleming can also design their own advertisements for the site, saving huge time-and-paper mailing costs. The new portal is not only undergoing negotiations to expand its network of stores and executives, but aims to expand its offerings to the retail drug and hardware industries as well, Marquard added.