Sales shot up 30%
He eventually hired digital experts from BDC to help him create an e-commerce website and marketing plan. After the final touches were completed in late 2016, the company’s sales quickly shot up, increasing by 30% in 2017.
And thanks to the site’s streamlined order processing, the company didn’t need to hire any new employees to handle the ballooning sales.
Planning was key
The success, Tidd believes, is not only due to the site’s user-friendly design, but also the many months of preparation that went into the project and a carefully thought-out transition.
“Planning was key,” he says. “You can’t just throw something together, which is what you see many entrepreneurs doing. They just care about the front page of the site, whereas the key is all the data behind the front page.”
The first step for the BDC advisor was taking time to learn about the business, including its operations, customers and the 27,000 different printer parts it offers. “You have to have someone who understands your business and processes,” Tidd says. “Having the vision is important, but having the 50 pages behind the vision is vital.”
New platforms are more affordable
Based on this analysis, the BDC expert researched which e-commerce platform would be the best fit for the company’s needs and product lineup.
Fortunately, with the advent of new low-cost platforms in recent years, Tidd had several options that allowed sales in different countries and shipping from a variety of warehouses.
Read about free and lost-cost e-commerce platforms
Communication eased transition
The biggest challenge was getting his team onboard with the transition to selling online, including learning how to use the new e-commerce platform and the updated computers and software needed to run the system.
“Some people don’t like change,” Tidd says. “It can be daunting when you’ve been using the same software for 20 years.”
He eased concerns with plenty of internal communication. “You have to sit down with everyone in the business, not just management, and talk about it,” he says. “It’s important to discuss everyone’s daily process, so the new platform meets their needs and gives them more functionality.”
To ease the transition, employees used both their old and new systems at the same time for the first six months. “We put two screens on everyone’s desk,” Tidd says. “We didn’t want to just switch one off and turn on the other.”
Employee input is invaluable
Good communication paid off by not only improving buy-in, but also fostering a more innovation-oriented company culture. Tidd welcomed ideas from employees on how to improve the website and overall business. If an employee was nervous to speak up at company meetings, he adjusted the mix of workers present to put them more at ease.
“You have to value employees’ ideas,” he says. “Some of the greatest things on the website come from their input. An employee who’s worked for you 20 years knows just as much as you do. You’re destined to fail if you ignore them.”
A smooth transition for customers was also critical for Tidd. The ace in his hand was his close relationship with customers and a specialized offering, which he believes allows a level of trust that is often lacking with more generalized retail websites. “We know our product, and our website shows that clearly,” Tidd says.
Website is a gold mine of useful data
An unexpected bonus was the large quantity of useful business data Tidd gets from the new website. For example, data on web visitors shows what they’re looking for when they come to the site, where they click on a webpage and why they leave. Tidd reviews the data each month to adjust the site and improve sales conversion.
“The reports I see every day are just amazing,” he says. “I’m so impressed. I can’t believe some of the information I have now that helps us make more informed business decisions.”
All the extra planning and technology purchases gobbled up a lot of resources up-front, but the investment has quickly paid off, Tidd says. “The cost was a fraction of the returns.”