In this conversation, Todd Camhe, Global Head of Strategic Partnerships at Blue Bear Protection, explores the company's emergence at the pandemic's onset, transforming it into a premier, affordable PPE provider known for its dependability. Camhe delves into the core factors driving Blue Bear's triumph, sheds light on the impactful collaboration with Order.co, and outlines the company's strategic shift towards a new trajectory in the post-pandemic landscape.
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What is Blue Bear Protection, its mission and the range of products that you offer?
Blue Bear Protection was launched at the very beginning of the pandemic. The founders of the company saw very early on that there was a tremendous need for essential PPE. So, it started with masks. They had connections to New York City and New York State, and even on the government level, they couldn’t access masks. The founders of Blue Bear have a big supply chain and logistics operation in China, so they were very quickly and efficiently able to bring in N-95 masks and three ply masks to New York.
As they were doing that, all their friends and family members were calling and saying, “can you help me get masks?” They very quickly realized that there was a need to go direct to consumer. Very quickly, they created the brand Blue Bear Protection, put up a Shopify store, and started advertising. You could imagine the response and demand was huge.
A very close friend of mine was recruited by Blue Bear Protection to build out the e-commerce platform. He was doing all of the Shopify integrations and getting all the products live. This was back in April 2020 — businesses were shutting down. My background is media and entertainment; I had no background in e-commerce. All of the projects I had been working on for a year and a half to two years just went away. So, my friend reached out to me and said, “Do you know anyone who could help us with B2B and wholesale?” And I said, “I will! I'll do it.”
I met the founders, we hit it off, and very quickly I started working through my network. I launched some very huge initiatives right out of the gate for large health care organizations. We provided essential PPE — masks, face shields, antibacterial wipes — for the whole public school system in the state of Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia.
One of the first calls I made was to Zach, your founder and CEO, because I had a relationship with him and I knew what Order.co was doing. I thought it would be a great partnership — to get your clients, who were having the same issues as my clients due to supply chain distruptions, PPE in a timely and reliable manner.
We got rolling early on and it's been a great partnership. We're very proud of the work we've done with you to make sure that your clients got stuff that was hard to get. And, we always gave it to them at great prices.
What were some of the strategies that Blue Bear Protection deployed in order to overcome supply chain disruption? What was your secret?
We have more than one secret, which I'm more than willing to share.
Our primary special ingredient is our relationship and connection with the supply chain and logistics operations in China. We were able to get into the factories and deal directly with the manufacturers. This is when container prices were skyrocketing. There were massive delays due to Covid shutdowns, and we were able to establish the most reliable and efficient supply chain out of China.
Obviously there are hiccups and wrinkles along the way, but we also were able to put in huge orders, so we brought in a lot of inventory and that gave us the ability to sell omnichannel direct to consumer. We sold through Shopify, Amazon, and Kroger's marketplace.
We strategically partnered with the warehouses in every region across the United States, so no one was too far, because there were trucking delays and shipping issues. That was another important ingredient.
On the B2B side, working with you guys, leveraging the e-commerce infrastructure but accommodating larger orders and having a lot of different ways to ship this stuff. Obviously we used UPS, Fedex, DHL, but sometimes we would rent our own vans.
Also as we got rolling, we started developing our own products, like a sport mask when people didn't want to wear a medical mask. We saw a huge demand for antibacterial wipes. We actually developed our own antibacterial wipes called Blue Bear 99.
Now are pivoting into our post-COVID business, which is product development, contract manufacturing out of China and other markets around the world, and getting out of all the inventory, which now easier and less expensive to get than it was pre-COVID.
We're really focused on working with clients to help them innovate their own products, help them with their e-commerce solutions and infrastructure. Under the most difficult and trying circumstances, we were able to build a very lean and efficient operation — so now we can help bring that to other brands and partners, including you guys and some of your clients.
What's it like to be a partnered vendor of Order.co? Describe that experience.
Honestly, I'm not just saying this because you're hosting this — it was incredibly efficient and super easy on me and my team.
It was so easy that I usually just handled it myself. A purchase order would come in, I would sign for it digitally, and I'd forward it directly to our logistics team. They would process the order, it would get out the same day or next day, and your clients would receive it.
Your platform allowed us to update the tracking information, so the communication was seamless, intuitive and very easy. It allowed us to be super efficient and make sure that everything was done properly.
In terms of payment, the way we had it worked out is — at the end of the month, I would submit a master invoice with all of the orders, and Order.co would process payment in a very timely fashion. It was great.
I'm especially proud of this partnership because like I said earlier, I know the founders from the very early days. I immediately saw not only their vision as entrepreneurs, but who they are as people. Fundamentally, the premise of the company is similar to how we like to work, which is to add value, help customers solve problems, and help eliminate inefficiencies. So it was really a great partnership. The founders of Blue Bear said many times, “These guys are the best.”
It's exciting that the partnership will continue to really grow. We're already talking to you guys about some very interesting things. As entrepreneurs, we have a lot of discussions about innovation and how we can continue to add value in this e-commerce ecosystem, both direct to consumer, and also on the B2B side.
Looking forward to the future, we're very excited about identifying products that your customers really need and coming up with customized solutions for those clients and products. And again, doing it in a way where we're providing the highest quality and the best prices. Anything we do in collaboration, we're super confident that we're going to be offering the best pricing.
When Blue Bear Protection started picking up steam, did you have any specific "aha" moment?
I'll tell you what it was — it starts with the confidence in knowing that our products were actually on their way when we said they were. When I saw our ability to deliver one box of masks to a consumer or a truckload to somebody, that was the “aha” moment because in the early days of the pandemic, people would promise you that you would get your stuff — they were not lying to you — but what they didn't understand was how deep and significant the disruptions were to the global supply chain. It was a game of telephone and everyone was telling the truth, but it would all break down.
You know, we had hiccups along the way, but the big aha moment for me personally was getting the calls in panic and we would get them PPE in 2 or 3 days.
Especially the first six months of the pandemic — that's what allowed us to be the most successful. We delivered when no one else could, and that obviously gave us a big strategic advantage. Even now, we're not advertising or marketing anything PPE-related, and we're selling.
During the pandemic, it really was an aha moment when the package arrived at your doorstep at the expected delivery time.
Right? And your clients just clicked on the tracking link and they could see exactly when our packages were going to arrive, or if there were delays.
Obviously, Fedex, UPS, DHL — they had their own issues and delays. But, they weren't that significant comparatively to whole categories of products not being able to get here, whether it was home appliances or chips for cars.
As we look back as entrepreneur — one of the lessons I believe is, where we are today in the world of e-commerce, fulfillment, shipping, logistics and infrastructure has probably accelerated 5 to 10 years because of the pandemic. We would have gotten here, but we got here a lot faster.
There's been a lot of innovation on the software side, on the sales and marketing side, and obviously with what you guys do on the platform side.
I think the business overall is in a very good place. What we're able to do for very small brands with our sourcing and manufacturing relationships is also exciting because it's very hard to navigate overseas manufacturing. You really need a trusted partner and it's hard to find a trusted partner. So, we come in there, and because we've done it, we're very confident that we can help new businesses, brands, and entrepreneurs who have a great product but they need it at a good price point. They need a reliable supply chain and distribution, so we're going to collaborate on a lot of good products for your clients on that.