Why I Founded MerchantFuse

I have been around retail my whole life and grew up in a retail family business, so I never thought I would start a tech company.  My mother's father ran a jewelry store, and my father's father started a chain of off-price clothing stores, where my father also worked.  I always thought that I might end up working in the family business.

After college I decided that I wanted to learn more about the retail business and went to work as an assistant buyer at Bed Bath & Beyond. Bed Bath & Beyond is a great company to work for because it gives employees at every level of the organization an opportunity to take on entrepreneurial initiatives.  It was an exciting environment; even though I was just out of college, I had the opportunity do things that could impact the whole organization.

One such initiative was taking charge of our department's online business, where I saw a significant opportunity for growth.  Another was revamping our assortment in a group of test stores to understand the viability of a specific category.  These tasks were in addition to the day-to-day job of looking for new products to replace products in stores that were not performing or had run through their life cycle. Throughout all of this, the constant essentials for success were finding great products from reliable vendors.

There was no shortage of companies eager to get their products into our stores, and we were always looking for new products.  However, there was often a large disconnect between what we were looking for and what companies proposed.  It took a great deal of time and effort to discover the right products, as well as learn about and vet a company to understand whether it might be a reliable vendor.

In order to find new products and vendors, we had to sift through numerous inbound calls and emails, each communicated in a different format with distinct information conveyed. We also attended trade
shows in High Point, NC and Las Vegas.  At the shows, much of my time was spent meeting with vendors with which we already did business.  When I had time to walk around, I just scratched the surface of the show.  If I was interested in learning more about a company, I was forced to extract information from a salesperson.  Striking up a conversation with one of them, however, was not always a simple proposition, especially once they saw a badge that said "Bed Bath & Beyond".

Sometimes the inbound contacts or trade show meetings led to meetings at our office.  Too often I sat through introductory vendor meetings where I quickly realized that the company on the other side of the table was probably not ever going to do business with us.  Even if they appeared great on the surface (which is how I reviewed them initially), after digging a little deeper, it became apparent that
they likely would not be a capable or reliable vendor.

I left Bed Bath & Beyond in 2010 to attend graduate school, and one day the idea for MerchantFuse dawned on me.  Wouldn't it be great it there were a website where retail and wholesale companies could go to discover each other and get industry specific information? This site could also help companies that already do business with each other by streamlining paperwork and product information.  And so, I got to work...so much for working in retail.

Our goal at MerchantFuse is to create more transparency for retail and wholesale.  With transparency comes greater efficiency.  While the idea came out of my experience working for a large retailer, we know that our platform can help companies of all sizes.  In the same way that LinkedIn has created efficiencies for Human Resources professionals and job seekers, we hope to create efficiencies for retailers and vendors.

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Robin Pulewitz said...
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