Natural Foods Merchandiser

Feeding Fido Online

It seems there's a new kind of dog kibble invented every day. Unfortunately, your shelf space isn't growing with the same abandon. What to do?

Take it online. Even though the utility of e-commerce has been bashed from Bangkok to Boston, the Internet is still a viable way to make a specialty-item sale.

Forrester Research estimates online grocery sales can boost store revenues by as much as 3 percent as the number of households using the Web to buy food and household products grows to 14 million in 2006 from a slim 4.5 million in 2000.

And more than a few outfits are ready to help retailers start wooing those new customers. What they do is seamlessly expand your online inventory and offer you a commission on sales of their products generated through your Web site.

For example, NeXpansion of North Brunswick, N.J., last fall signed on Montgomeryville, Pa.-based to provide pet products for its Endless Aisles program. Endless Aisles is the company's private branding platform for retail Web sites.

NeXpansion, formerly, handles order fulfillment of sales made through major retailers' Web sites, including Lowes Food, Pathmark, Big Y and Harris Teeter. In each case, the client retailer has integrated specific NeXpansion categories of products into its own site without the retailers' shoppers ever knowing. Retailers benefit by being able to offer more products to their customers without sacrificing shelf space or taking inventory risks.

"We provide the opportunity to expand what they offer in their stores," says NeXpansion's Vice President Debra Davis.

Using the connection, NeXpansion now offers more than 9,000 pet products. The selection includes 42 premium varieties, including a number of natural brands. Retailers get a commission for every sale they direct to NeXpansion from their store sites.

If this sounds like too many middlemen, offers its own private, branded online service and pays retailers 10 percent of each sale, after credit card and shipping charges. The company also offers a 600-product pet Wellness Center that carries vitamins, nutraceuticals and specialty foods.

"We can custom tailor a wellness program and the invoice will have your name on it," says Geoff Walker, chief executive of "We do all the work at no extra cost." currently supplies pet products to and

The commissions might not be grand, but it beats losing a sale altogether because a customer can't find what he or she wants on the shelf.

Soulful bluegrass singer Randy Barrett is president of The Business Writers Group.

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