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Newsletter #26 | February 15, 2012

Building an Internet Toolkit

The Internet is a wonderful marketing tool, but when you are an independent retailer and worry about inventory, merchandising and customer service, not to mention window washing, dusting and warding off shoplifters, a website can be more of a burden than a help.

As anyone who tries to keep up with Facebook knows, the Internet, while essential, can be a real time drain. Especially if you are a retailer trying to grab product shots for your web page.

Enter a new service called Shotfarm.com. This start-up company aims to make that process more efficient by creating a free, centralized repository for product image transfer between retailers and manufacturers.

Which means retailers, with a vendor’s permission, can download product images for free. If they want to pay a little, Shotfarm.com can size images to spec; and for a bit more will add such technical whirls as zoom and 360-spin rotation on the web page (this is known as rich media).

Already used in other consumer goods businesses, the founders of shopfarm are now working with small kitchenware retailers and with their vendors, says COO Meg Robinson, who with CEO Mike Lapchick run Shotfarm.com, which is based in Chicago.

"Retailers are listing hundreds of products on their websites with no pictures because getting images from vendors is a big problem," Robinson says. She notes that manufacturers used to have to set up a special STP site, then post images on that site and give retailers the address to download those images. For a retailer, especially an independent retailer with limited staff, tracking down the STP sites of all their vendors is huge task.

And it is for small vendors, as well. By posting images of her kitchen textiles at Shotfarm.com, Lynne Rutkowski, owner of Lynne's Whim, has found new customers and has boosted relationships with her old customers. "Shotfarm.com is fabulous," says Rutkowsi, who met Robinson at last year's International Home + Housewares Show. 

"Meg pitched this free service, and I was leery of that word, free," she says. Rutkowski, however, signed on and has been using the service ever since.

"It is a no brainer. It helps me keep track of all three of my collections.” She says. When a retailer or magazine or website wants to use my images, all I have to do is grant them permission and the website sends them an invitation and they can choose the image size they need."

Before, she explains, retailers looking for images for their websites often called several times to get the photo dimensions needed, and Rutkowski then had to contact her photographer to get the proper size. Now she has no more worries about image resizing and Photoshop, which is fine with Rutkowksi who would rather focus on her primary business. As she says, "I am better with a sewing machine than a computer."

Retailers, too, find Shotfarm.com an interesting concept. Sonja Fuchs, web manager of Fargo, N.D.-based Creative Kitchens is in charge of handling a growing internet site. While she hasn't signed up for the Shotfarm.com service, Fuchs sees the need for a centralized image repository.

However, for Creative Kitchens much of the leg work has been done, she says. "Reaching out to so many vendors has been a lot of work," she says, "but it also helps build our relationships with those vendors." 

Stores handling many daily requests for images for publicity, from magazines and newspapers, would benefit from the service, but what Creative Kitchens and other small retailers really want from vendors is what Fuchs calls a "complete tool kit."  She imagines a repository including not only images, but price lists, sell sheets, upcoming promotions and any kickers planned for the year.  

"I know my vendors don't always have promotions planned out for the year, but some bigger vendors do and it would be helpful to have on my calendar," she says. "In a perfect world, that would be great."