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How Cameron Ashley Successfully Launched Their Ecommerce Website

The rise of eCommerce has found its way into the construction industry, leaving manufacturers with questions about how digital selling might disrupt their business. Learn how one building materials dealer has embraced eCommerce as a part of their daily business — it even resulted in a million-dollar day for their product sales.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Zach and Beth talked with one of the nation's largest building materials dealers about the launch of their new eCommerce website and how going digital has helped them succeed in sales. Katie Schilling is Director of Digital Marketing at Cameron Ashley Building Products, and she’s helped the company navigate the new world of eCommerce.

Making the Strategic Decision To Add Ecommerce & Navigating The Challenges

Cameron Ashley Building Products isn’t new to the construction industry. The company has been a leader in lumber and building materials for almost a century and a half, and it’s one of the United States’ most well-known and reliable distributors. Katie Schilling oversaw the launch of Cameron Ashley’s latest project: Its new website.

The new website had been on Cameron Ashley’s to-do list for some time. The company’s CEO, Donnie DeMarie, saw the need for them to grow in the world of eCommerce. It would make the company more innovative in the industry, but it also meant a better experience for their customers, and “giving our customers the convenience of being able to order whenever.”

“So prior to the website, all orders were placed through fax and phone, so I think they decided it was time to kind of walk towards that digital direction and make the eCommerce move,” she explains.

This new website was just being developed when COVID-19 suddenly hit. The pandemic and stay-at-home orders proved to be quite the challenge for the team. “So it definitely had its challenges and that's probably one challenge that we didn't expect was having to do it virtually,” says Katie. But Katie and the development team managed to find their stride.

“We set our weekly meetings, we figured out how we're going to go about this, what we're going to do. And we came up with a plan and it just started working,” she says.

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Like all changes within a company, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing. There were setbacks along the way, and the website updates were met with some resistance, especially from the sales team at Cameron Ashley. They had a lot of questions: “‘What does that look like for me? What has my role become now that we're going to do things online? And then how does this process look? Are we getting emails of orders?’” explains Katie.

But while there was hesitation, there was “definitely a ton of excitement knowing that there was a lot more opportunity now for us to get those orders for our customers and to improve the customer experience,” says Katie.

How a One-Day Sale Resulted in a Million Dollar Day

There were plenty of challenges with the website’s development, but once the site was officially launched, the sales started coming in.

There are a couple of ways that customers can purchase products through the site. “One is special order and that means we can get products that we have set as ‘order as needed.’ And then we also have our stocked items, too,” says Katie. That makes ordering from Cameron Ashley easy on the customer and makes it clear which products are available to them.

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“Just kind of like Amazon does if you buy something not in Prime,” she explains. “So we're trying to make it transparent to the customer. You can get this, you just might not get it typically like you would your stock product the next day.” That makes a wider range of products available to customers who visit the site — and also tells Cameron Ashley which products they need to keep in stock.

That kind of market intelligence has been valuable to the company. It’s also a great way of keeping visitors on the site. When someone first visits the site, they’ll see the full range of products available or featured promotions and products. Once someone logs into the website as a customer, they’ll be able to see what’s available at their local store.

But Katie points out that people will often want to purchase the featured products, even if they’re not available locally. And Cameron Ashley will be able to get that from a different location.

“So I think we're kind of striking up the conversation and allowing our customers to not just buy what they always buy,” explains Katie. This creates more opportunity for the customer and increases the average order value for each purchase. “I think that's kind of what we're trying to do here, is to allow them to buy more from us and buy it all in one spot, instead of having to bounce.”

Cameron Ashley has also seen big results on their promotional sales. “We did a St. Patrick's Day sale, a one-day sale, and we gave 3% off,” explains Katie.

“It was a million-dollar day,” she says.

They were able to create an impressive amount of hype around the promotion beforehand and announced it to their salespeople just one day before the promotion. The sales team then called their customers to tell them about the online-only, 24-hour sale.

“And then social media, we posted all day long — we had videos, we sent three emails. We sent one in the morning, one in the afternoon, one at night. I mean, totally flooded people's feed,” says Katie.

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That promotion and the success of Cameron Ashley’s new site have exceeded the team’s expectations. “I guess what I could say is that we have a lot of unexpected customers using the website,” says Katie.

The best performing distributor channels (DCs) for Cameron Ashely are their rural locations. “We thought it was going to be these more metropolitan areas and that's who was going to soar with eCommerce,” says Katie. “And everybody, every DC is doing really well. But we have noticed that there has been customer behavior that we did not expect in a lot of users, that I think we didn't anticipate using the site.”

3 Pro Tips To Keep in Mind When Building an eCommerce Website

Since launching the site, Katie has a few insights for manufacturers who want to start seizing more opportunities online.

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Take Advantage of Partnerships Online

Product manufacturers can partner with eCommerce sites like Cameron Ashley so they get more eyes on their brand. “I designed the site to be able to give a lot of real estate for our vendors to put their logos right front and center and to do their own special promotions,” says Katie. “And I think that it at least lets them have visibility into what we're selling for them on our site.”

Listen to What Your Customers Want

Manufacturers and construction brands across the board can make an impression on their customers online, just by listening. “Right now we're receiving so much feedback on the website. We have a Qualtrics survey plug-in that we're getting so much data,” explains Katie. "And people are giving us improvements and things that we need to change in ways that can improve the customer experience. So I think it's taking that feedback, diving in.”

Prepare To Make the Investment

Getting your own site ready for online sales is no easy feat, and it’s certainly not a one-and-done type deal. It takes significant planning, assets and team effort to launch a (successful) site that’s built for eCommerce. Kate makes this clear: “I would say don't do it if you think it's going to save you money.”

She clarifies that an eCommerce site is set up to bring in sales, but that companies should recognize the goal is to make it an experience that benefits the customer. “This is not something that you just throw some money towards and you walk away from,” she explains. “So do it because you care about your customer. You want them to have a better experience, you want them to buy the products from you whenever, wherever.”

Want Even More Insight?

If you’re looking to launch an eCommerce site for your customers, it needs to be an appealing option for them. Some of Cameron Ashley’s customers still call or fax the company to place their orders. Or they still want to work with salespeople. The site isn’t a replacement for how the industry has traditionally worked for dealers and distributors.

“But this is for just the future of Cameron Ashley,” says Katie. “And it's been revolutionary for us and unexpected. So I mean, I think that I would definitely say this is not a money saver, but it changes the game — it changes the way your customers think about you.”

You can listen to more of the story behind Cameron Ashley’s eCommerce site on the podcast.

If you’d like to contact Katie Schilling, you can reach out to her via email or over on LinkedIn.

Want to start planning the launch of your eCommerce site? Talk with us at Venveo to chat more about your project.