(Note: this story appears in the August issue of STOREROTICA Magazine)
*Story by Dianna Stratton
In SE’s first “Distributor Tribute,” we take a deep dive into Eldorado’s key departments and operational philosophies. From the warehouse where teams prepare “inbound” and “outbound” deliveries, all the way through marketing and sales, it’s clear that Eldorado’s success is a team effort.
In 1974, Larry Garland started selling Native American jewelry out of the back of a van and Eldorado Trading company was born. The business eventually transitioned to selling smoking paraphernalia. That is until the 1980s, when the government’s anti-drug initiatives forced the paraphernalia industry underground. Eldorado experimented with the distribution of a variety of other products, like tapestries, rock & roll accessories, and even Rubik’s Cubes for a while.
Larry studied current trends and driving forces of the various product markets. He was looking for an under-served market. Eventually, Eldorado found their niche in the adult pleasure products industry. While the company originally served an essential distribution role early on, it was Larry’s vision to set “the standard in its markets” that helped Eldorado flourish, growing steadily every year.
Eldorado takes its middleman role very seriously. Buying top quality products from manufacturers ensures that retailers not only select the right products for their stores, but more importantly, that retail associates have the necessary tools and skills to sell those products, effectively, to their customers. Education and customer service have been a cornerstone of Eldorado’s success, because as we know, product sell-through doesn’t happen without consistent and reliable support. Shipping out customer orders efficiently and accurately ensures that Eldorado remains a market leader.
Almost everyone knows Eldorado’s history, but this story is about a box. Not just any box, but every box of merchandise that is purchased and then sent to Eldorado by a manufacturer, stored safely in their warehouse and eventually sold and swiftly shipped to a waiting retail store.
The Eldorado warehouse is divided into two teams. Currently, those two teams account for more than 50 of Eldorado’s 90-plus employees.
Stock Control Staging
Put Away Packing
The “inbound” team is responsible for receiving, stock control, and put away. Products ordered by purchasing arrive from a variety of freight carriers and they are verified against purchase orders and recorded into inventory. The arrival of new or back-ordered products often influences which products marketing will focus on week to week.
Meanwhile, the sales team works with their customers, building orders based on which in-stock items best meet the store’s needs. Those sales orders are fulfilled through the “outbound” warehouse team who are responsible for picking, staging, packing, and shipping. Pickers are the employees who navigate more than 60-plus rows of inventory, gathering all requested merchandise before the order is prepped, packed, and then shipped to the customer. On a good day, Eldorado will ship out thousands of customer packages. Depending on the shipping method, most orders arrive within two to five days.
The pace of wholesale distribution is relentless in the best of times. The communication required to keep the business moving forward and each department working together cohesively is no small feat.
Wanda: Grace under fire
Eldorado has navigated significant changes over the years. When Larry passed away in 2017, the industry was heartbroken. Wanda Garland, his business partner and wife for over 40 years, stepped in to run the company. She continues as Eldorado’s CEO today.
In May 2019, Eldorado mourned the loss of Jim Talbot, Eldorado’s General Manager and trusted confidant. Sadly, Jim died on what should have been his last workday before a much-deserved retirement. That summer, Larry and Wanda’s son, Preston, left Eldorado after nine years of employment to pursue his MBA. For the first time in 40-plus years, Wanda was the only member of the Garland family at Eldorado.
Cue the arrival of the global pandemic in March 2020.
To ensure employee safety while following city, county, and state recommendations, Wanda shut down Eldorado operations for a month. A disaster of this magnitude results in acute shocks. It reverberates throughout industries, upending established business plans and priorities, disrupting even the sturdiest of businesses. To say Wanda’s years at the helm of Eldorado have been demanding is an understatement. But you won’t hear Wanda complain.
“These are challenging times for everybody, and it is key that we stand by one another and support each other,” she says.
Wanda’s modesty belies her conviction. She runs a tight ship, even when the skies are gray and stormy. Her return following stay-at-home mandates was complicated by new safety protocols and sourcing hard-to-find sanitizing products and packing supplies due to supply-chain disruptions around the world. Even the boxes that Eldorado purchases to ship out orders became harder to find.
So how does a modern CEO navigate both personal and professional upheaval? According to Wanda, it’s this: Focus on the work, and more importantly, on the people who are relying on you for their paycheck. After Larry passed, the employees needed to be reassured the company would remain strong and maintain company traditions. Now the most prevalent concern is how Eldorado will keep employees safe while mitigating COVID-19 risks.
Wanda recommends getting as much information from as many different sources as possible, never settling for a single source. Open and honest communication, whether it’s with staff, customers, or vendors, is her best advice to navigate uncertain times when you never know what tomorrow will bring.
COVID-19 safety protocols keep many Eldorado employees in their offices during the workday. They rely on phone calls and emails where previously they might have scheduled meetings or visited each other’s offices. While appreciated, this effort inherently creates a potential disconnect between departments. Still, the pandemic has not prevented Wanda from visiting the warehouse each day. She checks in with Patty Gilmore, Eldorado’s Warehouse Manager, at least twice each day to ensure operations are running smoothly.
Just like Larry once did, Wanda strives to know each employee by name, where they work, and even a little about their personal life. Something seemingly insignificant means a lot to the warehouse employees, particularly since there is much less face-to-face interactions nowadays from the other departments.
“From an accounting position, Wanda’s order and discipline are refreshing,” says Eldorado’s Controller Tom Maul, a member of the executive team. “She keeps the business moving forward and does it with a smile on her face.”
One face that regularly shows up in the warehouse is Jon Vogt, Eldorado’s Director of Purchasing. Vogt works closely with the “inbound” warehouse team. He checks the volume on the floor and reviews what products are expected to arrive that day. The closer the purchasing team can work with the warehouse team tracking incoming shipments, the better the inbound team can gauge their daily workload. For the inbound team, this kind of communication is paramount to their day-to-day success.
The purchasing team’s mission sounds simple enough: Buy the best, most unique, or best-value items with the maximum margin for Eldorado and for their customers. That doesn’t mean Eldorado will buy the full product line from a manufacturer, however. The purchasing and sales teams work closely together, evaluating what that product line looks like in a store and eliminating superfluous colors and SKUs that result in unnecessary overhead. Products are frequently rejected because they are considered redundant, or similar items appear elsewhere in the line or by the supplier at similar prices.
“When Eldorado says we carry ‘all the best,’ we take that very seriously,” says Patrick Lyons, Eldorado’s Marketing Director.
Lyons explains how he sees Eldorado’s role in the marketplace. “As a value-added distributor, Eldorado is responsible for having our pulse on the industry by being proactive in acquiring new brands and products that satisfy new trends in the adult industry, as well as among mainstream consumers,” he says. “Our goal is to be a partner to our retail customers by vetting products on their behalf. Our extensive vetting process incorporates different points of view from purchasing to marketing to sales.”
For manufacturers who believe Eldorado should have picked up a previously declined product, Vogt recommends contacting the purchasing team, but advises them to be prepared.
“Prove to us a product we did not pick up is selling well, particularly at the retail reorder level,” he explains. “Maybe promise to take back stock that does not sell. Or offer to sweeten the pot with additional margin points.”
When retailers feel a missing product is crucial to their success, the purchasing team relies on the sales team to suggest a suitable alternative. Eldorado ultimately wants to keep customers happy and will make inventory adjustments as necessary as long as the retailer buys enough product to satisfy turnover requirements.
New suppliers have a few more hurdles to navigate. Beyond seeking innovative and unique products, Eldorado has strict guidelines. Products must have liability insurance, conform to California Proposition 65, comply with FDA regulations where applicable, meet government regulations on packaging, have UPC barcodes, and contain only body-safe ingredients.
Additionally, the purchasing team will consider types of warranties offered, if the supplier provides testers, if they will guarantee the sales, who pays the freight, and most importantly, will Eldorado be their exclusive distributor. Eldorado currently carries 15 Eldorado-exclusive brands, including Lovense, Sport Fucker, Escanté, Pink Lipstick, and Malesation, to name a few.
After the supplier receives Eldorado’s purchase order, requested products are shipped to the warehouse. It’s not easy to keep track of over 19,000 SKUs unless you are extremely organized. Through continuous hard work and dedication, Eldorado is known throughout the industry for having the most efficient and accurate warehouse in the industry.
“I am proud of Eldorado’s sequencing system, particularly the way the warehouse is laid out,” says Cesar Brena, Warehouse Replenishment Lead. “There is a starting point and an ending point. Everything goes forward and nothing goes backwards.”
With the warehouse stocked with all the best products in the industry, it’s the marketing department’s turn to shine. Education has long been a cornerstone of Eldorado marketing. While manufacturers create content that speaks to the end consumer, Eldorado marketing prioritizes original content that helps retailers learn more about the various products and product categories, each brand’s value, and how these products support their customer’s sexual health and wellness. Whether the marketing team is creating interactive digital catalogs, live product trainings, promotional videos, advertorials, in-person events, or even fun social media contests, the goal is to educate and inform. That way, retailers can make the best choices when stocking their stores and advising their customers.
The marketing team is very much the middle child of a middleman business. The team primarily markets products that were bought by purchasing and they support both manufacturers and retailers wherever possible. As stated in Eldorado’s mission statement, the primary business goal is to be a “dynamic distribution leader, setting industry standards.”
As a good business partner, marketing fills in the gaps wherever they arise. For manufacturers, that means marketing will not only boost their branded content, they will also develop original content so promotional pressure is not solely on the vendor’s shoulders. As a value-added distributor, original content ensures the marketing team learns about products and brands so that they can educate retail customers. This makes it easier for retailers to pass that knowledge and support along to their customers.
“If you aren’t marketing your business,” says Warehouse Manager Patty Gilmore, “you’ve got nothing.”
Because of this middle child/middleman role, inclusivity has always been a priority for the marketing team. They make sure every voice is heard and everybody (and body type) is represented. Being able to give disenfranchised voices a platform changes how we all do business.
For example, Eldorado invited Buck Angel to provide a keynote presentation at a recent “Elevation” customer event. Buck was able to share his experience and the journey that led him to develop vitally dynamic products for the trans community. Diversity enriches us all and brings both attention and understanding of marginalized needs to a wider variety of retail customers. After the presentation, retailers expressed that they felt more comfortable answering questions about trans-focused products. They also had a better appreciation for how they might best support their customers.
“It’s important that we partner with manufacturers, working closely with them and coordinating our sales efforts to help each of us to meet our goals,” says Dyan Evans, Sales Supervisor.
In-house tradeshow events like Eldorado’s Elevation previously occurred three times a year, and planning for these events began a year in advance. The Warehouse team enjoyed those meetings and events since it gave them the greatest opportunity to interact with the marketing team, as well as various manufacturers and retailers. Eldorado launched their first traveling roadshow in October 2019, with the intention of scheduling many more local events in 2020.
“Eldorado Traveling Road Shows give Eldorado staff the chance to meet our customers where they are at,” Lyons explains. “They also make it easier on the retailers by minimizing their travel. This allows for more of their store personnel to attend an event and be trained directly by the manufacturers.”
Due to the pandemic and the need to socially distance, plans have changed. The team is developing new communication tools that are both virtual and highly interactive. Eldorado believes in one-to-one marketing. These new initiatives will enhance the relationship and the value Eldorado brings by connecting manufacturers with retailers.
Then comes sales. Sales bats cleanup at Eldorado. If the rest of the company has done their jobs well, the sales teams are the power hitters that bring the orders home. There are currently seven Internal Account Managers working at Eldorado headquarters, as well as eight additional external sales reps — with a combined 100 plus years of industry experience between them. But it’s not their experience and knowledge that drives the business; it’s their relationships. Good customer relationships don’t happen overnight. That takes commitment, compromise, forgiveness, and most of all, effort. A successful account manager must be service-oriented and know how to listen to what their customers say, and even what they don’t say.
“Prove to us a product we did not pick up is selling well, particularly at the retail reorder level. Maybe promise to take back stock that does not sell. Or offer to sweeten the pot with additional margin points.” — Patrick Lyons, Eldorado’s Marketing Director
Communication is the foundation of successful relationships. Just ask Account Manager Stephanie Frey, who has been with Eldorado for 26 years.
“Each business is different, each store runs a bit differently,” she says. “It is important to visit stores, ask lots of questions, and then listen.”
During store visits, Frey tries to experience the store as a retail associate might. She helps to tag and stock merchandise, as well as learn the different store procedures.
“Once I understand a store’s needs, then it’s a matter of follow-up to fulfill those needs,” says Frey. “It’s important that I am honest and never promise more than I can deliver.”
Relationships have been so critical to the sales team’s success; often, the result is lifelong friendships. That might be considered uncommon in any other industry. No longer just accounts, Eldorado’s account managers have attended customer weddings, funerals, and even joined them on their vacation in the Rocky Mountains. The investment made in each other’s life changes a person irrevocably.
Account Manager Maria Lara shares, “Larry liked to remind us that we are selling fun products,” shares Account Manager Maria Lara. “There aren’t too many industries where regardless of the different experiences, backgrounds, or life stories, we stick together and support one another.”
As orders are received from each account, the sales team works closely with the Outbound Warehouse team to manage order fulfillment and shipment. Once again, communication between the departments is crucial if both teams hope to succeed. The earlier the sales team can push orders through to the warehouse, the better the outbound team can manage the surge in workflow, particularly if there are larger orders.
“Our goal is to have a one-stop-shopping experience with as few errors as possible,” says Evans.
Whether it’s following established fulfillment procedures or emailing the warehouse team with special shipping instructions, the sales and outbound warehouse teams work closely together to ensure they meet each customer’s particular needs.
And that’s the story of how Eldorado receives all those boxes, how they manage all those boxes, and how they eventually get rid of all those boxes.
Wholesale distribution is a true buying-and-selling game. As a service business that must juggle the needs of both vendors and customers, it takes honesty and integrity to be a good business partner and make lifelong friends who feel like family. Despite the adversity of the last few years, Eldorado is pulling through the storm and is coming out the other side stronger than ever.
“Adversity builds character, and true leaders inspire through adversity,” Lyons concludes. “2020 has been a year of challenges and Eldorado is not only weathering the storm but exemplifies how to lead. Our purpose during COVID was not a focus on profits, but on people. We deeply care for all our employees, and we want to ensure their safety and financial well-being. Employees are at the heart of every decision we make. As Team Eldorado, we are striving to fulfill our mission to be a distribution leader by setting the standards of excellence.”
For more information, visit eldorado.net.
Dianna Stratton is the Marketing Communications Strategist for Eldorado Trading Company. Before joining Eldorado in 2017, she previously worked in the healthcare and educational fields. Dianna received a Master’s in Communication and Leadership from Gonzaga University in 2012. She specializes in writing and digital marketing.