Jason Del Rey

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The Grommet Mulls a Wholesale Marketplace to Play Matchmaker for Inventors and Retailers

Up to now, The Grommet has focused all of its energy on introducing innovative products such as SodaStream and Fitbit directly to shoppers.

The Grommet CEO Jules Pieri

The Grommet CEO Jules Pieri

Now it’s considering creating a wholesale marketplace to help the inventors it works with get far greater distribution.

Over the last few weeks, the company has been surveying retailers to see if there’s an appetite for bulk buying of the inventions it helps launch. If the company sees the survey results it wants, it will soon launch a wholesale platform to match inventors looking to sell at greater scale with independent retailers in search of innovative products.

“It sounds so fundamental,” The Grommet CEO Jules Pieri said, “but finding innovative products is not so easy.”

Early responses are promising. In fact, the No. 1 pain point among those retailers surveyed is exactly that — “finding innovative products.”

In the past, The Grommet has introduced some of its product makers to big-box retailers. But the capital needed to fulfill those kinds of orders is substantial, and the inventors capable of fulfilling those orders are few and far between.

The Grommet’s wholesale marketplace, on the other hand, would serve independent retailers — many of which have 10 or fewer locations and often have trouble securing minimum buys.

“Sometimes they want to try just a dozen units,” she said. “As a result, they have trouble getting competitive pricing.”

Pieri said about half of the companies The Grommet works with want to sell to retailers. However, she estimates that only about a quarter of them are really ready.

From a business standpoint, the wholesale marketplace should be cost effective if sufficient demand is there. Using Magento software, The Grommet can basically create a mirror image of its consumer site for wholesale buyers. The margins, of course, will be less, but the platform is essentially in place.

The platform has been on the drawing board in some fashion for the last four years, but up to now, The Grommet didn’t have the time or the resources to create it. Now it has some help: Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten acquired a majority stake of The Grommet in May.

The Grommet’s wholesale survey comes on the heels of Etsy’s launch of the Etsy Wholesale platform, which aims to connect makers of handmade goods with retail operations.

In an ideal world, Pieri said, Grommet goods sold in stores would come with QR codes or some other interactive element that would trigger the shopper’s smartphone to launch one of the narrative product-demo videos that have become the site’s calling card.

Speaking of which, here’s a video of one of The Grommet’s recent product launches that I think is pretty awesome: A bottle-opener/letter-opener/screwdriver called Pocket Monkey:

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— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald