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Great Northern: Boxing Out The Competition

Thu, 03/21/2013 - 4:04pm

In 2007, with the intention of growing the company’s sales channel and increasing revenue through acquisition of new customers, Bill Calengor, Vice President of Great Northern Corporation (Creative Carton at the time) set out to expand on its traditional business model and bring its corrugated box business online under a new brand. While the corrugated industry was lagging behind the ecommerce trend, Great Northern was sure that it could capitalize on the opportunity presented by ecommerce with custom corrugated packaging made to the customer’s specifications. While corrugated products were traditionally sourced at a local level due to the costs associated with shipping, bringing the opportunity for customized box creation to the consumer would likely offet any additional printing costs and Great Northern wanted to set the industry trend.

The vision for the site was simple, but brilliant. Great Northern wanted to emulate the just-in-time online printing models used with paper goods and launch a new website that would offer custom-made corrugated boxes to anyone, anywhere. In addition, the site would provide real-time quoting capability on custom box orders—a customer service opportunity where the industry was notoriously lacking. The question was how best to launch such an initiative. Matt Ruggle, Marketing Manager at Great Northern Corporation, was brought on board specifically to launch the custom corrugated box platform into the world of ecommerce. With years of ecommerce experience garnered from time spent working for a major commercial printing and communications corporation, Ruggle knew that Great Northern would need a skilled solution provider to make the vision a reality.

 

Great Northern considered a number of providers but quickly decided to work with Insite Software on the project using InsiteCommerce to power the site. “While we knew that a number of the providers we considered could actually build an ecommerce site for us, Insite Software consulted with us to fully understand our vision for the site as well as how we wanted the new business to operate,” said Ruggle. “The team designed a series of creative concepts—one of which we tweaked and is still the branding you see today on CustomBoxesNow.com.”

Great Northern laid out an aggressive time table for the project and Insite Software didn’t back down. Ruggle states that in spite of the short timeline from concept to launch, the CustomBoxesNow.com site considered and incorporated all the highly specialized business rules and workflows associated with creating a custom corrugated package. Not only did the site have to account for the details of each box customization option and deliver real-time price quoting based on the specifications of the order, it also had to consider project routing, which machine the custom piece would run on most efficiently, and the labor costs associated with that piece of equipment. “We were able to communicate directly with the programmer working on our site. I have a technical background and this direct communication helped us maintain the momentum of the project and allowed us to meet our aggressive launch deadline,” reports Ruggle.

Three months after approving the site design concepts, CustomBoxesNow.com went live. Traffic to the site was slow at first, but Ruggle and his team spent time working on optimizing the ecommerce site’s SEO and were quickly rewarded with increased traffic. It was clear to Ruggle and Great Northern that the market was out there for custom boxes and that customers would gladly pay a premium to have a box designed specifically for their needs. Through CustomBoxesNow.com, Great Northern realized its goals and tapped into a customer base they would not have found without ecommerce.

However, they didn’t stop there. Over the next three years, Great Northern built and launched three more sites using the InsiteCommerce platform, as well as an integrated custom box portal for their existing customers. The custom portal was a value-add for their current customers as well as a pivotal tool for the Great Northern sales team during sales calls. The portal allowed existing customers to easily place orders as well as view their account history, generate reports and review pre-negotiated pricing levels.

Ruggle encourages other manufacturers to “take the first step and launch an ecommerce site. Find out if there’s a market out there. You can always refine once the site is live. The important part is to get started.”

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