Portal.io is launching a new B2B platform that has a very familiar feel to it. Dubbed Portal Select, smart-home integrators are getting their version of Amazon's seemingly endless catalog, and a ton of juicy incentives to keep them around.
With an official demonstration slated for CEDIA 2017, Portal Select "provides dealers instant access to industry products from participating suppliers," three-day shipping (or less), and an industry-wide rewards program.
And for better or for worse - read better for the CI industry and worse for Amazon - Portal is likely to push revenue back to distributors and vendors own dealer portals and streamline a vital part of interacting with clients.
“Industry data shows that over 20% of dealer purchasing has moved outside the channel, to retailers and e-tailers (such as Amazon) because it’s plain easier than doing business with the traditional industry players.” observes Lawrence Davis III, VP of Supplier Relations for Portal. “We saw an opportunity to bring that business back to the channel - to our industry partners - by reducing the friction between dealers and suppliers. The Portal team, our investors, our vendor partners, and most importantly our dealers, believe that Portal Select represents the future of business for our industry.”
The inception of Portal Select stems from former Kirk Chisholm's frustration to get product efficiently. The former Chicago integrator started the infantile SupplyStream a few years ago, with the lofty goal of streamlining a dealer's entire order process. Chisholm and his team efficiently eliminated digging for suppliers, comparison shopping, settling for similar products simply because they were in stock, and waiting for vendor/distributor authorization to get your hands on the product.
SupplyStream was a one-stop shop purchasing platform to research, propose, and purchase technology. Fast forward three short years, SupplyStream rebranded to Portal, redesigned their UI, eliminated dealer fees, launched an iPhone app, opened their API to approved third-party providers, streamlined project proposals with customers, and made good on a commitment to more than 5,000 dealers.
“As former dealers, we found the process of getting setup with a new supplier extremely painful. We felt that doing business in the industry should be much easier” says Chisholm, founder of Portal. “Building an industry catalog and proposal tool for dealers was only the first step to improving the process. Proposals simply laid the foundation for solving the bigger problem - Improving the product procurement experience for the entire industry.”
Building on the newly revamped Portal, Portal Select is a natural transition regarding efficiency. Their goal to improve business operations revolves around a single place for procurement mobile friendly experience, product stock status, fast and free shipping, easy payment, and rewards.
For vendors, Portal Select provides exposure to the entire Portal dealerbase, as well as a turn-key solution for order processing and reward management. Currently, Key Digital, Legrand (Nuvo & On-Q), MartinLogan, Metra, Plateau, SurgeX, Titan Networx, and Tributaries have signed on for the launch of Portal Select. Portal also offers 1% back on orders but some Portal Select products pay more. (For instance, Legrand and Key Digital offer 2% on Portal Select items. )
But let's investigate a few tinfoil hat possibilities.
My gut feeling was that Portal Select is a platform intended to bypass distributors altogether. In a way, Portal Select will become the biggest distributor to exist. How could distributors remain relevant when Portal select exists?
"We don't ship products, we facilitate transactions between dealers and suppliers," said Josh Willits, VP of Dealer Happiness for Portal. "We don't take on the role of a distributor. Dealers order products from distributors and manufacturers - we just make it easier."
In the case of Amazon, manufacturers have begun opening up lines and cracking to the demands simply because it is so efficient to use a product aggregation service - such as Portal Select. One of the biggest problems with Amazon is their ability to leverage manufacturers into giving them product lines or risk losing all access to their services.
So how would Portal avoid those same bad habits? Willits says Portal simply can't exist on those maneuvers. Portal serves a niche B2B industry and strong-arming partners would never work. Portal Select is simply an optional service for vendors designed to improve the overall buying experience for dealers.
"Amazon is a retailer that sells any product they can procure, and can subsequently remove any of those products or line of products," Willits said. "They have no obligation to their users to offer a complete catalog of products. Portal, however, is an industry catalog of products first and foremost."
"Limiting access to any product data and the ability to place orders with the vendor of choice would break down our user experience and our value proposition to our customers," he added.
The notion that this could materialize means that Portal would have to go against their priority to support the CI community, not fragment it. There is also the obvious logistical problems of storing product, something that Amazon only solved by throwing money at.
Portal Select mostly has an "all ships rise with the tide" feel to it, while also generating a ton of momentum in the industry. Their collection of data is very reminiscent of Amazon, even worse they could end up giving (read selling) that data to Amazon who would love to know the intricacies of the growing CI community.
Crumpling up the tinfoil hat, Portal's journey is nothing short of fascinating. They have grabbed a market and found a solution to a legitimate pain point. Portal offers a wide variety of services and should be celebrated for their endeavors.