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In today’s business climate, e-commerce is not only becoming essential to any wholesale business in our industry, it’s probably the difference between life and death for a company’s future. Mountainland Supply started its journey eight years ago as we listened to our customers’ wishes and pain points of doing business with wholesalers.
We were dealing with a changing of the guard. Companies were transitioning from father to son, from baby boomers to Generation X and millennials. The younger generations were brought up on personal computers and cell phones — it is the only way they know how to communicate, get information, determine what they will buy, and who they will buy from.
Mountainland Supply Co. began in 1947 in the bustling metropolis of postwar Provo, Utah. The company has grown to eight showroom locations and 25 distribution branches across Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho, with more than 560 employee-owners. With a fleet of more than 100 vehicles, we can provide a daily delivery service throughout central, eastern and southern Utah. Our sales team is comprised of 80 inside and outside sales experts; some have reached the 40-year milestone of continued employment with Mountainland.
We focus on the wholesale distribution of pipe, valves and fittings, plumbing supplies, waterworks piping, turf irrigation supplies, plumbing specialties, enameled ware, china fixtures, showers, water heaters, storage tanks, laundry trays, rubber goods and packing, steel pipe, ductile iron pipe and fittings, PVC pipe, welding fittings and flanges.
We take great pride in providing the best products to our customers, providing timely deliveries and always putting our customer’s needs first. With our growth over the years and that of our customers, we needed to provide continued excellence in customer service.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Starting the process to create our website was one of the hardest things to do. As marketers, we often engage in paralysis by analysis — trying to understand every possible way to provide everything to the customer that we end up providing nothing at all. So, we had to just start.
The first thing we did was help our executive team understand that providing a successful website for our customers would take serious investment. Yes, it would be costly in terms of dollars — and personnel, time and commitment.
Websites are not built and then ignored; they take constant care and upkeep. We needed to see our website as a “digital branch.” All the assets we would normally put toward a brick-and-mortar store needed to be applied to our website. Once we understood that, moving forward was a lot easier.
And as we continued the website process, we listened to our customers — but we weren’t 100 percent prepared for everything they wanted.
Give Them What They Need Before They Know They Need It
Our audience is mostly B2B contractors, giving us a little guidance on how they would want to use the website. Purchasing products, looking up and paying invoices were things customers mentioned, and we knew they would be essential.
However, as we designed the customer experience, we listened to our IT team and learned new and interesting ways to add value for our customers while using the site. This enabled us to give our customers options they didn’t know they needed. And a luxury once enjoyed becomes a necessity.
We started asking questions such as, “If we could do this, would this make your business better?” As we did, we discovered things such as immediately applying credits from returns to their accounts was a huge benefit as it enabled customers to free up that cash to purchase even more products from us. We found out that being able to pay their invoices using a direct payment option was a game-changer.
By letting customers make payments whenever they wanted to, without penalty of credit card fees, it eliminated the back-and-forth phone calls to our accounts receivable staff, saving time. With their unique login, customers can see their own pricing matrix, see individual branch inventories and inventories at other branches to make better decisions on whether to ship items or do will call.
Buyers love the ability to create price books online based on specific product lines, brands or individual verticals. With a few clicks, they have up-to-date pricing with descriptions and part numbers to make it quick and easy to order.
Creating a mobile-friendly e-commerce site geared toward a contractor’s customers means building features that cross over into different levels of customer operations. Customers who frequently use our website benefit in their finance department, purchasing department, onsite with their foreman when they discover shorts, even with owners. They can track their Peak Rewards loyalty points for purchases made that they, in turn, redeem for trips, concerts, professional sports games and more.
Hurdles Are Sure to Rear Their Head
At Mountainland Supply, we had challenges to overcome that were unique to us. We represent many different verticals on our site and sell more than 60,000 SKU’s. We supply plumbing, waterworks, turf irrigation, agricultural irrigation, geo tech, hydronics, HVACR, pumps, tools and safety equipment. We quickly learned that we needed help.
Having partners who provided product files, pictures, descriptions and spec sheets helped us ensure we could maintain those SKUs and provide updated and relative information for our customers.
Don’t go it alone. Use outside resources to do what you can’t do. We turned to companies such as Bravo Business Media and Trade Services for assistance in product files. We also use a local SEO company to help us with our Google business pages and Yelp listings, which are crucial for getting directions through Siri on iPhones. In addition, our membership in the IMARK buying group and Luxury Product Group provides necessary peer networking to trade best practices.
Mountainland Supply changes often; we add verticals and new products, we engage in local and public events. There is so much going on. We use our website blog to share information about new products through our “SupplyWise” podcast. The website includes blog posts covering 75 topics and products that incorporate interviews with employees and vendors.
Additionally, links to social media pages such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are also integrated to communicate about events and promotions, as well as to educate. Your customers want to know what’s going on in the industry. Be a leader and structure your website as a place they can go to get good information.
Your customers drive the direction of your business. More than 50 percent of our active core customers use our website in some way to improve their businesses. We still have a way to go. However, what we have learned in this process is priceless. Our customers are benefiting from time and cost savings and convenience — because we dared to just start.
No one can create the perfect plan or perfect website. It’s a process; there will be surprises at every turn. The feedback you receive from your customers? They will appreciate that you are trying to make their businesses better. Will it destroy the need for brick and mortar? Our experience is that it only enhances our ability to operate those stores more efficiently, which is better for our customers.
If you give a salesperson a good website, it will make the salesperson better. If you give a branch a good website, it will make the branch better. The answer to why you should create an e-commerce site is easy: Because you’ll learn more about your customers and how to make their businesses better than you ever did before.