Speed in helping channel partners and customers make and complete purchasing decisions has been a boon to Bradley Corp., a manufacturer of commercial washroom accessories and industrial safety equipment like eye-wash stations deployed in customized large-scale corporate installations.
Based in the Milwaukee suburb of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, Bradley sells through a network of independent sales reps and distributors to customers ranging from Boeing Co. to Walmart Inc. to The Coca-Cola Co. Bradley and its channel partners fulfill orders from a California distribution center and from a nationwide network of consignment warehouses located near major customers.
Helping distributors and reps tackle projects
Among its biggest challenges: Handling thousands of requests from sales reps, distributors, and customers for such information as available products, product literature and specification sheets, pricing and shipping status. Bradley’s distributors need quick and thorough access to this information to bid on projects. And a single sales rep, for example, is typically responsible for about 200 customers, and the rep needs quick access to product and order status information to determine how well they’re meeting their sales goals along with customer expectations — and how they may need to react to order disruptions.
Bradley needed its ecommerce platform to make it easier for sales reps as well as distributors and its own customer service agents to quickly access product and shipping information through digital self-service — without having to rely heavily on phone calls.
In addition to managing accurate product information from each supplier, Bradley must also adhere to construction industry categories, including such product groups as plumbing, electrical, and safety. And as the company grew through acquisition of other companies and added to its product lines, it saw the need for a highly flexible commerce technology platform.
“That was important to us because we didn’t know what we would be connecting to,” says Dave Leannah, vice president of information technology.
Bradley’s legacy ecommerce platform at the time, however, made it extremely difficult to manipulate the software code to enhance and quicken the required transfer of information on inventory, pricing, and order status from the company’s back-end Epicor ERP software, he says. For example, Bradley needed a better way to identify the inventory center nearest to a customer’s location to provide the fastest fulfillment and share shipping and delivery schedules.
“When you’re dealing with independent sales reps, they want to know product availability quickly because they’re trying to get through their project,” Leannah says. Moreover, many reps these days want to provide service “better than Amazon.”
Deploying a more flexible B2B ecommerce platform
To provide that performance level — and differentiate more from its competitors and expand its market share — Bradley decided in 2021 to replace its legacy digital commerce platform with a more flexible and scalable system based on headless commerce.
The new platform, based on Znode headless commerce technology from Amla Commerce Inc., was designed to satisfy multiple customer-serving requirements. Among the most crucial: improving the price-quoting process for orders of all sizes and complexity; providing customers with customized views of product pricing and ordering options based on customer accounts and buyer authorizations; and including information on available inventory and shipping times and costs for each customer location.
That all required deploying a newly integrated mix of technology applications, ranging from back-end business operations software and product information management to tax and shipping management applications.
Bradley opted for the Znode platform for the flexibility and scalability it offered with a broad set of useful APIs to connect its front-end digital interface with its Epicor ERP and the rest of its technology applications. To upgrade the buying experience for customers as they decided on product purchases, these integrated applications include:
- A product configurator and a related quoting system.
- Znode product information management (PIM) and digital asset management (DAM) applications to provide up-to-date and consistently accurate information on products.
- Elastic Search site search and navigation.
- FullStory web analytics to monitor customer clickstream activity.
- Microsoft Power BI business intelligence software.
- Evans freight management software.
- Avalara sales tax management software.
“The newest shining star that we have for 2022 is how we’re dealing with the order types and the shipping,” says Ron Flynn, Bradley’s manager of web systems integrations.
With a more effective way of managing and sharing accurate and up-to-date product information, for example, he says Bradley helps customers do their jobs better by ensuring that they order and purchase the correct items that fit within the product categories they’re authorized to procure, that fit with other products they’ve already ordered, and that come with any discounts available to them.
Bradley’s new commerce technology system also enables it to provide customers with multiple shipping options — a tactic that gives customers more control of how and when they receive orders while also keeping a lid on Bradley’s shipping expenses.
Bradley relies on the APIs in its commerce platform to forward customer order details to carriers, including the dimensions and weight of ordered products and the routes to what are often a customer’s multiple delivery points. Bradley then receives and shares with its customers multiple shipping options, including higher or lower rates based on the speed of delivery. Customers can also opt to split their orders to receive critical parts sooner at a higher freight cost and other less time-sensitive products later and at reduced rates.
Leannah notes that shipping expenses overall have increased in recent years because of supply chain disruption but offering more options to customers has led to a mix of customer shipping times and fees. As a result, he adds, Bradley has received positive customer feedback while also limiting its own freight expense increases to less than half of industry averages.
(This article is part of a longer special report from Digital Commerce 360, “A Blueprint for B2B Technology.” )
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