Goodwins Builders Providers is one of Ireland’s largest suppliers of building and construction materials. Established in 1978, the company has been providing building products, construction and home improvement materials to the Irish market for over thirty years, and is now in its second generation of family ownership.
Goodwins builders’ merchant stores in Lucan and Mulhuddart are in the Greater Dublin area and strategically positioned close to the city’s major road networks. And with its new multi-channel software solution, the company also now boasts a full online order and delivery service.
Traditionally catering for house builders, Goodwins has had to broaden its focus in recent years, as the Irish house building market has been hard hit by the economic downturn. Housing unit builds have plummeted to just 5,000 per annum, from a peak of approximately 90,000 and one major Irish cement producer has reported demand down by 80%. Consequently, like the rest of the industry, Goodwins is now more dependent on the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector. It has had to radically streamline its business over the past five years and despite being in the teeth of a very bitter recession, Goodwins took the bold decision to invest in a new multichannel retail system, opting for Microsoft Dynamics AX with the ColumbusWebstore e-commerce solution.
As a result, the builders’ merchant is not just withstanding the downturn, but vastly broadening its reach and improving customer service, all whilst greatly increasing efficiency.
Goodwins carries a wide range of products, from heavy supplies, such as concrete, drainage, locks and steel, to light machinery, timber, hardware, and plumbing supplies. With all product and pricing information now available on the website, and a real-time view of stock, customers cannot only check availability before visiting the merchants, but they can also order online. “We are selling a wider range products, than we did before, some of which were historically very slow moving,” explains Jonathan Goodwin, Managing Director and son of the founder, William Goodwin.
Goodwins had made the decision to replace an aging specialist system with Microsoft Dynamics AX before the recession hit. Whilst it took some long, hard thinking about whether to go ahead as the economy nose-dived, Jonathan says they have no regrets: We could see immediately Dynamics opened up a vast field of functionality that we just hadn’t had before.
Although we may or may not need all of it, it was obvious we’d never outgrow the system, and that’s what we wanted. You only want to take the pain of implementation once.”
It was this potential for expanding the use of the system that set Goodwins thinking about an e-commerce website. “We didn’t feel a burning need for an online shop at the time, but thought we would explore the opportunity.
ColumbusWebstore is part of the Columbus multi-channel retail solution suite, which has been developed to sit inside Microsoft Dynamics. It provides a complete e-commerce solution that can be used to fully integrate B2B and B2C websites with the back office, unifying online operations with other sales channels.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” says Jonathan. “Columbus had lots of customers, so it clearly worked well, and even with our limited knowledge we could see it was a great fit. So things progressed quite quickly.”
Although it was impossible to predict how many customers would be prepared to move to online shopping, Jonathan Goodwin said it wasn’t a significant risk. “It was an educated guess, I suppose. Clearly a proportion of business was going to go this way; common sense tells you that. My feeling was, there was more benefit than risk. Compared to opening a new store, it wasn’t anywhere near as expensive and we’d already seen an increase in the number of people visiting and making enquiries through our old static website.”
It has certainly paid dividends. Just four months after the launch of the website, Goodwins has seen a big lift in the range of enquiries and an influx of orders from further afield. “Normally customers are only willing to drive for 15-20 minutes so traditionally our catchment area has been limited, but because of the new website, we’ve expanded our geographical range and now we are delivering right across Ireland and into the UK too.
Existing local customers are also benefitting from the new website; they are able to look up stock availability and prices in advance, which in turn is saving Goodwins a substantial amount of time and freeing up resource. Sales office staff previously had to dedicate a lot of their day to answering phone calls about prices and stock availability; now they can focus on their main job, making sales - something that has also been made easier through the improved online stock visibility.
Goodwins is now being found via product specific Internet searches. Quite a contrast to before when even regular customers were unsure exactly which items Goodwins stocked. “The new website has given us much greater online profile and credibility. Previously, we didn’t even have a product brochure, so only a fraction of our 5,000 lines were visible to customers, and they could walk in to a store not even knowing we carried items we consider to be our bread and butter. That’s all changed now.” The website has also resolved many of the pricing issues Goodwins had been experiencing – a by-product of the volatile market. “Our printed price lists were quickly going out-of-date leading to confusion for customers,” Jonathan explains.
There is greater transparency of pricing too with the same discounts for bulk purchases available both online and in store. “Customers can now visit one of our branches knowing we have exactly what they need in stock, and the price they will pay – it’s great. Although it’s taken some time for the sales people to get used to customers knowing so much about prices and stock,” he laughs.
In fact stock management has improved dramatically. The new system is able to make various calculations based on past transactions then set suggested stock levels and make recommendations so Goodwins can efficiently forward-order. “We’ve always had good information on transactions, but this takes it to the next level. It means we’re always filling the warehouse with the right stock and not overstocking,” says Jonathan.
He is impressed too with the support he received from the Columbus team during the implementation - “they really stepped up to get the system in as quickly and smoothly as possible”- and is delighted with the seamless integration between the Columbus solution and Dynamics AX. “Information flows both ways. As soon as the stock levels change, the website is updated automatically, likewise with prices and text changes. And the orders from the website are effortlessly incorporated in to our sales order system. We don’t have duplications of anything, which makes it error-free.
“Our day-to-day experience is that ColumbusWebstore looks and performs just as any other module within our Dynamics system, which is exactly what we want; we didn’t want a separate system. I talk to people with one system for accounting and another for their website – that’s not the future.”
Whilst online ordering remains a small percentage of Goodwins’ overall business for now, Jonathan is enthusiastic about the value of the new website. “We’re not a pure e-commerce business so I’m not getting hung up on that. The fact is, the website is driving business to the shops and the shops are driving business to the website.”
“If we wanted another way of expanding our business and reaching new customers we would have had to open additional premises and in this climate and economy that is just not viable. We have stock, we keep it in and our customers appreciate the additional benefits and reliability resulting from our use of the ColumbusRetail system. I’m very pleased with that.”
Goodwins does not intend to stop there, however, it is looking to improve its web offering further still. “We’re reviewing the back-end features and making incremental improvements. We are also hoping to launch a mobile website very soon. We see this as a long-term project and we’ll keep developing and adding to it,” Jonathan concludes.