With a growing customer base of consumers as well as businesses, Plumbing Distributors Inc. is getting ready to go more digital to better serve customers. It is rolling its first ecommerce technology to engage buyers through its website and showrooms.
Lawrenceville, Georgia.-based Plumbing Distributors has seven showrooms and nine other locations in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. About 75% of the company’s revenue comes from the commercial side—some 4,000 plumbers, builders, and other trades firms—and 25% from the consumer side.
PDI has gotten by for years with a bare-bones website that does not facilitate purchases. But the company is in expansion mode, having recently bought a plumbing supplier in Columbus, Georgia, and opened a new facility in White House, Tennessee. Ecommerce could help PDI get a bigger return on its expansion investments, but the need for a full-function online presence to maintain revenue became even more obvious when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.
“Like a lot of companies, COVID really brought to the forefront the needs and expectations of our customers, whether you’re talking retail or our trade customers,” says William Webster, PDI’s first ecommerce sales manager. Adds Meredith Fingarson, director of marketing at PDI: “We’re starting at ground zero for ecommerce.”
PDI was checking ecommerce technology and services earlier this year, around the time when Unilog Content Solutions, a provider of ecommerce technology for mid-market wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers, announced in February its acquisition of Bravo Business Media, an ecommerce provider for contractors and 600 decorative showrooms for plumbing, electrical and other businesses. Webster says PDI liked the way Unilog’s ecommerce technology integrates with back-end business operations software, and that Bravo offered useful technology and expertise for digital showrooms.
“During that process was the acquisition, which was a great fit for us,” says Webster. “That was the appeal … it made it an all-in-one solution.” He adds, “Our number-one goal is bringing PDI services to a digital storefront.”
After examining a dozen or more ecommerce options, according to Webster, PDI went with Unilog and is now building PDI’s ecommerce system.
Unilog executives say their interest in acquiring Bravo was mostly because of its ecommerce expertise. “Bravo has served the needs more on the retail, B2C side of the business,” says Scott Frymire, Unilog’s senior vice president of marketing. “What was attractive to us was Bravo had an ecommerce solution.”
That solution includes SPEX Builder, an add-on to Bravo’s online showroom platform that enables sales representatives to create lists of the items and features customers want in their projects. SPEX Builder also supports the quick development of a PDF brochure to display such details as well as pricing and contact information.
SPEX Builder will be integrated into Unilog, whose B2B platform is called CIMM2 and includes product-information management and content management technology applications. Bravo manages 8 million stock-keeping units (SKUs) for 1,300 manufacturers, according to Ace Rosenstein, Bravo’s president, who now also is executive vice president at Unilog. “Some of our secret sauce: we’ve established direct relationships with the manufacturers,” Rosenstein says.
Those relationships could aid Unilog as it seeks growth on the B2B side and pursues new opportunities in B2C ecommerce, helping more companies like PDI that see growth in sales to consumers as well as business customers.
Unilog’s all-cash acquisition of Bravo, terms of which weren’t disclosed, followed the January announcement that Investcorp, an international private-equity and institutional financial-services firm with U.S. headquarters in New York, had acquired a majority interest in Unilog. Financial details weren’t disclosed. Unilog will use the funding for product expansion and possible further acquisitions.
Unilog, in fact, is building a new platform dubbed CX1, which Frymire says will enable customers without deep technical experience to create new digital applications for their specific needs. “It is designed to be a true no-code, low-code development platform,” he says.
Unilog was founded in India in 1998 as a catalog services company. It later migrated into software development and opened its U.S. operation in 2011. It had 50 U.S. employees before acquiring Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania-based Bravo, which had 32, all of whom came to Unilog. The Bravo brand continues for now but eventually will be consolidated with Unilog, Rosenstein says.
Jim Daly is a Mount Prospect, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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