Ecommerce Success is Natural for Bulk Apothecary

Looking for a 570-pound tub of glycerin? Bulk Apothecary will sell you one for only $398. And it's kosher too.

 

Also available:Citric Acid (50 lb. - $75), Beeswax (55 lb. - $233) and Cocoa Butter (1000 lb. - $2588).

Even the most cursory scan of the products and prices available on Bulk Apothecary's splendid new web site (www.BulkApothecary.com) makes it perfectly clear: these guys are not fooling around.

Bulk Apothecary was established in mid-2010 and has quickly become one of the nation’s leading bulk suppliers of natural ingredients for DIY lotion-, soap- and candle-making, as well as therapeutic grade essential oils, lip balm, clays, colors,dried botanicals and flowers, seeds, waxes, butters,shampoo base, and lots more. Tools? Look no further. Pick up a Professional Grade Infra Red Laser Thermometer or a Wavy Soap Cutter for pocket change. Bulk Apothecary supplies well over 100,000 dedicated customers—and that number is growing quickly. The company goes through about 60,000 pounds of coconut oil every month and about 30,000 pounds of shea butter.

Meteoric Rise 

Bulk Apothecary's web site refers to the company's "meteoric rise." They're not kidding. "The company was founded in mid-2010," says founder and President Gary Pellegrino Jr., "and this year we should post sales somewhere north of $18 million. We're on track to be a $100 million company within the next three years. That makes us one of the quickest-growing companies in our niche industry."

What makes this feat even more impressive is that Pellegrino started the business in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in US history—and banks wouldn't work with the startup. Luckily Gary's dad's family business, Natural Essentials, had  the resources to get the new company off the ground. "It would have been a lot easier if we'd started the business three years earlier," he says.

Gary is also quick to credit his brother, Dan Pellegrino, Bulk Apothecary's Head of Operations and Gary's right-hand man. "Dan played an integral part in growing the company,"Gary affirms, "as did a dedicated staff that's always been a great and talented support system."

How did Gary get interested in natural products in the first place? "My wife Taryn has always been interested in natural products," he explains. "She does a lot of research online, looking at the new national trends, trying to get our whole family using those products as opposed to products that use harsh chemicals."

Pellegrino's first exposure to the personal products industry was Natural Essentials, a family business acquired by his dad in 1992. Pellegrino started working there that same year; he was only 12! When the economy hit a major downturn in 2008,Natural Essentials lost a couple of customers and Pellegrino started looking for a way to sell direct to the consumer. Taryn said, "Why don't we do something with natural products online?" and Bulk Apothecary was born.

Site Specifics

At least he didn't need to hire a web designer. In line with Bulk Apothecary's DIY philosophy,Pellegrino built the company's first web site himself. Starting in college, where he developed a keen interest in web sites and internet marketing, he taught himself by building a web site for Natural Essentials, then branched out to building web sites for his friends. So when it became time to build Bulk Apothecary's site it was easy for him to throw something together. Then, over the years, he kept improving on it. Late in 2012 he rolled out a complete redesign for the site—only this time he hired another developer to do all the back-end coding.

The site redesign has been hugely successful. In the very first month Bulk Apothecary saw a 25percent increase in sales—and in the six months since the new site went live monthly sales have been up substantially. "We asked our customers a lot of questions, and we got a lot of great feedback," says Pellegrino. "The biggest complaint was that the original web site wasn't as user-friendly as it might have been. So we designed something very clean, very easy to navigate, with good search functionality so customers could find what they were looking for without too many keystrokes."

In addition, the new platform includes excellent analytics which allow Pellegrino to see what people are searching for in real-time—and structure his product offerings to match. At last he doesn't have to guess about what his customers want. Now he knows what they want.

Too Much Success

Starting with a staff of three (one customer service rep, one shipping person, and Pellegrino) these days Bulk Apothecary employs just under 50 people in its Streetsboro, Ohio office. And it's growing fast. Maybe too fast.

"The economy is still not quite where we'd like it to be," says Pellegrino, "but we're still growing at a very rapid pace. Banks generally get scared when they see a company that's growing more than 20 percent annually—and we're growing by several hundred percent annually. So it's been a bit of a struggle to get the banks to see our vision, and see where we're going. We try to show them that we're very disciplined, we're not over-extending ourselves, we're not spending piles of money on infrastructure, we're sticking to our basics, we're hiring employees instead of expensive automation. We don't buy things unless we really need them, and we stay focused on our core principles."

Even the Wrong Customer Is Right

One reason Bulk Apothecary has done so well is its dedication to customer service. If a customer isn't completely happy with her purchase, she can return it within 14 days for a full refund minus shipping. No questions asked. And if she can find a better advertised price on any item Bulk Apothecary sells, the company will beat it.

"We handle all customer service in-house," says Pellegrino, "and we really, really try to give the customer the benefit of the doubt. We believe that in most cases the customer is right. And even when the customer isn't right we try to come up with a solution that's going to work for them. Even if it's an unreasonable customer, most of the time it's better to give them what they want, do the right thing, because they're going to go out and tell other people whether or not to shop on our site. We have six Customer Service Reps plus a Customer Service Manager. And the call center is located right here in Streetsboro."

As Pellegrino sees it, his company's amazing success is founded on the fact that Bulk Apothecary stays focused on what its customers want. "A lot of companies design their web site in a way that makes it easy for them," he says. "Our site is designed to make it easy for our customers. We realized from a very early point that our customers are always going to know more than we do about what they want. And we stay focused on giving them exactly what they want."

The next step in Bulk Apothecary's business plan will probably involve adding some vitamins and supplements to the site. "Most of our customers are natural-minded customers," says Pellegrino, "so it's a natural fit for us to offer products that our customers are probably already buying somewhere else."

Naturally.

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