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Bundling, Replatforming and Engaging: How Wolseley Canada Moved into the Ecommerce World

By Mission

In today’s digital age, even the most traditional enterprises are moving processes online. Unfortunately, though, the shift to online is not as simple as turning on a faucet.  Wolseley Canada is a leading wholesale distributor of plumbing, HVAC/R, and waterworks products and earns more than $1 billion in revenue each year. Today, the company has one of the industry-leading B2B eCommerce sites, but getting to that point in their digital transformation hasn’t been easy. Gail Kaufman, the Vice-President of Marketing & eBusiness at Wolseley Canada, dropped by Up Next in Commerce to walk us through how she has helped lead that movement online, and the speed bumps they encountered along the way.  Gail touched on everything from building the initial backend infrastructure to the replatforming experience that happened as they learned more about their customers and what they needed from an online experience. But what did they need? And how did those needs affect the training of internal employees and the shift toward implementing A.I.? Everything is connected, and you’ll find out how.  Main Takeaways: Bundle Things Up: In the past, customers were often forced to go to one website to buy a certain plumbing part and then another to get their HVAC supplies. In recent years, Wolseley has brought together the many entities of the company in order to start delivering a unified message and a singular experience on the eCommerce site, eliminating a pain point and saving time for customers.  How A.I. Can Be Deployed: When deployed strategically, A.I. has the potential to have a huge impact on the bottom line. Wolseley is already seeing promising results from this through a partnership with a leading A.I. research department at University of Toronto.  The Importance of Training: The journey from analog to digital is not exclusive to the customer. Employees also need to be trained not only in how to use the eCommerce systems, but how to sell this new digital buying experience to the customers. Customer Engagement Leads The Way: When determining the success of your eCommerce site, the only true indicator is engagement. For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length. --- Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at --- Transcript: Stephanie: Welcome to Up Next In Commerce. This is your host Stephanie Postles, co-founder of And today, I have Gail Kaufman on the show, the vice president of marketing and eBusiness at Wolseley Canada. Gail, welcome. Gail: Hi, Stephanie. Thank you so much. Glad to be here. Stephanie: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you. It feels like you're so far away, where are you calling in from? Gail: I am calling you from Burlington, Ontario, which is just about a half an hour Southwest of Toronto. Stephanie: I think you're our first guest on the show it's calling in from that area, what's the weather like? Gail: Perfect, it's beautiful out. We had a little rain last night. It's cooled down a little bit, but we've definitely been experiencing some very what I would call South Florida weather recently. Stephanie: Rain, something I miss here in California. My two-year-old always asks like, "When will it rain?" And he always brings out his umbrella and I'm like, "I don't know. Don't ask me." So Wolseley, I saw that you've worked there for over 14 years and I was really intrigued and I really wanted to kind of hear about what that journey's been like. What is Wolseley to start and then tell me a bit about your role and how it's transformed over the years? Gail: Well, Wolseley Canada is a leading wholesale distributor of plumbing, HVAC/R, and waterworks products. We have about 200 or so locations coast to coast, 2,500 employees. And we are part of Ferguson PLC, which is the world's largest trade distributor, plumbing and heating products. So very large organization in North America, and we are listed on the London stock exchange and on the FTSE 100 Index. So that's a little bit of overview of the company. Yeah, very large company. So yes, I have been with Wolseley for a number of years. And the role has really evolved since then. I started as director of marketing. And since that time, I've taken on a variety of different responsibilities under, still within marketing obviously, but the scope has then flowed and expanded over the years. Gail: In 2009 was when I got involved with the Ecommerce piece at Wolseley. The platform previously sat in business development and then it was moved over to marketing. And at that time, we had had a very long standing relationship with a digital agency who really pretty much drove the development and the day-to-day management. And so when we really started to get serious about eBusiness, it really made sense to transition that over into marketing where we could really sort of wrap it into our value proposition for our customers and give it the right focus. And so obviously that was a really great opportunity for me too. So that was really where my engagement with eBusiness started. Stephanie: Very cool. And was this something that you were starting to get interested in before they were making that switch or was it kind of like you were thrown into it like, "Here you go, you're going to take this whole business and it's coming into marketing, it's all yours"? Gail: I would say it was interesting because the world had started to change. Certainly in our channel, Ecommerce was not prevalent. But certainly sitting in marketing, it was like we need to do something here. So when I was given the opportunity to take that, it was good. It was a nice development for me, and I felt like we could really do something important with it. It was a direction that we needed to move in, and I thought I was in a good position to do something with it. Stephanie: Yeah, that's great. So just to make sure I fully understand, how were customers buying from you all before 2009 and then what did it look like afterwards? Because I haven't bought a HVAC unit recently, so I'm trying to think about how that worked for you guys. Gail: So in a very traditional fashion, our customers would interact with us through an outside sales rep or in a branch, pretty much that was it. I would say before 2009, we did have a presence online, but it wasn't fully transactional. So there was a website, someone could place an order. But in fact, they weren't really placing an order because it wasn't fully transactional on the backend. So 2009 is when we really got serious about having a fully integrated platform. So before then, it was really coming into a branch, calling a sales rep. And that's still very much how many wholesalers continue to operate. Stephanie: Yeah, I was going to say for this industry, I can imagine the people who are in this business getting used to doing things the way they always have like I always buy from this one company, I go into the store and they place a big order for me. How much education was involved when you start introducing online ordering? What did it take behind the scenes to change that consumer behavior to say like, "Hey, we have a platform now, go here instead"? Gail: Well, that's a great question and certainly one that comes up a lot. I can tell you it's been a journey. But invariably when this comes up, talking about engagement of our customers, I always have to say, first and foremost, this is really about engaging our own associates. It's making sure that they really understand the value proposition, that they are comfortable, that they are proactive in talking about Wolseley Express, really understanding how it impacts the customer from a convenience and efficiency standpoint. That is a very large piece of work unto itself. We recently did a survey with our customers and they indicated that the number one reason they tried the platform was because their salesperson recommended it. So that's a very influential relationship. Gail: So it's really important not just for our outside sales reps, but also for our branch associates. They have really strong relationships with our customers, so it's really about how do we start making Ecommerce and promoting Wolseley Express, just part of what we do? We're really great about talking about products, we're really comfortable with talking about pricing and competitive pricing. But it's like, how do we start to expand the conversation around value in other ways? Stephanie: That makes sense. What was the process like trying to retrain your employees who have maybe been used to something a certain way to then start being like, "Hey, make sure you also mentioned this, and this is the way we do business now"? What was that training process like? Gail: It's an ongoing training process, and it's really about giving them a level of comfort with the platform. They certainly don't need to be experts, but they really need to understand the why. So we have to look at different types of customers, there's different features that may resonate with some customers over other customers. There's training, there's coaching on how to have conversations. I think we have a pretty good approach to it actually because it's very holistic. So we're providing you the training, we're providing you the why, we've got a number of different tools that we provide. And we also really dig into our data and help them really understand the different types of customers who we would consider high potential customers, why we consider them high potential customers. And ultimately, it's about, A, identifying the customers and helping them have those conversations. So that's working down through our sales management network and our branch network. So it's a very multifaceted process, it's very hands-on. Gail: The other thing I didn't mention is we've talked about sort of the onsite experience and sort of why Wolseley Express is so helpful to a customer from a convenience standpoint and efficiency standpoint. But there's also, which I should mention is the whole training around the fulfillment piece. So if they have a great experience onsite, that's good. But if something falls down and the fulfillment part of the program where I didn't get the material or I didn't get the material when I was expecting to get it, that's a whole other area that we've spent a lot of time with our operations people to really make sure that we're closing the loop on that. So that's another piece. Stephanie: Yeah, makes sense. What parts of fulfillment did you invest in heavily that you saw the largest improvements from? Gail: It's really about system training, when a web order comes in, this is what it looks like. This is where you look on a sales order to make sure that every step of the way that people were picking up the orders because when an order prints out, it's sort of in with all the other orders. That's the way it works. So we need to make sure that we prioritize these, that someone's looking for them. Because we're not keying in the orders, we want to make sure that they don't get lost along the way. So the fulfillment is not much different other than the order comes in the same way. But in the early days, it was kind of strange because all these orders print out, so the people that are responsible for the customer they'll pick off their own orders. Stephanie: Like someone goes fist, thanks you very much. Gail: Because they're talking to that person either on the phone, maybe talking to them across, so there's this human interaction that's happening. But when you all of a sudden get this order that shows up, it's like these orders were being sort of just left. Well, that's not mine. Well, yeah, it is yours, it's everybody's. That's sort of the foundational stuff that we had to address at that level to make sure that all of these orders were getting processed with excellence. Stephanie: So when I think about wholesalers and industrial wholesalers, I don't really think about typical companies investing a lot in the user experience and making sure ... I mean, you were mentioning like convenience and having a good user experience on the site. Do you think there's an opportunity for disruption in this field, and how are you guys going about that to make sure that your customers are getting the best experience on the site that's also maybe translating to a higher AOV each time? Gail: Well, I think it's about knowing your customers. And so what we've been doing I would say over the past three to four years, we have invested a significant time and effort into our customer experience program. So that gives us a real time pulse on our customers. We use Net Promoter score, that's a very common way for companies to measure customer experience. So we are always constantly looking at NPS, reporting on it. We have a wealth of insights that we derive from that. And then we take all of that feedback, of course some of it's relating to online, some of it's not. But it's really about taking that feedback, closing the loop on it, and then really being aware of sort of those overarching themes that are emerging and then how do we address some of those through operational improvements? Stephanie: Did you see any similar themes that people were giving you feedback on that maybe you weren't expecting or it was kind of like an aha moment where you were like, "Oh, 20% of our customers just said the same feedback, we need to implement this instantly"? Any surprises there when doing this? Gail: I would say not a lot of surprises. But one thing that comes up from time to time, which shouldn't come up from time to time is pricing. We may get customers that will say, "Well, I checked out Wolseley Express, and I can always get a better deal when I go to your branch." That should never happen. And the reason that should never happen is because Wolseley Express, it's fed from the same system. So the price is the price, is the price. So that is an opportunity for us to go back and identify where we be having people doing overrides where they shouldn't be. So that's definitely a coaching opportunity that does come up sometime. And that is a great example of when you're really paying attention to that customer feedback and doing something with it. And so you can really address those issues because if someone's always thinking, well, I'm not going to use it anymore because the pricing is always wrong or it's always higher, that should never happen. Stephanie: Yeah, because it kind of creates a waiting game where the customer's like, well, I see a discount maybe in the app or in the branch or something like that, I might as well wait until that better price when really there shouldn't be any discrepancy to begin with. So it kind of creates a different mindset. Gail: And it erodes trust. And I think that's a key tenant of shopping online. And certainly in the early days when we were talking about how do you get your customers to engage with it? When they engage with it, you better deliver. So your pricing has gotta be right. They have to have the confidence that when I look online and I see that my branch has 100 copper tees. And if I place an order for 50, they actually have them. They actually have them, someone's actually going to pick up the order and they're going to actually send it to me. In the early days when shopping online wasn't that prevalent, there was a lot of, I would say, trepidation. Gail: So it was kind of easy for customers to talk themselves out of it and just think, "Yeah, I don't know. It sounds interesting, but I think I'll just call my guy. That way I know I'll get what I need." Trust and reliability is still really important, but I think through all of the efforts and through really focusing on not only the online experience but the fulfillment piece, it's not really an issue anymore. Stephanie: So what was that replatforming experience like? What drove you to want to replatform in the first place, and what was it like? Gail: There were some core enhancements we want made to address speed. A lot of it was relating to the architecture of the site, so there were some things that we needed to do to improve speed. A responsive design was certainly one of those things. So it was a real large project. And at this point as well, we took the development in-house at that time too. So we have a great working relationship with our IT group here. So how my group operates is we are working with the customers, we've got the infield sort of feedback loop working really well. We really drive the training and the education and the activation efforts. And all of the insights that we get, we have regular engagement with our IT team. Gail: We have a massive development list as everybody who has a site does. We're just working through it taking into consideration the priorities of the business, what's happening with our customers and then working with our IT partners to bring this stuff to life. So that was another major piece of this replatforming, allowed us to bring all of this stuff in-house, which ultimately gives us much more flexibility to manage what's happening. And of course, we go out and we grab all of the cloud based solutions that enable it to do what we need it to do. So how we did this, I don't know, I think it was like 18 months start to finish, which was a pretty good clip for a project of this size. Gail: And then of course came the reeducation process, again, starting internally. So we did a coast to coast road show, and I think we had about eight different markets where we went into and really tried to do some pretty in depth workshops with our own teams to really give them insight into what the changes were, most importantly, why we were doing them and what this meant for our customers, which was all good news. So that's when we went responsive and that's when we eliminated the app.   Stephanie: Okay, very cool. So earlier we were talking about replatforming and all that, is there anything that you changed where you were like, this had the biggest driver of results or conversions or something? Any technologies you implemented or that you built in-house or anything during the replatforming process that you can attribute to having the most impact on the business? Gail: Oh gosh. When we replatformed, we actually changed up the whole user experience. We really spent a lot of time, we engaged some experts in that field to really help us make sure that it became much easier to navigate. When customers hit a site, they don't want to have to try to figure it out. They want it to be easy to navigate, they want it to be intuitive. So I would say how we organize the information, one of the things we did, we created my Wolseley page. So when you come in to the site, my Wolseley page is all there. And it's really well organized, it shows all your quotes, all of your previous orders. There's a little piece there on credit. All of your lists, all your draft orders, everything, it's all in one spot. And I would say that was a major step forward in terms of ease of use for our customers. I would call that out as one major thing. Stephanie: Yeah, that makes sense. I've heard, especially when it comes to the B2B side of Ecommerce, having it so that a customer can log in and just hit reorder or if they put in one piece of pipe. Hey, look at me I sound like I know what I'm talking about. And then it says, you should also order this as well, like add this to your cart too because you definitely need this if you're going to be using this pipe. Just thinking of ways to not only increase the order value but also just help the customer so they don't have a delivery come and then be like, "Oh no, now I don't have the key piece and I have to wait another week for a couple screws to come in," or whatever it may be. So I think that's a really important point about making it easy to use. Gail: Absolutely. You just prompted something. So when you're talking about customers also bought or did you remember, that's a really important part of it. So we have formed a partnership with the University of Toronto who are real leaders in the artificial intelligence space. And so we actually have been working with them for a couple of years and just recently have implemented AI on Wolseley Express. And that is really helping us with the recommendation engine. Stephanie: That's interesting partnering with a university. Tell me a little bit more about that. Did you give them a bunch of your data where they kind of ran it through the models and trained the models for you guys? What was that partnership like? Gail: Well, the partnership is on ongoing. And yes, so we thought who better to engage with than people that are really, really involved in AI to the extent that they are? So we didn't exactly know what we were going to do with it, but we do know there's a lot of different applications for AI. So it was like, "Gosh, how would this apply to our business?" So this was a real obvious one. We have massive amounts of data, so we did share our data with them. And where we landed on the project that we used as a landing off spot was we really want to improve the recommendation engine that we have. So that was a project that was chosen. Like I said, we just unleashed that just recently, a couple of weeks ago. And so we're working on other opportunities with them as well, there's other places that AI can be really helpful to us. Stephanie: Yeah, it sounds like such a fun project to not only partner with someone like that who is probably cutting edge and wants to try a bunch of experiments, but then also maybe starting to see some of the early results coming in where you're like, "I never knew that just showing people these two items instead of this one could result in a 50% increase in order size

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