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EPISODE 29

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

With Gail Kaufman, Vice President of Marketing & eBusiness at Wolseley Canada

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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. 

Key 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.

Key Quotes:

“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 [and] it’s about making sure that [the associates] 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.”

“We have invested significant time and effort into our customer experience program, which gives us a real time pulse on our customers. We are always constantly looking at net promoter score… and then it’s really about taking that feedback, closing the loop on it, and then really being aware of the overarching themes that are emerging. Then it’s about how to address some of those themes through operational improvements.”

“When we were talking about how to get your customers to engage with [ECommerce], when they do engage with it, you better deliver. Your pricing has got to be right. They have to have the confidence that when I look online and I see that my branch has 100 copper tees, if I place an order for 50, 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. 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.”

“When we replatformed, we actually changed up the whole user experience. 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.”

“When customers get engaged online, we always see higher average order values and higher year over year growth. It never fails.”

“What our contractors care most about is saving time. Time and efficiency, we hear that constantly. So we have to be very aware that time is money to them and everything we can do to respect that and make it easy for them, that’s what we need to do.”

Mentions:

Bio:

Gail Kaufman was appointed Vice-President of eBusiness for Wolseley Canada in 2016 and had the marketing function added to her responsibilities in 2018. In this role, Gail is responsible for eBusiness strategy development, driving the adoption of the channel throughout the business, and making eBusiness an integral part of Wolseley’s culture and value proposition. With the addition of marketing, Gail is also responsible for omni-channel customer experience, showroom and brand marketing strategy and the Connects Program that facilitates the partnership between our vendors and sales channels.

Gail joined Wolseley in December 2005 in the newly created role of Director of Marketing. In this role, Gail was responsible for the strategic direction of the company’s marketing initiatives, including new programs, branding and eBusiness. One of Gail’s most notable achievements during her time as Director of Marketing was the national rebranding of 13 Wolseley-owned companies under the Wolseley Canada branding.

With extensive experience in both B2B and B2C environments, prior to joining Wolseley Gail had increasingly senior roles in automotive, both in wholesale distribution and manufacturing, with market-leading brands including Quaker State and Pennzoil. Gail also has extensive international experience. While with Shell’s international car care division, based in Houston, Texas, she led the development, management and multi-channel expansion of Shell’s car care product portfolio in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Gail has been a Director on the national board of the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating, is a member of the Executive/Finance Committee and is currently Chair of the Education and Training Council.

A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Gail also studied at the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business and the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland.

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 salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome to Up Next In Commerce. This is your host Stephanie Postles, co-founder of Mission.org. 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<” or something. Is there any early results you’re seeing right now or not yet?

Gail:

The early results, and they’re really early results. But definitely we are seeing because it’s now starting to serve up more relevant products, so we’re seeing a lot more clicks, like a lot more. Significant short term. We need a lot more data under our belt than we currently have, but I think the early indications are it’s starting to work.

Stephanie:

When you’re implementing these new technologies like this and you did your replatforming, what kind of metrics do you look at on a maybe weekly basis to make sure that things are going well? What are your success metrics that you check in on?

Gail:

Well, I would say at the highest level, at the very, very highest level, we were looking at customer engagement. So specifically the percent of customers registered, connecting, and transacting at the highest level. We have thousands of customers and it’s like we really want to ensure that we are engaging them, at least making sure that they are aware of Wolseley Express’s existence, how we believe it can help them from a convenience and efficiency standpoint. And then hopefully they will try it. Because it’s really a win-win when they do. So for them it’s convenience and efficiency. But when customers get engaged online, we see always higher average order values and higher year over year growth. It never fails.

Gail:

That’s sort of at the highest level. So we would say we’re going to target a certain percentage of sales. Now we’re getting a little more nuanced with that. So we’ve improved our site analytics. So looking through our site analytics, transactional data, segmentation data we’re really getting very, very granular, and again, working through our whole sort of ecosystem here at Wolseley. Obviously, all of what Google analytics has to offer, but we’re really going to understand at a granular level what customers are taking advantage of what features. And again, we know there are certain things that resonate with certain customer types, and then we will be actively promoting that to them. It’s really about engagement for us. And we have a lot of data, our data is very well organized. So it’s really about using that data and then using that to really finally target opportunities within our business.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. And it also seems like your customers would be pretty sticky like once they order once with you guys, it seems like you have a pretty reliable customer there who’s going to keep coming back if they did it once and had a good experience?

Gail:

Yeah, totally, it is very sticky. And again, there’s different things or features that resonate with different customer types. But absolutely, because it makes it easy, right? And basically Wolseley Express is a virtual branch, it is open 24/7.

Stephanie:

So I want to shift a bit because I know marketing is your background and we haven’t gotten to touch on that yet. So I was hoping to shift there and hear a little bit about what kind of marketing campaigns are you most excited about right now? What are you looking to do? How are you making sure that Wolseley is found by the people in the field who are looking around for a solution?

Gail:

So we have really been ramping up our digital efforts I would say over the past couple of years. We have what we call our marketing ecosystem. So we have an instance of Salesforce that we use, which contains data from our ERP, which contains data from our customer experience platform, which contains all of our customer segmentation data. Of course, all of our transactional data, all the customer feed. So everything that we know about a customer, it’s in one place. And then we’ve hooked that up to our marketing automation software. So what I’m most excited about is that we can get very, very targeted with all the information that we have on customers, with what we know about what they buy, with what we know about, because of the type of customer they are, what they could potentially be buying. Those are the things that are most exciting to me now because we can get really, really granular with our marketing efforts.

Stephanie:

Are there any maybe I guess more traditional models that you guys are relying on? Because I’m thinking for people who are working, all day maybe they don’t touch a computer, which sounds very weird to me because I feel like I’m only on a computer. But for people who maybe aren’t doing that throughout the day, are there different methods that you’re relying on to get in front of like the business owners who are heads down working in whatever field they’re in?

Gail:

Yep, absolutely. So everything we do, we try to syndicate it across multiple touch points. So if they’re in the branch, we have digital signage in the branch. We will use traditional type of collateral in the branch. Training is really, really important with our customers, very important. So we will partner with vendors and we will have like many trade shows. We will have events at our branches. When we could do that pre COVID, we had a lot of in person events, which really center around training, which is highly valued by customers. It’s an ongoing endeavor. So those are the types of things that we would typically focus on. And then there’s the other kind of things that happen in our industry too, incentive trips, things of that nature.

Gail:

But we’re really kind of moving away, not that we will ever eliminate those things, but it’s really about how can we really address the needs of customers. Training is a big thing, getting the right information into their hands around products, suggesting products, new products, time-saving products. Another piece that’s really exciting is we’ve just sort of created a new sort of way of working with vendors that we can really be first to market with new and innovative products. So that’s being out in the hands of our customers, so digitally getting messaging into their hands. In the branch, getting the same messaging, having merchandising that syncs up with that, having training events that sync up with that. So it’s really about taking a holistic approach to everything that we’re doing. So it’s never one thing, there is no such thing as a silver bullet. So it’s like, how do you make all these things synchronized well together?

Stephanie:

I love the idea of training. That just seems like one, you’re of course helping the business owner or company who’s like, “I need to learn how to do this.” But it’s also probably going to have them also buy your product that you’re using while showing the training,

Stephanie:

I’m guessing you see a higher percentage of people who took your trainings buy something afterwards?

Gail:

We’re really starting to sort of wrap this all together. But it does make sense, where you spend the time and effort is generally where you see the results. So it’s really just getting a nice sort of cohesive approach. We measure everything. We use data upfront to determine what we should be doing and then we analyze everything after the fact. In fact, one of the other things we just have started doing, this is not edge of your seat leading as marketing, but it’s a digital flyer. It’s very time consuming and quite laborious to have a steady stream of offers that are going out. So we just launched something called deal drop, and it features about a dozen products. It changes up a biweekly. And that allows us to really showcase particular products with our key vendor partners. That is all supported in branch sometimes with displays or other types of collateral. We just started that, and that is something that we will be continuing to refine over time as we get more and more data and feedback from that.

Stephanie:

I wanted to hear a little bit about your rebranding of the 13 Wolseley owned companies and putting them under Wolseley Canada. I wanted to hear a bit about how you went about that, why they needed to be rebranded and what that was like.

Gail:

Oh, okay. That’s a good question. So we did that I want to say in 2014. So Wolseley Canada grew very much, it was a collection of businesses, a lot of acquisitions in there, which is why we ended up with all of these different brands. But it was very, very fragmented. We weren’t consistently presenting the Wolseley name in terms of the look, the feel, everything was very disjointed. So we said, okay, now is the time to clean this all up to really tell the Wolseley story, make sure we’re presenting it appropriately, that we’re making sure everyone can talk to the brand and that we can really maintain the integrity of the messaging, the look and the feel.

Gail:

We had worked through several concepts in terms of what would this look like? And a lot of the effort was really around signage, there was a large signage component to it. So all of the things that you would see in a branch, so the signage on the branch, we introduced window wrappings, trucks, vehicles on the road. Because one of the things that was kind of interesting, people wouldn’t possibly be familiar with the name but had no idea what we did. So what we were trying to do is really educate within the markets across Canada, this is what Wolseley does, this is who we are. So we ended up coming up with a very, I think, very simple sort of approach frameworks. So how do we identify our businesses? Always the big Wolseley, always the big W, and then we use a very simple sort of approach to this is a waterworks branch, this is an industrial branch, this is a plumbing branch, this is an HVAC branch.

Gail:

We wanted a nice umbrella system, something very simple that would allow all of our businesses to talk under it but maintain that consistency. So we came up with the branding system in conjunction with an agency you know. A lot of collaboration with the executive team at the time to really make sure that we came up with the right program. And then it really became working very closely with our businesses first and foremost to execute something of this scale. So finding partners in the regions, working very closely with our real estate team here. We had a very good project plan and we got this project done. I think it was within like 12 months it happened. We got it done pretty quickly, pretty well organized, paid a lot of attention to the communications.

Gail:

We had to manage through all that kind of logistics with it. And of course, our customers, making sure that our customers understood what was going on. And at the end of the day, they were still going to be getting the same great service from the people that they knew and loved. So nothing was really going to change from a service perspective, but that was a concern. And it was interesting because we had longterm employees that worked for some of the companies that were rebranding.

Gail:

So it was really, I would say there was a real emotional component with that. You’re taking away the company that I worked for even though they worked for Wolseley and they had for 20 or 25 years in some cases. So we had to manage through that emotional component too. So at the end of the day, it was a very large project, but, but it came off beautifully. A really nice happening after this was our counterparts in the UK went through a similar exercise a couple of years ago, and they ended up adopting our branding.

Stephanie:

How interesting.

Gail:

For Wolseley UK, so that was nice.

Stephanie:

It kind of reminds me of the reverse of, you hear this trend right now of the unbundling of everything. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but it started with Craigslist and how Craigslist got unbundled and they highlighted this part’s Nextdoor, this part is Tinder. They were like pulling about how Craigslist got unbundled and now it’s happening with Reddit. And it sounds like you guys actually kind of took the reverse direction of bundling up your offerings to make it more cohesive so there’s not like a dozen websites out there where it’s like plumbing you go here, HVAC, you go here. Were there any lessons that you would remember or that you would advise someone who’s maybe thinking about this similarly?

Gail:

I think my bias has always been unless there’s a really compelling reason to have this fragmentation, maybe if you make an acquisition and they really have a very strong and unique value proposition with great market share, you might want to leave that alone. I think overall we’re trying to, we talk often about one Wolseley. And that’s really about creating more cohesion within our business units too. So an example of that is how over the last few years, two or three in particular, there’s been a lot of progress made. So if you think about plumbing contractors, they often do HVAC as well. Those are two things that often coexist. So why are we making them go to two different places? Why can’t they just come into one place, get everything they need, one transaction, it’s easy? What our contractors care most about it’s saving time. Time and efficiency, we hear that constantly. So we have to be very aware that time is money to them and everything we can do to respect that and make it easy for them, that’s what we need to do.

Stephanie:

I love that. That was a good principle in life in general, time is of the essence. So to zoom out a little bit into a more general Ecommerce and the wholesale industry, what do you think wholesalers like B2B wholesalers right now are missing? What are they missing the mark on? What could they improve on? What do you see happening in the industry where you think that they’re behind or could improve on?

Gail:

I think it’s about adding value. I think it’s about really understanding, just what we were talking about. I think we need to really be thinking about how do we build closer partnerships with our customers, really understand our challenges, really understand their pain points and work to resolve those. And we are actively doing that. To force customers to continue to work in a mode that is not serving them anymore is not fruitful. So for example, in our industry there’s a labor shortage. So finding skilled trades, it’s difficult and there’s not a good pipeline coming up. So I think knowing that, what are some of the solutions we can come up with? How can we expand our services? How can we better support our customer base knowing that this is a challenge?

Gail:

One of them is by having time-saving, more convenient options like Wolseley Express because nothing upsets a contractor more than having their people in our branches unnecessarily. It’s like, how do we really understand our customers’ experience? And how can we best help resolve that? Ecommerce certainly solves a lot of things, it doesn’t solve everything because we have various touch points with the customer. But I think that’s a key thing, digital is a really important component.

Stephanie:

I love that. Earlier, you just mentioned about the lack of skills around the trade industry. And I know you hosted a panel on the future of the workforce, and I was wondering how you think we’re going to be able to fill that gap or what efforts do you see needing to happen behind the scenes to make sure that those roles are filled?

Gail:

There’s an organization in Canada called the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating. We also have counterparts in the US. One of the mandates of CIPH of which I’m currently the chair of the national board is advocacy with governments. So promoting the need with skill trades, getting the funding, really advocating with the government to invest in this particular area. That’s one thing. But I think in general thinking about the traditional model of sales reps, for example. A sales rep when they’re having a conversation with a customer, it’ll be more consultant like. It’s really about, let me understand your business, I’m more of a partner.

Gail:

So I think the role of sales as we have known it is evolving. And I think that’s a major shift. There’s a lot of stuff that a sales person has done in the past that can be shifted to self serve. I don’t need to call my sales rep when I need a price or I need to know if you’ve got inventory, that’s easy enough to do through a platform like Wolseley Express. But if I’m really trying to think, if I need product advice, if I’m working through a project and I really need help, I need to understand maybe the best brands, the best products, I need special delivery, whatever, if it needs to be bagged and tagged differently, that’s really where I think the role of sales is changing and inside sales. So I think those are sort of the impacts that we’ll see going forward.

Stephanie:

That’s a really good point. I like thinking about how if you transition the mentality of the salesperson to be more of like a partner, like you mentioned, partnering with you on this project, let me help guide you on this. Not only on the products, but also maybe best practices. They’re going to start viewing this person as someone that they trust, and then they obviously will want to buy from and learn from as well.

Gail:

Right. Yeah.

Stephanie:

So is there anything that you were hoping I would ask that I did not before we move on to the lightning round.

Gail:

I don’t think so. I think we covered a lot of territory.

Stephanie:

If nothing comes to mind, I can move on to the lightning round.

Gail:

Okay. Let’s do it.

Stephanie:

The lightning round is where I ask you one question in a minute or I ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready to, Gail?

Gail:

I hope so.

Stephanie:

What’s up next on your travel destination when you can get out and travel again?

Gail:

My travel destination, probably London.

Stephanie:

What are you going to do in London?

Gail:

Well, let me tell you about the last time I was in London and that’s what I would like to replicate. So the last time I was in London I’ve always wanted to see a concert in the Royal Albert Hall. And specifically, I always wanted to see Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall. So the last time I was in London, I was there to see a concert. And I was planning on doing the same this year. Of course, that never happened. I really liked that area of the world, so I will be looking to see another concert someplace in the UK.

Stephanie:

Cool, fun. Hopefully soon. If you were to have a podcast, what would the topic be about and who would be your first guest?

Gail:

Oh my goodness. It would probably be music related because I’m a huge music fan. So if I was going to have a podcast, I would probably want to speak to someone who’s music that I enjoy, and I may want to speak to someone like Joe Bonamassa.

Stephanie:

There you go. I would listen to that. That sounds great. What’s up next on your reading list?

Gail:

What’s up next to my reading list? I don’t have a specific what’s up next, but I can tell you, I go between genres. I go between, I’m currently reading, I’m embarrassed to tell you this.

Stephanie:

Now I really want to hear it.

Gail:

I am rereading, so I love music. I love blues and blues rock music. I met an author recently who wrote about Stevie Ray Vaughn and I read that book. And same author coauthored a book on The Allman Brothers, which I’m currently rereading. So I go between that type of thing to business books, to self-help books periodically. So I have a few things in rotation and every now and then I’ll just throw in some candy fiction, [crosstalk] type of stuff.

Stephanie:

Cool. All right. The last question slightly harder, but you can do at Gail, what one thing will have the biggest impact on Ecommerce in the next year?

Gail:

Oh gosh. So I don’t know if I can answer this in a minute, an hour. I’m thinking about from a Wolseley perspective, we are undergoing really a modernization of our ERP. So this is going to really allow us to complete our journey going into a fully cloud based environment by reducing and reallocating resources that are currently spent on infrastructure. So we’re transitioning our whole omni-channel to more of a headless architecture. There’s some really exciting things happening around data, moving to a new master data management system where we’ve got one version of the truth that feeds all of our systems, all of our channels. As we go along that journey, that is going to have an incredible impact on us. And I think some learnings from COVID too have been really, really great.

Gail:

One of the learnings that we’ve taken from COVID is obviously we’ve seen a bump in our online engagement, but we didn’t really anticipate the power of curbside. We always had express pickup, but curbside, we never asked customers would you rather not ever come into our branch? But when we were forced to lock our customers out of our branches, fortunately we were still able to serve customers because we were deemed essential. So it has been amazing the customers’ response to curbside. So now we are really looking to formalize curbside to make sure that we are executing it consistently across the country and providing a high quality of service every time. And this has implications for the ability to text into the branch and have the parking spots available and all that kind of stuff. So I think that is a big development for us formalizing it in the coming months.

Stephanie:

That’s a really good one.

Gail:

And it’s contactless. We’ve been learning more about this over the last, what, three months.

Stephanie:

I like that one. It brings so many questions into my mind about what do these branches look like? Do you even need branches that are customer friendly if the people aren’t really going into them anymore? And like you said, how does that flow of traffic look like? So many things that could change and efficiencies that could maybe be gained from all of that?

Gail:

Absolutely. We’re always thinking about our branch network and opportunities to sort of change that up, so that’s always something that’s under examination. But I think now we are being even a little more bold about how we’re thinking about it. What is going to happen in a branch is going to be compelling enough to have a customer come in and how do we want to use that space differently? So we have some ideas on that.

Stephanie:

It sounds like we will have to bring you back for a round two then once you get to figure that out. Well, Gail, this has been such a pleasure having you on the show. Where can people find out more about you and Wolseley?

Gail:

I would encourage you to visit our website wolseley.inc.ca.

Stephanie:

Cool. Thanks so much for coming on. And like I said, we’ll have to have you back. This was a blast.

Gail:

Thank you for having me, much appreciated.

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