How eCig Distributors Grew from a Local Retail Business to an International Ecommerce Success With Effective Inventory Management
The folks behind eCig Distributors have always been trailblazers. They opened the third vape shop in all of Southern California in March 2013, and they were also the first U.S.-based supply chain to serve their industry.
When running his brick-and-mortar business, Corben Madden (now CTO of the company) had to use unreliable suppliers in China — investing tens of thousands of dollars in product that he couldn’t guarantee would arrive in time to meet customer demand.
Chatting about the challenge one day with his friend Billy Wilson, current CEO of eCig, the two decided to put an idea to the test: What if they started the first U.S.-based supply chain company for the smokeless tobacco industry? “We decided we would test the market and put up a landing page, so we bought ecig distributors.com,” says Wilson. “We didn’t have any product yet, but had a landing page and a Google voice number .” Nearly two months later, the phone rang for the first time, and they had to scramble to put together their first-ever product list.
“We really started out as a traditional brick-and-mortar distributor who had a website. Then we delved into the online, ecommerce space and selling products direct to consumers.” – Billy Wilson
Early on, the home-based business was operating out of product-filled bedrooms. And then they began to grow, acquiring both eliquid.com and ejuices.com, and expanding from 30 to 100 brands. Then shop owners and buyers from all over the world began to inquire about wholesale.
To better serve their unique market of retailers, wholesalers, and distributors, eCig manages nine different Shopify accounts. However, without a centralized inventory system, the eCig team found challenges in efficiently and accurately managing inventory and orders across their multi-channel business — leading to costly errors and time-consuming manual processes.
“Making sure we had a proper inventory management system was a big issue for us because we have really, really fast turnover,” says Wilson. “The rest of the supply chain still isn’t that solid, so lead times vary.”
eCig used to set everything to oversell through Shopify, literally driving to local retail stores who still had their products in stock to fulfill orders when they ran out. “We would drive every evening to all the local distributors that had their products, because there were still so many exclusives in place, and go pick up bottles, says Wilson. “There were four or five of us driving around every night, showing up with hundreds of bottles the next day to try to get ahead of demand.”
Anticipating demand was where eCigs faced their biggest challenge. “It was so difficult to tell where it was coming from,” Wilson says. Shopify’s inventory management wasn’t robust enough to help them stay in control, especially because they had limited space to hold stock.
Because of so many external factors that make inventory management a challenge, it was hard for eCig to keep up. With such fast inventory turnover and unpredictable, ever-changing lead times, finding the sweet spot for stock levels was nearly impossible. “Finding a proper inventory management system was a big issue for us,” says Wilson.
“We’ve always employed the ‘build it, break it, fix it’ mentality,” says Wilson. “We’d set out to solve whatever became the squeakiest wheel or the biggest friction point.” When they got to the point where five employees were spending time and resources on driving all around to pick up product on a nightly basis, they knew they needed a meaningful solution that could accommodate their growth — at the time and in the future.
Thus began their search for a robust inventory management software. They looked at tools like Brightpearl and TradeGecko, but they weren’t the right fit for their unique needs. “[Stitch Labs] was the only solution out there that was doable for us,” says Madden.
In addition to helping them manage multiple channels, eCigs needed an IMS that would work well with Shopify and ShipStation, two tools that are integral to their business. Stitch Labs integrates with each of eCig’s Shopify accounts to consolidate inventory and order data into one central location for better visibility and control. Using the Stitch API, the eCig’s team customizes Shopify and Stitch to suit their specific business needs.
And as we constantly update those integrations here at Stitch, to keep them current and add new features, the eCig team says it’s been invaluable to meeting their ever-changing needs.
- Shopify integration
- Master of stock (pushing stock values to Shopify)
- Multi-channel inventory management
- Purchase orders
- API integrations
“Before Stitch Labs we were just kind of eyeballing it and just trying to make sure we had more than what was going to be ordered.” – Corben Madden
eCig has upgraded from Madden’s spare bedroom to a 35,000-square-foot warehouse and has found Stitch to be the only solution that’s flexible and scalable enough to accommodate their rapid growth. They have complete visibility and control over inventory and orders across all of their Shopify accounts. “We can run sales more efficiently without worrying about stock-outs,” Wilson says.
They also leverage unique automation through the API to save hours of manual order management. The purchasing team manually inputs purchase orders, while the product team ensures the automations are working and data is linking correctly — and Stitch does the rest. “We’re starting to work on automating our purchase order process through the API to be able to put purchase orders into Stitch Labs automatically,” says Madden. “We actually order from ourselves — it’s a unique thing.”
eCig Distributors inventory management by the numbers:
- 30,000+ SKUs
- 2,000+ brands
- 20 new brands/day
- 9 Shopify accounts
- 5 websites
- 35,000-square-foot warehouse
Stitch has been able to support eCig’s growth, too. “We add around 20 new brands many days of the week, so the ability to do that and sync inventory across five sites — and do it all efficiently — is important,” Madden says. And after the multi-warehousing functionality launched, eCig merged their three separate accounts — retail, wholesale, and distribution — and could manage it all from one place.
eCig has fully integrated Stitch into their retail operations. “Stitch Labs is one of those critical apps that we don’t really have to touch,” says Madden.
“Stitch Labs has given us the ability to operate several high traffic websites more effectively and efficiently by reducing inventory issues related to selling quick turn CPG products.” – Billy Wilson, CEO | eCig Distributors
For more information on eCig Distributors, visit www.ecigdistributors.com
Before Stitch Labs we were just kind of eyeballing it and just trying to make sure we had more than what was going to be ordered. [With Stitch], we can run sales more efficiently without worrying about stock-outs.
Billy Wilson, CEO | eCig Distributors