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WHO gets a new virtual showroom and online store

I was first introduced to Glenn Powell, managing director of the WHO Bathroom Warehouse enterprise, by Michael Reidy, the universally-respected management consultant and business advisor from Melbourne, who at the time was working with Glenn on strategic matters. Michael and I had met through networks surrounding several different organisations. It was 2012 and Michael had mentioned that the next phase of Glenn’s strategy for WHO would involve building a strong internet presence with an online store. I was interested to see if I could help WHO on this level. Michael connected me with Glenn via email.

Glenn and I engaged in a long initial (phone) chat about WHO. I learned how Glenn, a designer, had created his own designer brands and was manufacturing his own bathroom renovation products (baths, vanities, tapware, etc) in China – like most of the well-known ‘designer’ brands – and selling them direct-to-the-public at wholesale prices through his chain of WHO Bathroom Warehouse stores, with an extended lifetime guarantee. Impressive!

The initial brief

Glenn saw WHO’s competitors as big companies like Reece and Bunnings, as well as the plethora of smaller traders with websites and bricks-and-mortar showrooms but almost nothing carried in-stock. If you’ve ever renovated a bathroom and selected products from a website or showroom display – only to be told it will take three weeks (or more) for the stock to arrive – you will appreciate why Glenn’s policy of having all WHO products in-stock and ready for immediate pick-up or delivery was music to my ears as a marketer (and periodic home-renovator).

What Glenn’s everything-always-in-stock philosophy meant in practical terms, however, was that WHO needed to keep track of thousands of different bathroom products in multiple bricks-and-mortar store locations (each store being not just a showroom but a WHO Bathroom Warehouse with all advertised items stocked on-site), and then there was the need to constantly monitor and forecast supply levels, control offshore manufacturing operations, shipping….

With steady-handed guidance from Michael Reidy, and a small team of ‘big software’ developers working on the tech side, WHO arrived at their own ERP system for end-to-end control of the WHO product specifications, inventory, operations, and sales – a great asset to WHO and Glenn’s plans moving forward.

Glenn’s next ambition was to have an online store front-end for his ERP system. Glenn wanted the WHO online store set up so that one change to a product specification or price in the ERP would automatically populate throughout the online store; online store sales would automatically deduct from ERP inventory, etc. Of course, this was all very good in theory, but I had to advise that trying to achieve it at this point (2012) could cost the Earth, and take forever.

As a viable and reliable alternative, I recommended a simple, tried-and-true solution which would take almost no time, work very well with some manually-driven interfacing with the ERP, and cost very little. Glenn didn’t sound terribly excited, but then ‘sensible’ cars are not very exciting to think about either – not once you’ve pictured yourself behind the wheel of a Maserati.

Catalogue promotion for WHO Bathroom Warehouse
One of WHO's stunning bathroom accessory designs, by Vanna, exclusive to WHO
Selling products like baths online is challenging because of problems with shipping.

The initial (unsuccessful) pitch

Next thing, I found myself in a virtual meeting with Glenn Powell (WHO) speaking from the Gold Coast; Michael Reidy (Inzuri Consulting) moderating from Melbourne; two custom-software development consultants; and my own long-standing business associate, David Ferguson, the Aussie web hosting and BigCommerce expert who serves clients nationally, brought in by me to support my recommendations from a technical perspective.

Michael Reidy

The well-connected and universally respected Michael Reidy, Inzuri Consulting

I presented my recommendations for developing the WHO online store in BigCommerce, which IMO is the best ready-to-configure e-commerce solution for SMEs, hands-down. BigCommerce is global these days but it was originally developed in Australia by Interspire. Both David and I go back a long way with this particular shopping cart platform (he goes back much further than me, with deep technical involvement). BigCommerce is simply very, very good.

Knowing that Glenn would be able to export the gazillions of WHO product details, images, and prices in spreadsheets straight from the ERP, it would be easy for us to populate the online store with product-related content, sorted into product categories. We could get the WHO online store off-the-ground with just a few spreadsheet imports, some copywriting and other initial content development from me (for customer appeal and SEO reasons), and some technical template customisation done through David, as BigCommerce templates are a specialist field. The whole project – done this way, in what I call ninja moves – would take only 4-6 weeks in total, and cost very little to complete and launch. Neat, sweet, extremely practical – and low-risk, with the potential for ROI unknown.

What happened next was a bit of a blur as I heard the two tech guys saying they could easily develop a super-dooper Magento shopping cart front-end for WHO’s ERP system, as if this would be as easy to accomplish as falling off a log (it’s not). I think they said it would take something like three weeks and cost peanuts. I heard that I might be called upon as a content developer, and for SEO guidance, but the store would essentially run itself automatically between Magento and the ERP. Well, what could I say?

Glenn Powell

Glenn Powell, managing director and bathroom guru, WHO Bathroom Warehouse

I mentioned again that I had a long track-record with successful online store development across several platforms. I said it was easy to underestimate the amount of work required to turn Magento into a fully-automated online store for shipping bulky products like bathroomware. I explained how customising the protocol for shipping settings by size/weight and zone (eg: we can deliver a bath here, not there, but we can ship a mixer tap anywhere) would be a nightmare, whereas even complex shipping filters were easy to configure in BigCommerce. I also said that the ERP/Magento solution would be costly to maintain and revamp periodically, with little that the user could do for themselves in future to change or adjust anything. Whatever I said, even with validation from David (David is Mr BigCommerce, yes, but with Magento experience), coming from the position of immense experience and customary common-sense, it didn’t sound as ‘sexy’ as a fully-automated online store.

In the end, David and I agreed that the ERP/Magento proposition sounded too good to be true (’nuff said). We announced in unison that if this miraculous ERP/Magento solution could be developed as quickly, effectively, and cheaply as promised – it would be too hard for Glenn to pass up. Go for it, Glenn, we said. We wished the custom developers all the best with the project they’d just won from us, and meant it. In parting, I confirmed that I would be happy to help out with static content development and SEO once the ERP/Magento online store was sorted out. If their custom store-development proposition worked okay, the call for my content-development services would be mere weeks away.

The long wait while nothing was happening

I kept in touch with Glenn from time to time, asking how the ERP/Magento project was coming along. I’d hear from Glenn that it would be another three weeks, another two weeks, another four weeks, a bit longer… I felt for Glenn in his disappointment, and admired his patience and determination. There was no sign of the ERP/Magento dream being abandoned, just d-e-l-a-y-e-d. In the meantime, I was busy doing other projects with Ginormous and my calls to Glenn – only to hear about how slowly paint was drying in The Land of Custom ERP/Magento Online Store Development – became fewer and further between.

When the call finally came

After the l-o-n-g-e-s-t time (it was late 2013), I got a call from Glenn. He said that the ERP/Magento store development was still nowhere near finished, and that WHO couldn’t wait around for it any longer. If you’ve just returned from a coffee break, let me remind you that this was the ERP/Magento online store which I’d heard promised would be ready within weeks, and this promise might have been made more than a year ago. I didn’t even want to ask what this fruitless endeavour had cost WHO in the meantime because this wasn’t about schadenfreude. Glenn still had no online store for WHO. I just wanted to help.

Glenn was more than ready to go ahead with the BigCommerce solution, as originally proposed by me and David. I jumped on a flight to the Gold Coast to meet Glenn and his management team in person, and familiarise myself first-hand with WHO products and how the land-based stores were running. David swung into action with helping Glenn to get his ERP exports into the correct format for importing into BigCommerce, creating templates along the way so that Glenn could easily update the BigCommerce store by exporting from the ERP at any time. I got to work sorting SEO-minded product categories and creating relevant static content. The template was tweaked a little by David and voila! In next-to-no-time, the WHO Bathroom Warehouse online store was live and fully functional – on time, on budget – open ready for 2014. +10 ‘credibility points’ scored with Michael Reidy!

Growing from online store to virtual showroom + online store

Gone are the days of less intense internet competition when I could build an online store with the right products, prices, and SEO attributes to push turnover above $1M with relative ease. We managed to draw significant traffic to WHO’s online store website through organic search without relying on PPC (Google Adwords), but the online market for bathroom renovation supplies is tough. What’s tougher – many of the big-ticket bathroom products like (baths, basins, and toilets) can’t be stuffed into a padded post bag and sent as an eParcel. Door-to-door couriers would be too expensive because of size, weight, and fragility. Bathroom tapware, plumbing parts, and bathroom accessories would ship okay but for larger items the best we could offer was ‘shop online, pay and collect’. This would limit larger and more comprehensive sales of bathroom renovation products to people who lived within reasonable proximity to one of the bricks-and-mortar WHO Bathroom Warehouse stores.

In early 2015 we revamped WHO’s online presence with a new virtual showroom as the main website on the primary domain: whobathroomwarehouse.com.au. Glenn’s spectacular bathrooms and the bathroom design ideas were written about in a way that’s appealing and helpful to visitors. Moving through the showroom, visitors can go to the online store where it’s straight down-to-business with preparing your Wish List or loading your Shopping Cart. To achieve this showroom-combined-with-store concept, we married a glorious WordPress front-end to the same BigCommerce back-end we’d started out with (saving money). We also increased the intensity of ‘Gold Coast’ keywords in our SEO strategies, and this helps to drive the ‘right’ people from the ‘bathroom renovation ideas’ section within the showroom part of the website (WordPress), into the online store for product selection and pricing (BigCommerce updated by ERP exports), and then into the bricks-and-mortar WHO Bathroom Warehouse stores for purchasing. The online store is also processing sales. Online transactions are filtered as either prepaid local store pickup of bulky or mixed items, or smaller items like bathroom tap fittings and plumbing parts being shipped to anywhere in Australia.

It’s a work-in-progress with bathroom design trends continually changing, and the WHO range of bathroom renovation products continually expanding, but with WordPress and BigCommerce the WHO online presence is future-ready.

……………………….

Glenn Powell is one of the most imaginative and driven people you’re ever likely to meet. Guess what? I’ve just heard he’s going into kitchens! Watch this space…

The new WHO Bathroom Warehouse main website - a virtual showroom linking through to the online store
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