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Embracing Change: Connecting Our Community Through Technology

As I look at my 30-year career in the gift and home industry, I think about the people and businesses I’ve worked with. Straight out of college, I decided to work in a family business and pursue a career in sales. I started as a road representative, covering southwestern Ontario, and it’s been an amazing journey of discovery and building relationships with the people that make up our community of entrepreneurs. I’m very lucky to have never regarded my career as a job.  

Throughout this pandemic, we’ve compressed 10 years of retail and wholesale evolution into a span of 18 months. I don’t recall any other time when our industry has gone through such dramatic change and adversity. From adversity comes opportunity and we’ve all learned so much about our businesses and ourselves. We’ve come together as a community to help each other move forward. It has left us feeling bewildered, vulnerable, and questioning what the future will hold as well as how we’ll adapt and pivot our businesses.  

0035_PWP_JuniperLV21_IR-550I’ve spent the last several months speaking to many close colleagues and friends about how they’ve adapted and what they see for the future. We all agree that the rapid changes we’re experiencing are very impactful and wonder what the new normal will look like. During the pandemic, technology has enabled us not only to withstand monumental change, but also to enhance our connectivity.  

The Great Disruptor 

However, technology has also disrupted our lives in both positive and negative ways. With dozens of ecommerce and marketplace platforms to choose from, the choices can seem overwhelming. As the world continues to become globally connected, sales technology has become more complex and costly. Navigating a matrix of technological components – ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, marketplace platforms, sales automation and CRM tools, websites, data management and more – can be fragmented and confusing with seemingly endless choices. Deciding on the most cost-effective, highest ROI is paramount to success.  

The good news is that today technology doesn’t have to be complicated or cost prohibitive. It’s no longer necessary to have a full-time IT department to be successful. Now tech products are more affordable and accessible. From simple off-the-shelf website design programs to transactional and fully integrated systems, there are products suited for businesses of all sizes.  

Our industry will use technology to continue to evolve – blending the physical with the digital. While we will never lose the desire to experience a face-to-face meeting, to touch, feel, and smell the products that we sell, technology also enables us to connect – anytime and everywhere – with our customers and our colleagues. Technology can help to elevate our overall experience.  

1348_PWP_Juniper_AMSummer21-550

HERE ARE A FEW SIMPLE QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS WE MOVE FURTHER INTO THE DIGITAL AGE:  

  • What does your digital strategy look like? 
  • Is your digital strategy meeting your goals? Where can you do better? 
  • Are you spending enough time and resources on your digital strategies? 
  • Is your digital and ecommerce business fully-integrated into your other systems? 
  • How are your key stakeholders, internal staff, sales team, and customers connected and how does it impact their world? 

Good technology is not about replacing people but helping connect people and businesses more efficiently, whether at markets or on the road. The key to growing our industry is building a seamless connection between physical and digital markets while supporting all the unique small and medium businesses that make our industry so special.  

This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 Issue of InStore

Ray Shikatani has worked in the wholesale gift market for more than 30 years, most recently joining JuniperCommerce as country manager for Canada. Prior to that Ray was the president and a partner with David Youngson and Associates and served on the board of directors for the Canadian Gift Association. Ray can be reached at shikatani@junipercommerce.com