Bulk to the Future: a new form of bulk buying empowers merchants while building a better world

Today, increasing numbers of people are seeking relief from rising prices, yet bulk buying has long been a solution for individuals and businesses alike. The concept is simple: purchase in large quantities and get discounted prices due to the high volume of sales.

It seems simple enough, but the risk/reward calculus for bulk purchasing is more nuanced as it relates to hidden costs facing consumers and society at large. If the purchaser doesn't watch out for these pitfalls, bulk buying can become costly to both the individual and one's community.

The downsides of bulk buying

The first cost is mostly personal: buying in bulk takes up space, whether in one's hands, one's car, or one's home. When you don't have the ability to comfortably transport or store items above a certain quantity, that quantity is effectively your individual ceiling for the amount of savings you can achieve through high-volume purchasing.

The other downsides, however, begin to negatively affect both your budget and the environment. If it's perishable, items will begin to spoil if you buy more than you can practically use in a given time frame. For instance, even if there were a truly amazing bulk discount for buying 50 gallons of milk all at once, it'd create both monetary waste and long-lasting environmental waste from underutilized packaging.

Even outside of perishables, it can be hard to accurately predict future needs when making a high-volume purchase. If a contractor buys excess building materials for a job site, it either costs money to dedicate staff toward reselling them or it costs money to warehouse the excess materials. More often than not, items end up in a landfill, a scrap yard, or in our lakes, rivers, and oceans.

A solution hiding in plain sight

StableCoupons, founded by Ken Chester and Laura Wei, aims to resolve these problems by removing all prior limitations from bulk purchasing, thus enabling people to buy at levels that were previously thought to be impossible--or at least impractical.

"We've begun to solve all the longstanding constraints in high-volume purchasing by helping merchants issue e-vouchers for bulk purchases instead of requiring customers to take full possession of their items at the point of sale," Chester said.

The merchant begins by setting a minimum purchase amount required to unlock bulk pricing. The buyer then pays for at least this number of items up front--say 30 cartons of eggs--and receives vouchers that can be redeemed at the merchant's establishment gradually, on an as-needed basis. Buyers gain higher-than-normal volume discounts and price stability, while the seller obtains interest-free financing, locked-in customer loyalty, and better data for inventory forecasting.

The StableCoupons platform works for any repeat-purchase item, whether it's an individual shopper purchasing a year's worth of milk and eggs, or a hotel seeking to purchase 10,000 toiletry items without storing them all on the premises.

Since its inception, Chester reports that the business has continued to exhibit growth. Most recently, it has received a pre-seed investment from the US fund of Antler, a global venture capital firm with offices on five continents.

"Antler has been critical to our success," Chester said. "Thanks to their advice and mentoring, we were able to establish a feasible pathway toward serving as both a third-party marketplace and as a conduit for direct sales, which provided us with more options for growth and enabled us to achieve and exceed early sales goals."

Scaling up and achieving growth

To expand the project, Chester and Wei raised the aforementioned institutional investment and brought together an advisory board composed of veteran operators at Whole Foods, Instacart, and other innovators in retail technology.

Most recently, the company has embarked upon a social impact initiative called Rebuild Retail, through which they've begun to schedule entrepreneurship roadshows in a variety of cities and regions across America.

At roadshow events, prospective retail entrepreneurs will not only be given free bulk storefronts on the StableCoupons platform, but advice on everything from business registration to inventory sourcing, physical retail space, and more. The team aims to partner with chambers of commerce and other community organizations to host these events and help rejuvenate public spaces with entrepreneurial energy, Chester said.

The first such event, organized by the company's community impact coordinator, Dilli Gautam, is slated to take place in Chester's hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan early this fall.

"In essence, our prepaid bulk financing method really sets us apart in terms of the impact we can have on society," Chester said. "Since you can sell products in bulk through your personal networks before even opening a storefront, it's a truly powerful method of raising interest-free startup capital and breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship and community revitalization."

From rural development to immigrant entrepreneurship and the elimination of urban food deserts, Chester encourages organizations of all purposes to reach out and schedule a roadshow event in their city or region by emailing roadshow@rebuildretailusa.org.


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