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Ryan E. Day

Quality Insider

Social Media Wasn’t Social Enough for This Inc. 5000 Phenom

Merchandize Liquidators bet on good old-fashioned relationships—and won

Published: Monday, July 21, 2014 - 12:23

What would you do if you were a young startup entrepreneur, and one day, out of the blue, you found a message on your phone from someone claiming to be a rep of the nation’s largest retail chain—which wanted to do business with you? If you were Yosef “Joe” Martin, founder and president of Merchandize Liquidators, you would ignore the message thinking, as Martin did, “This must be some kind of joke.”

Martin was compelled, however, to return the call when the rep contacted him again. A wise move, because it turned out the rep was legitimate, and yes, Martin and Merchandize Liquidators had attracted the attention of the nation’s largest retailer, and yes, it did indeed wish to do business with him.

That incident is part of what is now a continuing success story, with Merchandize Liquidators ranking in the Inc. 5000 list three years running. It wasn't always that way, however. Like most entrepreneurs, Martin paid his dues by working his way through college, and investing untold hours building an online store, a brick-and-mortar store, and developing relationships with customers, freight companies, and suppliers. As Martin puts it, “This was not an overnight success.”

Born in Israel in 1977, Martin came to the United States and began studies as a business major at Florida International University in 2001. It didn’t take long for young Martin to realize his passion for the world of wholesaling. The plainspoken entrepreneur recalls, “I founded this company in 2003 with only $375, and by the time I graduated I already had two employees and was doing $600,000 a year in sales.” By 2007 Martin was flogging his brainchild full-time and managing well over a million dollars in sales. By 2010 that figure had doubled.

When asked about his tremendous success, Martin points out a plain-vanilla, four-point strategy: “You must have a plan, you must capitalize on your competitor’s weaknesses by doing things better, you must make sure your own organization is working well, and of course, you must have effective advertising.” Apparently, he learned business well in college, as his plan required only one minor adjustment to propel Merchandize Liquidators past the $5 million sales mark in 2012.

As with so many current and inexpensive startups, Martin’s advertising strategy involved his own computer and countless hours of tweaking his company website to achieve search engine optimization (SEO).

“We’re very big on SEO, and that’s basically how I started,” Martin says. “In 2008 I invested a lot of time in social media to grow our online presence, but I didn’t think the return was worth it. Instead I focused on website user experience. I paid more attention to time-on-site metrics and engaging users via dynamic pages.”

The real benefit of personal vs. digital relationships manifested itself as more suppliers were willing to engage with him. “It turns out that a lot of suppliers won’t respond to online queries from an account manager,” says Martin. “Some of them want to actually talk with the owner; it's a relationship. So I turned to spending more time engaging contacts in person, whether on the phone or face-to-face rather than building up the company through social media.”

Although the ROI of social media in business—B to B in particular—is currently a hot topic, this young entrepreneur from Israel seems to have found success with personal contact rather than social media. Perhaps more accurately, Martin has recognized that social media in business is not a panacea, but one of many tools to be employed in its appropriate situation. I couldn’t agree more. Whether through trial and error or by instinct, Martin concluded that although SEO and analytics are the best tools for the buyer side of his business; on the supplier side, good old-fashioned personal contact, rather than social media, is just the ticket for building crucial relationships and trust that result in major big-box chains leaving messages on his phone.


About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20 lb tabby cat at his side.


Vitamin B

When I was a BASF employee a boss of mine kept speaking of Vitamin B as the best way to make business. I was young then, and selling vitamins, too, so I did not understand what he meant. Finally, I asked him and he answered that Vitamin B meant "Beziehung", that is, relationships. Selfexplanatory, isn't it?