W.S. Darley is upgrading its two e-commerce sites and making them more accessible through mobile devices.

Online sales have been on fire recently for W.S. Darley & Co., a century-old, family-owned manufacturer and distributor of firefighting and military equipment, says Joe Catania, company web department manager.

The company, founded in 1908 as a distributor selling through paper catalogs, started selling online in 1999. Darley operates two e-commerce sites: eDarley.com, which sells emergency-response equipment like fire hoses, and firefighting gear and portable power generators; and DarleyDefense.com, which sells military equipment including weapons holsters, tents and night-vision gear.

Almost immediately after putting about 4,000 of Darley’s military SKUs online, sales from its defense products, covering several international markets as well as the United States, ratcheted up from a small portion of sales to nearly 50% of its total online revenue.

Bringing its military and fire equipment online helped spark sales from countries outside the United States, such as China, Nigeria and many European countries. Catania says Darley has strong international brand recognition from providing fire trucks and water pumps that it manufactured to the U.S. military as far back as the 1940s. “We were responsible for supplying lots of military fire trucks for World War II,” Catania says. “Many were left overseas after the war. Countries recognized our brand name, and word got around that we were a respected and reliable product.”

W.S. Darley began selling a small selection of its less popular fire and defense merchandise through Amazon.com about two and a half years ago, and through eBay.com this year, helping to increase online sales and W.S. Darley’s brand recognition, Catania says. Sales from the two online marketplaces now account for 30% of the company’s e-commerce revenue, he says.


While the privately held company doesn’t release sales figures, Catania says its total revenue was $160 million in 2014 in combined business-to-business and retail sales. Catania says the company has tens of thousands of customers, and that half of them are businesses and government agencies. The other half are individual fire fighters outfitting themselves. 20% of its B2B customers, including firehouses, government bureaus and truck manufacturers, shop directly at one or both of the company’s two e-commerce sites. The rest of the company’s business and government clients order through sales reps, though Darley hopes to bring more customers online as it improves its e-commerce sites.

Darley built its e-commerce sites using Magento Community Edition, a free open-source software from the eBay Enterprise division of eBay Inc. Open-source software provides web developers with the core software code for customizing the software.

Last fall, Darley decided to upgrade its two e-commerce sites to Magento Enterprise Edition, the licensed version of Magento software that Catania says will enable Darley to better manage web content across both of its e-commerce sites. The new Enterprise Edition sites are expected to go live by the end of this month after a 5-month deployment project.

When using the Community Edition, Darley’s web content managers have had to pull product images and other content from separate databases for each e-commerce site—a time-consuming process that has become more of a problem as Darley’s online traffic and sales have increased. With the Enterprise Edition, Darley’s content managers will be able to pull product images and descriptions from a single database to update both e-commerce sites in about half the time as under the old system, Catania says. That will free them up to spend more time developing online merchandise displays and distributing content through social media, he adds.

The new software will also make it easier for Darley to add more complicated products to each site, helping it to persuade customers to buy more products online, Catania says. Only 11,000 of the company’s 100,000 selection of SKUs are currently available for purchase online, and many customers still shop W.S. Darley’s print catalogs—which the company sends out twice a year—and order through sales reps. “The goal is to turn more customers into online shoppers,” Catania says.


W.S. Darley is deploying the Magento Enterprise Edition software with Lyons Consulting Group LLC, an e-commerce web design and development firm certified by Magento. Magento Enterprise will cost W.S. Darley about $80,000 over the next three years for licensing and implementation fees, he says.

Darley is also planning to use the responsive design capabilities of the new Magento software to make it easier for customers to shop its e-commerce sites via mobile devices. Many of Darley’s customers—about 1000 per day—already come to the site from mobile phones and tablets, Catania says. Responsive design enables an e-commerce site to automatically adapt to the size of a shopper’s smartphone or tablet screen. “Right now phone and tablet traffic bring about 30% of our unique visitors to our site,” he says. “A lot of the research for the product services is done out in the field, and we also get a lot of night traffic on iPads from firefighters likely in stations making wish lists.”

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