Wholesale site provides additional channel for producers, brokers and buyers
Holiday buying guide launched in October
General News - October, 2011
By Rocelle Aragon
Just 15 months after coming online, Buyers' Best Friend (BBF), a site founded by a food broker and a software engineer, has become the world's largest wholesale catalog for specialty products. The site sells only to accredited wholesale buyers, and at press time carried more than 86,000 SKUs from almost 1,500 sellers. The majority is specialty food, but kitchenware, cookware and other categories are also represented.
Based in San Francisco, www .bbfdirect.com is free for sellers to join and list their products. Revenue is generated from upgrade options and ads. Over 2,000 registered, pre-qualified buyers use the site, including retailers such as Bi-Rite, Zingerman's and Zabar's. The site features many endorsements from both sellers and buyers, mostly on how the site saves time and grows sales. Buyers can purchase from multiple producers or brokers at once, without having to open new accounts for each; sellers are immediately connected to buyers all over the country.
By end-2011, the site hopes to hit over 100,000 SKUs, from more than 2,000 sellers. Its conservative projection for year-end is more than 30,000 cases of product sold. Toward that goal, the site launched a Holiday Buying Guide mini-site in October, specifically for seasonal products and orders. A similar mini-site during the recent Summer Fancy Food Show drew hundreds of visitors and order inquiries, and a second is planned for the upcoming winter show. A wholesale buyers' portal in partnership with the upcoming Good Food awards is also in the works.
The insight on the specialty food industry and its needs comes via Joyce Guan, BBF co-founder and Vice President of Sales. An independent broker who also maintains her business separate from BBF, Guan noticed how much of her workday was consumed by travel and repetitive paperwork-instead of strategy, building relationships or actual sales. "It was all very fragmented, and I knew there had to be a better way," she said. Guan spoke to her partner Sah, who wrote a software program to simplify her work. Other brokers began requesting their own versions, and BBF was born.
An important factor in BBF's growth is how easy it is for producers to set up shop. "If you can email us a PDF of your catalog and an Excel file of prices, you can start selling," says Adam Sah, the site's co-founder and CEO. A former senior software engineer at Google, Sah is familiar with processing masses of real-time data and the security required for e-commerce.
The site is also unusually transparent. Buyers can search for vendors by product category, price level, sales volume, sample availability and as new or established sellers. New orders, buyers, sellers-with amounts concealed for confidentiality--hot products and hot producers are regularly updated and displayed onscreen, creating an addictive snapshot of what is actually selling in the wholesale specialty market. Industry professionals have also contributed original articles on the wholesale food system, choosing and working with a co-packer.
Though still mainly serving the U.S. market, the site has also drawn international interest. "Frankly, the excitement from international buyers and sellers was a surprise to us, and we're still figuring it all out," says Sah. "Meanwhile, the catalog is maintaining a nice balance of mostly domestic brands and some aspiring international brands, and since we break out minimum order sizes and available distributors, it's pretty easy for domestic buyers to navigate." To help serve international buyers, BBF has partnered with experienced domestic sellers, exporters and a few overseas distributors, and has facilitated introductions for buyers in Canada, Japan, Australia and Mexico.