5 Questions for Andy Scothern, ECI Software Solutions

ECI Andy Scothern
Andy Scothern is the founder of eCommonSense, ECI’s market-leading ecommerce and product information management (PIM) solution specifically designed for lumber and building materials, hardware, home center and related home supply dealers. He is the chairman of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) Digital and Technology Forum, the Building Materials Building Index (BMBI) expert on ecommerce and PIM, and holds an MBA from Nottingham University. He currently resides in Southwell, England.

In a world where ecommerce has become a consumer expectation, why do you think the LBM industry has been slow to embrace it?

The LBM industry has largely enjoyed steady growth since World War II, and until the pandemic, there was insufficient motive to explore modified and perceptively riskier business models. This is confounded by most LBM dealers not having a deep understanding of what an ecommerce-enabled vertically-specific business looks like.

Historically, the LBM industry relied heavily on the hardware co-ops to provide a national ecommerce presence for a dealer-based percentage of individual respective sales and fractional percentages of product offerings or select SKUs. As a result, most dealers have not prioritized recruiting skilled people to create and manage an ecommerce-enabled business strategy.

Another issue has been with dealers viewing technology as a function that only sits under the remit of the IT and finance departments. Ecommerce is, at its heart, a service, sales, and marketing proposition aimed at customers. Therefore, it is an investment area for business growth instead of a cost base to be reduced, so it has typically needed different leadership to make projects successful.

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In light of economic worries, LBM dealers may feel reluctant to invest in a new ecommerce platform. What would you say to ease their concerns?

Many businesses decide to be careful with cash when recessions happen, and often the first cuts made are in marketing and technology. This has the impact of reducing sales and efficiency-creating opportunities, leading to a more difficult recovery afterwards. Countless case studies show that this strategy makes recessions not only worse, but almost self-fulfilling. Well-run businesses increase marketing and technology investments to gain market share when their competitors are cutting back. As a result, they can become more resilient and come out of a recession stronger.

While an ecommerce platform may seem like just another sales path, what efficiencies can it bring to the table for an LBM dealer?

The efficiencies are enormous. It allows customers to research and buy products, schedule deliveries and in-store pick-ups, pay invoices, and access customer service whenever they like. It also provides a global shop window to attract new (and often younger) builders, other trade customers, homeowners, and DIYers to the business. Furthermore, it can aid recruitment, as younger potential employees prefer working for companies that utilize the latest technology.

An ecommerce platform can also reduce the need to manually process orders, invoices, and other customer interactions. Additionally, ecommerce interactions generate massive amounts of customer data that can be used to make predictive business decisions that allow the LBM dealer to have the right product in the right place, at the right time, and at the optimum price.

Speaking specifically about eCommonSense, what solutions does the platform bring to the LBM dealer.

The eCommonSense platform delivers the business model of the traditional LBM dealer online, where everything previously done in-store with labor-intensive processes can now be delivered much more efficiently. As we evolve the platform, customer experience continues to be top of mind for future features and functionality. I thoroughly believe “convenience is the new loyalty,” so we will continue to deliver more convenience to dealers and their customers through our platform with the latest technology.

Looking forward, what do you predict the next 12 months might bring to the market?

My prediction for the next 12 months is that early adopters of new technology will have strong resilience to the effects of a recession and subsequently outcompete competitors who fail to embrace change. Additionally, high-quality product data will be a crucial pillar of success for every part of the industry value chain. Those progressive product manufacturers who invest in high-quality product data will make it easier for customers to make buying decisions and for LBM dealers to sell their products. In five years, I predict nearly every LBM business will need to be a data business because if they are not, they will not be able to compete with those that are.




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