Jamestown Distributors, a traditional mail order purveyor of materials and tools to build, repair and maintain boats, began transitioning from catalogs to digital roughly 20 years ago and went completely online in 2018.
While its business model changed to reflect the times, challenges didn’t vanish like the morning mist off the Rhode Island coast.
Before COVID-19, recreational boating was on the decline. A small business like Jamestown Distributors was at a distinct disadvantage when competing in a shrinking market against large, deep-pocketed box stores.
“The problem is … how do you remain competitive when large companies take the internet and online sales seriously?” said Dan Gendreau, director of marketing at Jamestown. “They can spend $100 million on their website, and their economy of scale offsets the costs. For us, everything has to be considered carefully and measured effectively.”
With help from the UPS Digital Connections program, Jamestown has implemented online tools that bring its site on par with large e-commerce retailers. As it turned out, the timing could not have been better.
“UPS was instrumental in connecting us with funds and technology that allowed us to acquire customer experience enhancements for our website that were previously out of reach for us,” Dan said. “When the pandemic hit, we were positioned so much better.”
The help came at an opportune time because 2020 saw more people working at home on do-it-yourself projects and purchasing (and repairing) boats. The boating market was riding the wave of increased interest in outdoor recreation.
“We have a very long history with UPS, and their assistance helped us become competitive against deep-pocketed competitors online. We were able to innovate and provide a better customer shopping experience,” he said. “We were able to think creatively, and it provided us an immediate opportunity to solve problems and implement new technology in a way that’s helpful for both parties.”
While cutting edge technology is great, old-school shipping expertise cemented the relationship.
“A carrier like UPS that knows how to handle dangerous goods is really important,” said Dan, referring to the large number of epoxies, stains and other products that fall under the guidelines governing hazardous material shipping. “UPS has the experience to handle these shipments and we have very few damaged or leaking packages.”