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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fast Moving Former Exec Aims to Be Ultimate Link

A former executive of household-goods giant SC Johnson has quit his post as CIS group general manager to chase his dream of becoming the main virtual middleman for business-to-business transactions of fast-moving consumer goods on the Russian Internet.

Frenchman Franck Benhamou is so confident that the web can invigorate the nation’s $37 billion-a-year fast-moving consumer goods market that he left SC Johnson after nine years and put up his own money to launch the bilingual web site.

The site, which industry watchers say is the first in Russia dedicated to fast-moving consumer goods, is basically an online forum for brand owners and distributors to cut deals in an otherwise fragmented CIS market.

Benhamou’s business plan addresses issues that are peculiar to the Russian FMCG sector: geographic barriers, trade fragmentation and the high price volatility of the sector — problems best suited to be solved in cyberspace where speed, flexible access to information and dynamic trading are all possible.

"Trade fragmentation is more typical of emerging markets. The site helps bring all the players together in one common forum and allows brand owners to expand their distribution base," Benhamou said.

The site is open to everyone and access is free. The target audience is the consumer goods industry, where the brand owners pay a fee to list their products and advertise on the site. Orders are placed online directly to the sellers, and auctions take place where items can be bought in large volume at competitive prices.

CISLink has considered its niche very carefully. Rather than trying to deliver a service that is of limited value to a wide range of sectors, they have instead identified the values of the FMCG sector, and will "deliver in depth, with a lot of value" what clients seek, Benhamou said.

The goal is to contribute value to the FMCG market by facilitating the transaction between brand owners, distributors and buyers. CISLink will not close the transaction, but will simplify promotion, which is endemically difficult within this sector.

"Communication with importers and exporters is difficult in Russia, access to the market is now available," Benhamou said.

With a number of established brand owners already committed to his venture, such as Gillette, SC Johnson and Procter & Gamble, CISLink will offer more than 2,000 products in 40 categories when it is fully operational next month.

Benhamou stressed that his site, as a "neutral business platform for consumer goods," does not favor any one brand owner. Instead it provides them with a platform that they can use to their own advantage. "The Internet is a tool that can be used to link markets within Russia. I want to use this tool better."

Jim Balacshak of Deloitte & Touche, which along with AC Neilson will provide current news, tax, customs and excise information for the site, shares Benhamou’s vision. "With a solid business model, and demand on the part of both the buyers and sellers, this Internet site has much potential to overcome the long distances between distribution and the supply chain dynamic. Manufacturers benefit from this as it offers an alternate distribution channel that provides market access," he said. "Consumer benefits include exposure to economies of scale, direct access to the sales market and convenience."