Technology Solutions Special: Moving forward

TJ Crayne provides an update on digital content initiative EPIContent – and where to go from here for dealers.


In June 2016, US dealer groups TriMega and Independent Stationers (IS), along with industry associations IOPFDA/NOPA, joined forces for the EPIContent initiative, to provide a database of non-wholesaler supported products that dealers can use within their own e-commerce platforms. 

During the past two years, the consortium has reached agreement with wholesalers Essendant and SP Richards (SPR) to provide the ‘unique’ content through their respective SmartSearch and Etilize content syndication process. 

Where is EPIContent today?

The project has been slow in gaining traction and there are still some issues that our aggregator is having with regards to getting content structured correctly to syndicate with Essendant. We hope to have these issues resolved soon. 

EPIContent is currently available for six manufacturers (Smead, Eurotech, HSM, PM Company, HON and Fellowes) with SPR. We hope to have two manufacturers — HON and HSM — available as of 1 July with Essendant. A further 20 manufacturers are engaged at various stages in aggregating their content for syndication.

It is important to note that with the significant changes in our industry and the challenges we’ve had with our syndication processes, we’re exploring options on how EPIContent should look in the future. 

One example would be to expand and include all SKUs from our supplier partners, wholesale-supported or not. This approach, while still in the discussion phase, would enable independents to support all manufacturers while focusing on the key SKUs customers are asking for. It would also allow us to quickly expand into new SKUs and adjacent categories as customers’ needs increase and diversify, ultimately putting weight behind our positioning as a local source for all products a modern office utilises.

Using EPIContent

If your company is interested in access to this content, what’s next? This depends on who your first call wholesaler is (we still have a choice at the moment), as well as your software provider.

In most cases, you need to call your software provider (3PV) and request that the catalogue be made available to you. Once it is ready for use, the content will be accessible to your system. When that is complete, getting the system to recognise it may require some extra steps.

For ECI’s ECinteractive users, the SKUs that you want to show up on the system must be added to the various Catalog Combination Indexes (CCI) assortments and catalogues that will be accessible to your target customers. EPIContent will ensure the SKU list is available to make the CCI process as easy as possible.

For most systems, if you do not have pricing information for a SKU, the content will not display. The exception to this is ECinteractive where the content will display but will not show pricing, with a message to call you to order the item. 

When you’re ready to start engaging with EPIContent, make sure you have addressed the operational side of the price update process for these items. Access pricing information from your buying group or the manufacturer — my suggestion is to work with your buying group to get proper aggregate and normalised pricing information.

Once you have access to the EPIContent catalogue, the next task is to load the pricing for the items and manufacturers that you want to sell — be sure to have the items priced correctly so that you’re competitive. 

Rick Marlette at OPSoftware has agreed to make his pricing matrix available to buying group members at no charge for one month, so your company can leverage this capability to explore how competitive pricing can be used to your advantage to create street-smart pricing. 

Generally-speaking, follow your 3PV’s recommended steps to make the items available to your e-commerce system. And finally, do some spot checking to verify the items are showing up the way you’d expect them to.

TJ Crayne is President of PTC Associates, a consulting practice that helps companies create and execute strategic initiatives with an emphasis on leveraging technology.