Going online grows business for a leading Dublin Builders Providers group

Clondalkin Builders Providers, Newtown Builders Providers, Blackrock Builders Providers and Quality Builders Providers, are merging their stores with their www.Build4Less.ie website, achieving a seamless online service and increased sales. CEO Emma Maye explains how innovation and investment will reap rewards.

The pandemic prompted many businesses to fast forward their online capabilities. This group and its customers benefitted from being ahead of the game.

Their acquisition of a website www.Build4Less.ie in 2013 proved to be far-sighted, putting the builders’ providers group in a strong position for remote trading when Covid-19 closed retail outlets. Today, the website is powering further growth, as consumers enjoy a choice of competitive, convenient eCommerce purchasing options. Further developments to Build4Less are in the works to offer enhanced service and value, as CEO Emma Maye outlines.

First steps
The group purchased www.Build4Less.ie after in-depth research into competitors, focusing on the UK market in particular.

Our initial question: Do we create a standalone website or operate in conjunction with our stores?

The other challenge: build a website from scratch or purchase an existing website? This is where competitor analysis proved valuable. We really admired CMOTrade, a UK online builders’ provider, which operates independently of a store network.

The decision was made to purchase an existing website, Build4Less.ie, which was doing good business and getting significant traffic, and take it from strength to strength. At first, Build4Less operated independently of our store network, but relied on Clondalkin Builders Providers for stock and logistics.

Turning point
For several years, this model performed well. The first major turning point came in March 2020 with the lockdown. Store shutdowns generated huge consumer demand to buy building products online. Sales mushroomed by 70% in April and May.

“For us, the first lockdown was a real eye-opener as we witnessed a significant increase in sales on our website. This highlighted the potential of the online space and also emphasised the need for a group-wide digital strategy that aligns with the aims of our expanding business.” said Alan
Hegarty, Group Managing Director.

But, as hardware stores and builders’ providers reopened, online business began to decline. The group’s team decided to bring on board a digital expert to return remote sales to lockdown levels and, more importantly, create a robust digital strategy for our growing company, explains Emma.

Joe O’Conghaile, with a Masters in Digital Marketing and Data Analytics, fitted the bill. He began by reviewing the group’s data and traffic in comparison with direct competitors.

We also studied secondary research from abroad, concentrating on the percentage of sales from home delivery, Click & Collect and ROPO (Research Online Purchase Offline) channels. It was clear that by operating Build4Less as a standalone website, we were missing out on massive sales potential from all these sources.

Brand recognition was another key area where we lagged behind the competition. We used software to identify how often ‘Build4Less’ was entered into search engines vs rival brands. The results showed branding needed significant work and the development of a single umbrella brand, which will be announced in the coming months. Brand recognition not only draws more traffic as people search for your business online, but it also fosters trust; so vital in eCommerce.

Around this time the group acquired its fourth store, Quality Builders Providers in Ringsend.

To incorporate our store network within the website required a full site redesign and links to our stock system. The new format would facilitate the primary purchasing channels.

Click & Collect
We designed the website to show the availability of all products at each store. For example, a customer in the Coolock area can check if the product is in stock at Newtown Builders Providers and purchase it for collection.

The website has a direct link to each store’s stock file, to show item quantity and let store staff know when there has been a purchase. We decided that a 1-hour time frame from order placement to readiness for collection would be an excellent and competitive service level.

Research Online, Purchase Offline
Increasingly Irish consumers research online before purchasing offline. So, we wanted to give all Dublin-area visitors to our website the option to browse before coming in-store.

This gives customers confidence, before getting into the car or van, that
the product they want at the price they want, and in the quantities required, is at the retail store.

These buyers also have the opportunity to see, touch and make sure the
product is right for the project, and seek advice from knowledgeable store
staff. Maybe even buy other items while at the store!

It’s the best of both worlds for our shoppers. So we felt positive that providing online product details to customers would help us secure more sales in-store.

Home delivery
Our original Build4Less site relied entirely on our own team of drivers to deliver products. This meant that the cost of delivering large building materials like tonne bags and timber was good value. This was not the case for smaller items like workwear and tools, as all customers were charged a flat delivery rate.

Although we were competitive in the building materials space, we were anything but when it came to competing for smaller items against brands such as Screwfix.

To ensure a better deal for our customers, we teamed up with a nationwide courier to handle smaller items. So that the website would know when to use our drivers or a courier and how much to charge for delivery, each product was specifically labelled.

This change has meant a significant increase in sales for our Sealants & Adhesives and Screws & Fixings categories amongst others.

‘Content is King’
Quality content is essential for building the brand and making a site engaging and appealing to customers. If the information is clear, attractive, informative and easy to access, customers will want to buy and become regular visitors.

To ensure great content, we formed strategic partnerships with key suppliers, who are best placed to provide images and product information. At the outset, we held online meetings with these suppliers to discuss our plans and develop a strategy to source products.

Emma Maye, CEO and Alan Hegarty, Group Managing Director.

Joe O Conghaile recalled, “When I started working on website development in the building materials industry in 2017, sometimes a supplier would not even have images of their own products, let alone a description.”

“It’s wonderful to see suppliers are now aware that providing product images and key selling points is crucial for merchants. Bostik and B&G Home went above and beyond in providing excellent content.

Strengthening relationships with suppliers has been a significant step in our progress.”

Search strategy
Researching why and how visitors came to our website informed our search traffic or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy. In general people found our website by searching for a specific product or a category, such as ‘Building Aggregates’, or ‘Tonne Bag of Hardcore’.

But we also discovered that we were missing out on much branded traffic, such as ‘Fleetwood Paint’. We addressed this by creating brand pages for every product, appealing directly to shoppers seeking brands.

A primary aim was to encourage more people to seek the name ‘Build4Less’, generating awareness so that visitors would know and trust our brand. A marketing campaign to build brand profile and recognition was devised.

We wanted ‘Build4Less’ to be the first site consumers thought of when they began their buying journey by phone or computer.

Brand recognition is now tracked daily, with a set target of visitors we expect to view the website. We can see exactly how they arrive, be it via paid advertising, organic search or social media marketing. We also identify the financial value of each channel; “what gets measured, gets managed”.

Offline marketing is currently handled at store level. However, as the group grows, this is an area where we will see significant expansion.

Sales is what gets us all up each morning. We’ve learned that a website is like any other store in many ways: you need the categories to be well laid out, staff to be knowledgeable and happy, products to be presented correctly, and you need to treat every customer like the most important person in the world.

Do this and customers will love you and the search engines will love your website.

Evolving and innovating
Developing Build4Less will be an ongoing project as we continue to invest in and evolve the site in tandem with our own exciting growth plans.

The group aims to purchase more stores across Ireland, so the website is an important element in our marketing strategy. Further, the site will make the introduction of each new store to the group more seamless. The new store is easily added to the store locator, with stock levels and selection instantly available to thousands of customers.

The website also will enable the group to communicate news of new stores and acquisitions, premises improvements and the latest products, to keep consumers up to date and engaged.

B2B and account customers
The next phase is to deliver the same high-level online sales experience to our account customers that we currently provide for website visitors.

Services such as viewing how their account stands in real time or ordering essential items to Click & Collect for a job the next day.

Bringing four stores together within one website will make it more practical and convenient for customers holding accounts within our retail network who want to access their accounts at a click.

We aim to develop this facility over the coming months. This will entail major innovations to the site infrastructure and our stock management software.

Our people
None of this would have be possible without a great team committed to future-proofing the business. These key people are helping the group expand and are guiding the website project in the right direction.

Lead customer service agent, Debbie Reynolds, has been the glue that holds Build4Less together since 2013. Debbie handles all orders, customer queries and liaises with our logistics team. Debbie began working with Clondalkin Builders Providers in 2010 and her knowledge of building materials is central to the website’s growth.

Joe O Conghaile joined in late 2020, bringing five years’ experience implementing websites for other hardware stores around Ireland. Already Joe has doubled our online sales and now project manages ongoing website improvements and strategy.

Getting the products to the customer when you say they’re going to be there is paramount to success, so we are fortunate to have a top end logistics team. It’s never easy dealing with requested delivery dates, especially during a global pandemic bringing multiple delays, but our team in Clondalkin Builders Providers, headed up by Ciara Byrne, takes everything in their stride.

Credit is also due to all our store staff involved in sales. Thanks to them, the transition to Click & Collect has been seamless, with orders turned round quickly and efficiently.

Being part of Ireland’s leading hardware buying group, Topline, is very beneficial from a purchasing perspective. They actively promote our online business as well as our stores.

We are prominent members of Hardware Association Ireland and Retail Excellence Ireland. Affiliation with these groups has always been important, but its value was underlined during the pandemic, as these organisations could quickly communicate the latest Government information.

Hardware Association Ireland has always championed the online space as crucial to the future of Irish-owned retailers in the hardware industry and other sectors.

Bright future
Build4Less may be a story of technological development, but for me, it’s about people. The enhanced website is bringing the group’s existing excellent customer experience to a new platform, giving all customers an even better standard of service and efficiency.