1. Tell us about the idea behind Merchant Bay and how it works.
Merchant Bay is a B2B platform that makes apparel manufacturers and wholesalers connect with buyers as well as technological tools that make their internal efficiency better. The manufacturers and wholesalers sign up as suppliers and upon verification, their digital profiles are enlisted and then they can use the platform. Similarly, buyers register and upon verification, they can use the platform too. That’s how the platform is used for connecting, communicating, sharing files, and managing orders. We are continuously making new tools to improve their communication, order management and internal efficiency.
We have been working on this idea for over a year, but our company is in this apparel industry for the last 20 years, and I have been involved in apparel business for over 5 years. Suppliers usually face problems when they look for new buyers and so do buyers when looking for the right suppliers, we still see that there is a gap in the market to connect these people in an organized manner and give a platform for suppliers to promote themselves. So, we realized that a platform that can actually organize this industry’s partners together to create a one stop solution will be super convenient and contribute to the industry growth.
2. How many team members do you have currently, and how was the team formed?
Currently, we have 14 members. As to form the team, we kept it very lean and didn’t go overboard. We had started very small with 3 members only. Then we did a lot of trial and error, trying to add different functionalities, and we’ve been working to make the platform very robust for over a year. And then the team started to grow gradually and we recruited members through interviews. Some still work from home - as we are a digital platform involving a lot of technological work, it’s not necessary for all the team members to be at office. But now we are growing our team exponentially every month.
3. What are the factors that you consider before selecting a partner? What is the procedure to become a new partner?
We go for strategic partnership with companies because, as I have mentioned before, we are a B2B platform and we don’t necessarily build all the solutions ourselves. Recently, we closed a deal with an international company who make end-to-end solutions for garment industry, which includes iot and AI integrated hardware as well. So we’ve been having coordinating with them for the last 4 months in order to create a synergy. When we saw how their existing solutions align with our platform’s vision, we went for a partnership. We integrated their API with our platform so that if we grow, they’ll grow and if they grow, we will too but end result has to be that our stakeholders get benefitted from the one stop solution.
4. How are the partners contributing to Merchant Bay? And how are they being benefitted?
We are working with 3 strategic partners right now in terms of software and logistics and these partners are becoming more tech enabled every day. The logistics partner that we are signing up with got more tech-based when we gave them a platform to connect with us. So that’s how we are growing. We take care of the connectivity channel part, and the partners are taking care of their core values - together we are merging to create a one-stop solution platform.
5. How is Merchant Bay minimizing risk and ensuring safety for both buyers and sellers?
Currently there are some platforms in the industry where people can actually register with open registration. Our one is an open registration as well, but once they register, they must apply for verification, after which we verify each and every information that they have provided on their digital profile. And this verified process is not only done once but is a continuous process to assure credibility.
We assign a success manager who keeps track of all the information that’s being updated, and we communicate with them via phone calls. We check the documents that they post, like in case of a certificate uploaded, we will cross check the certification. And, if it’s about machineries, we give a factory tour, we click photos to make sure that they have the machineries that they say they do. That’s why it’s a lengthy process and we want to keep it like this - we don’t want to be quick as our main concern is to assure trade security, credibility and quality.
7. What are the challenges that you have faced till now and how are you overcoming them?
The apparel industry is in a super crisis right now, it’s at a standpoint that we never expected it to be. Everyone is concerned and in fear, questioning what will happen next. In such times, introducing something new like this was a bit difficult, initially it was a bit slow. But the one thing that kept us motivated was how everyone who actually saw the idea supported us. We always want to look for digital space, look for an opportunity that will help us to sustain, and that worked out as a fair advantage of communicating the idea with all the stakeholders like all the factories we’re registering.
The challenge was to make them used to this digital platform. But it’s understandably fine, every new product goes through this phase. So when we are introducing something new to the market, we need to give the stakeholders some time to adapt to its benefits. And we are making it as user friendly as possible so the learning curve is very low.
Keeping the learning curve very low by not making it complex was also a challenge. That’s why we have adapted to making modular solutions part by part, like we’re not offering one big software or ERP solution together to be implemented in your factory. You just implement one part, try it out and then move to the next part and then try that out, go for the next part and that’s how you adapt technology keeping the operation uninterrupted.
8. What are some of the projects that Merchant Bay is conducting that’s promoting the B2B market place?
Merchant Bay is totally about B2B market place. The whole project is verifying the suppliers and getting them on board and finding the right partners to enrich the right product categories. One of our projects right now is what we’re calling internally ‘Digital Islampur’.
Islampur is a very big wholesale market for fabrics and accessories. And currently, thinking digital with Islampur is like 2 ends apart and so we’re trying to create a bridge to join them. We have our local representatives there who trains them to use digital platform and benefit from it. Then we’re spreading the words within the store and shop keepers there, showing them how they can actually create their profiles. We have provided a training partner assistant who is helping them understand how to do digital trade step by step.
Over 100 shops have registered from Islampur, and, alhamdulillah, the first 3 weeks after we launched, we got excellent response from the Islampur shopkeepers and they have continuously updated their products and also made good sales. We have sold over 15000 meters of fabrics in the last 3 weeks through Merchant Bay, and retailers are now ordering their fabrics and raw materials through Merchant Bay that are being sourced from Islampur.
9. How was the response so far and is there any plan for global expansion?
We are grateful for the response we have received. People have really welcomed Merchant Bay from associations to government level, stakeholders, policymakers, and also wholesalers, international buyers and local manufacturers. It’s been excellent, everyone has welcomed us, appreciated us and even joined us in this initiative of promoting Digital Trade aligned with the Digital Bangladesh vision.
We are looking into global expansion. We are in talks with global partners who we may collaborate with in the future. We are planning global expansion in terms of only expanding the market, but in case of the suppliers and manufacturers, we’re going to take only from Bangladesh, we’re not going on board with global suppliers. We are trying to bring Chinese partners on board but only for the local manufacturers to source raw materials from them. Our main motive is to give benefits to the Bangladeshi manufacturers and wholesalers in terms of doing their businesses and evolving locally and globally.
10. What is the ultimate vision of Merchant Bay? Where do you want to see it in 5 years?
The ultimate vision is to be the number 1 B2B platform of South Asia. So, in 5 years, we want to see it become number 1 not only in Bangladesh but in South Asia where conveniently these manufacturers and wholesalers can connect to right opportunities and technologies.