Guillaume: Hello everyone. Guillaume Le Tual here, host of the Ecommerce Wizards Podcast where I feature leaders in e-commerce and business. Today’s episode is for those of you who run or want to run a B2B, business to business e-commerce website or a B2B marketplace. Today Eric will take us on an eight year journey from startup to the current company state of being a very successful and a very important player. It’s now in the industry as a B2B marketplace for medical supplies and they’re now running on the Adobe Commerce e-commerce platform which was formerly known as Magento Enterprise. This platform is for those who are of a significant size and they usually have commercial success. So this is a very interesting episode. You’ll hear how they started, what kind of hurdles they’ve overcome to get this off the ground, and then what kind of hurdles they overcame as they grew the company now to where it’s at. So if you’re running a B2B or marketplace or an e-commerce store, check this out.
Today’s guest is Erik Dotzauer, he’s the E-commerce Manager at DocShop Pro. This is a marketplace that’s running on Adobe Commerce. It’s a platform that’s formerly known as Magento Enterprise, a very powerful and a very scalable platform. And today, we’re going to talk about figuring How To Grow Using Less. All right, Eric, thanks for being here today.
Eric: Thank you for having me.
Guillaume: Pleasure. So you’re an E-commerce Manager in a well established business running Adobe Commerce and enterprise solutions. Can you give us a high-level view about figuring how to grow using less, like, where were you guys and where are you at now and maybe then you can walk us through that growth story?
Eric: Yeah. Of course, I’d be happy to. So the story for DocShop Pro starts about seven or eight years ago. The business idea came from a doctor that really couldn’t find the service that they were looking for. Basically, he was trying to solve a problem that he had himself. This centered around the idea that there wasn’t a one stop shop where he could get all the supplies that he needed to run his business, a lot of people think of Amazon of sorts in that space, and so he set out on a mission to solve it. So when we talked about the idea of growing with less, it really was an incremental process for us from where we started at that point in time to where we are today.
So I’m happy to tell you a little bit more about that process and where we started. I’ve been with the company for almost three years now, but I also did work with them since the launch of the business when I was working on the agency side of things. When we started out it really didn’t have that feeling of a marketplace, we had built the site in a year. It was more of a dropship model of a business and we started out small with a couple of key vendors. That opportunity allowed us to work out some of the kinks to start growing our business but also setting our eyes on bigger targets and what the business would evolve into. As we grew from that kind of startup concept we did a re-platform to Magento 2 last year which really allowed us to unlock some of those tools and to grow the business into what we expected it to be. And I’m happy to kind of dive into more loose details depending on what you’d like to discuss.
Guillaume: There are a few key parts that are more interesting in the early days of the startup. People want to have an idea because they want to launch that business and they would like to hear how you went about the business in that early phase, because that’s where a lot of stuff works and doesn’t work. Later on, you can do some kind of review about growth because as a startup, it’s a completely new business. And now you’re running on Adobe Magento Enterprise Edition, which is expensive and reserved for companies that sort of made it reasonably big like the midsized companies. So let’s talk about the company’s growth in those eight years.
Eric: Yeah, of course. So when we started to lay the plans for Magento 2 there were a couple of key problems that we had identified that we needed to solve. Going back to the earlier version on Magento 1, one of the biggest things that was an obstacle for growing our business was how we had our catalog structured. If you think of the idea of a marketplace and having all of these vendors bringing a variety of products to the market, and to be able to manage and organize all of that data so that you have a consistent user experience can be quite a challenge. Magento 1 kind of created some problems that we needed to solve.
One of the key things that really became problematic was within the catalog, every time we would bring on a new vendor we would essentially take a copy of their catalog and bring it live on the site. So what we ended up doing was creating quite a headache for a lot of our customers because we had a lot of our vendors selling similar products but we had a unique SKU for each vendor. So you might be searching for a specific product and you might get six results that are all the same. This was really difficult for the customer to be able to sort through those results to identify, is this the same product that I’m looking at? Where’s it being shipped from? How’s the pricing compare? It was just really a nightmare for us to manage internally, not including how that impacted our customers. So one of the key improvements that we made was we made the shift from Magento 1 over to Magento 2. The analogy I always use is, we basically took it in a blender and broke it down into the most basic pieces and then we reorganized our entire catalog. In the process of doing that we consolidated all of our SKUs. So instead of having unique SKUs for each of our vendors, we went from a single SKU for a single vendor to a single SKU multi-vendor approach.
Guillaume: And that’s a big deal. If somebody has not gone through that exercise it might not sound like a big deal. You had duplicate products because multiple vendors were selling the same product but they had a different or unique identifying number called the SKU. So now you combined all these into a single SKU and now you have multiple vendors selling with that same SKU just like on Amazon. It sounds obvious or simple but when you do it for an entire database with 1000s upon 1000s of products and lots of suppliers, doing that cleanup job can be an epic task.
Eric: Absolutely, I gave a lot of respect to our staff because that was not a pleasant experience to go through. And obviously, it’s not just as simple as chopping up a catalogue and putting it back together. Again, we had completely new attributes and really the way everything was structured so that layer navigation and all the components of the site would do what we wanted it to. It was really quite an endeavor and I think that probably the biggest challenge with the site was the kind of key new architecture that we brought online.
Guillaume: Yeah. And this is common when you are going from any kind of ERP, or even anyone who’s not in the marketplace situation, you go with your offline catalog to bring it online. You might not necessarily have duplicate SKU as a retailer or a reseller because you may only have two or three sourcing suppliers but you will still need to structure your catalog so that you can process your online orders. So it’s something that I’ve seen other merchants go through even the big classic offline merchants doing tens of millions of dollars. And then when they have to go online they say, we need a new structure because how we do it in our ERP system, it doesn’t work like that online. We need to restructure the whole catalog for a better online experience and this can be a big task.
Eric: Absolutely. I think one of the keys for us in our success, obviously, Adobe Commerce has been critical, not just for bringing everything together and allowing us to do what we need to do but also having that room for growth as we continue to invest and grow the business. One of the other key pieces of software that we utilized is the Unirgy marketplace software. That’s a kind of magic where you lay this on top of the Magento installation and that brings to life all of the marketplace functionality that we need. So as we process orders it basically splits those orders out, automates everything, sends all the orders out to our vendors for fulfillment. And it allows us to keep all of those unique touch points for our vendors in place and it allows us to assign a unique SKU which is going to align with their ERP system or e-commerce system, whatever it is that they’re processing out of. It allows us to set their unique pricing and all those types of things. So I think that really one of the key things for the success of our business was finding the right mix of software that really allows you to excel in what it is that you do without needing to go to a developer and customize everything. There are certainly others out there in the marketplace but that one was the right fit for us and I certainly expect you know that it’ll continue to allow us to grow the business as we unlock more pieces of that software as we grow. We have the capacity to bite off a little bit more.
Guillaume: Right. If we go back to the early days, it was from an idea to a business on Magento 1 at first, did you start as a purely online store or did you also build an offline salesforce to try to promote the business? How did that look?
Eric: That’s an interesting question. We always identified as an online store. But in our industry it’s kind of hard to get through to some of our best prospects without actually having a salesforce on the ground. So we did a hybrid model similar to what a lot of our competitors do where you have the online store but you also have a sales team that is maintaining those relationships, helping customers to find that rate and product mix for their business. Overtime that has evolved a little bit, not just for us but in the industry. I think we’re seeing less dependency on the external sales force as more people become accustomed to the online shopping experience. And if you can provide a greater experience for support and be able to answer those questions, you don’t really need to knock on quite as many doors as you used to.
Guillaume: Yeah, because you’re in a B2B setting and so you want those companies who need medical supplies to consider your marketplace as a credible source for medical supplies, though you might still need to go knock on a few doors today so that they know that you exist but you leverage the online platform. So you’re way more efficient than in the old days when there was no online transaction.
Eric: Yeah. Back on the Magento 1 instance one of the challenges we have is that almost all our vendors have a minimum advertised price. So at first, our reflex to handle that was to gate the site, so essentially if you didn’t have a login you couldn’t view the catalog. And as you can imagine that really dings the SEO.
Guillaume: Big time, your search engine optimization is just dead.
Eric: Yeah, and just the simple act of basically allowing anybody to browse the site, and more importantly allowing bots to index the site. That led to a 90% increase in organic traffic in about six months once we removed that barrier. I think that was a big step for us as we continue to focus on letting people find us and not so much for us going out and having to find them.
Guillaume: Right, and they just need to log in to see the price or a personalized price based on their merchant level e.g. gold, silver, bronze or something like that I
Eric: Yeah. A couple of things, one, is that because we do sell restricted products, pharmaceuticals and things like that, so to be able to purchase on the site we do need to have a copy of a medical license. So that is one of the requirements that we have to basically get a log in so that you can read the catalog and that brings in pricing as well.
Guillaume: Okay, cool. So that’s one good move you made. You went from an overly gated site that doesn’t even show the catalogs. And when you can browse the catalog traffic goes up big time. Obviously, it’s nice that you’re sharing this with others not to make that mistake. You can save yourself from that mistake by listening to this episode here. What else did you guys do to increase traffic on the site?
Eric: One of the value ads that we have on our site, we call it the ‘my supply manager’, had a little bit of a different kind of flavor to it on Magento 1. When we went over to Magento 2 basically we took the native Magento requisition list and customized that in a way that allows our customers to track inventory. So that was another one of the obstacles that was identified when these businesses started and going way back it was not just the ability to order but the ability to keep everything organized. So we found that a lot of our customers were smaller Doctor practices where you might have maybe one to six doctors join a roof. And more often than not it would be the doctor themselves on a lunch break or an assistant going into the supply closet with a pen and a piece of paper just trying to figure out what they need for the next month to keep things going. So we built in some tools into the site just to streamline that a little bit so that if they chose to take their phone into that supply closet and run a quick inventory instead of power levels. Then you would know exactly what it is that you wanted to place an order for. So that was one of the other things that we didn’t see a whole lot of our competitors have in this space and so we thought that that would help a certain kind of customer, you know, just a little bit extra on the site to kind of help them out. And that is definitely one of the features that does get quite a bit of use.
This episode is brought to you by MageMontreal, if a business wants a powerful e-commerce online store that will increase their sales or to move piled up inventory to free up cash reserves or to automate business processes to reduce human processing errors, our company MageMontreal can do that. We’ve been helping e-commerce stores for over a decade. Here’s the catch; we’re specialized and only work on the Adobe Magento e-commerce platform, also known as Adobe Commerce. We’re among only a handful of certified companies in Canada, we do everything Magento-related. If you know someone who needs design, support, training, maintenance, or a new e-commerce website, email our team at [email protected], or go to magemontreal.com.
Guillaume: Good. And in the spirit of doing more with less we’ve heard about some of the techniques you used. But can you give us a little more overview about this constraint, everybody who’s been through a startup phase knows that you have limited resources. There’s always 10 times more to do than you have staff for. Can you give us some ideas of doing more with less?
Eric: Yeah, I think probably everybody in the company wears five hats. You might have your daily set of responsibilities but we really do cross training and a lot of key competencies which allows our staff to really kind of move around and handle different tasks. There are a number of things that are kind of sticky points within the business that we’re working through and shipping is one of those key things that can be really challenging for a business of our size to manage and especially as a marketplace that doesn’t have central warehousing. And so when we look at our competitors, one of the things that we see a lot of for people that aren’t warehousing products or are using a third party like 3PL to do that kind of a thing is minimum pricing or minimum order values for different vendors or for the site. And for us, one of the things that we really didn’t want to impact was the customer experience. We want people to be able to come to the site and find what it is that they’re looking for and not have to have a calculator right next to them trying to figure out that I have spent an hour with this vendor to unlock free shipping or to get reasonable shipping. And so for us, I think we have basically kind of shifted our paradigm a little bit on how we approach some of the bigger problems. So for us, doing more of the pluses and a lot of the stuff gets handled internally. So when we have problems with our maze or different types of issues, our team jumps in and handles a lot of these problems inhouse. I think our core strength is our customer service team and really being able to troubleshoot some of these problems that we run into like technical limitations on some of these things where we just don’t want to really have a negative impact on our shopping experience. So for us being able to handle some of those problems inhouse makes a world of difference.
Guillaume: Yeah. I like that you mentioned about cross-functional training, because when there is passing the ball in a business you cannot, in some cases, train a guy to be a surgeon or other specialized trades, but when it is possible to have cross functional training where one person can do at a professional level more than one position gives you a lot of flexibility. I’ve seen it in other companies and in our own, that it is a very useful thing. And I do believe that this will leverage a lot the spirit of doing more with less because you’ll have less staff who are more flexible, more versatile, and more well rounded. And you’ll be able to do more with less than if you have people who can only do one trade each. So I think this is a great share here.
Eric: Yeah. And to build on that, I think when we talk about data and integrations that’s another area where we really try to keep it lean on the budget but we’re also starting to see more growth in that area. One of the key challenges as the marketplace, you need to be able to not just pass the data for orders onto our vendors so that they can fill and ship those orders but also receive data to make sure that your inventory and prices, and all those things are aligned with what a customer would experience in real time. I know that for a lot of enterprise businesses everything’s automated. So there’s some kind of like minimum level to get in, where you have to have either an API connection or some degree of connectivity that’s dictated by the marketplace. And for us, what we found is that many of our suppliers are smaller and don’t have the technical chops and so we really are flexible on how we approach that as we look to the future and we are certainly working more on integrations and automating that data transfer back and forth. Some of it we do manually and it’s not always ideal but it allows our vendors to keep it in the warehouse where they’re not asked to bring technical resources to the table that they may not have.
We have an array of ways that we can integrate with our partners. Sometimes inventory is a very manual process, if we have something that’s a hot seller we might get an email saying, ‘Hey, this just sold out’ and our team needs to be able to react and pull that product off the site. For some of our vendors we just use kind of a basic FTP, where we’ll download a file every day and then we’ll upload that into our system to get updates on inventory and pricing. And for some of our vendors we have an EDI connection where we’ll have an XML file that’s going back and forth and that will bring back all of our shipping tracking numbers and things like that. And so we’re obviously going more into the automation space and really trying to get as much of the data pushed along as efficiently as possible, but also understanding our business and where we are in the market, and that if we do that too aggressively we’re going to push out a lot of our vendors that we rely on and have great relationships with.
Guillaume: Right. So you took some of the burden on yourself to remove ‘blockers’ for some of the suppliers to come on your platform, like, we will help you with transferring all that data online. I do believe that one day AI will be able to do this but that’s probably like 10 years or so from now, I don’t know exactly how many years, but one day we will get there when all the groundwork will be handled by a smarter robot. So I look forward to that day. But in the meantime, you’re correct that a lot of the small businesses when you look at statistics have not completed their digital transformation and they don’t have anything more fancier than an Excel spreadsheet that might be incomplete or limited in many ways to manage inventory. So if you have one of those small merchants you have to think about how you’re going to solve that business problem to help them get on the platform. So it’s a good thing that you’re helping them there. Any other business problems that you guys have solved that allowed you to grow as a company, or some other techniques that you’ve used to drive traffic to the site?
Eric: We have a couple of things in the works. We are in the process of implementing the loyalty program. I think that most people are pretty acclimated with what that is and what that means but for us we’re looking for all the ways that we can bring stickiness to the business. One of those things is going to be our customer service. The second piece is really the breadth of our product line and what we can deliver to our customers. Obviously we have the tool to manage inventory within our sites. And one of the things that we hope to bring online very soon this year would be a loyalty program and essentially we just want to continue to reward our customers and to create that loyalty by allowing them to accrue points or rebate to use for future orders. I think a lot of businesses have great success with doing that and so that’s certainly in the pipeline for us to roll out later this year.
Guillaume: Okay, cool. And to wrap this up, any other ideas you’d like to share?
Eric: That’s a great question. It will be interesting to see where Adobe goes with the B2B offerings within Magento, so that was obviously one of the big things with Magento 2. We are currently in the process of rolling that out for our first customers or implementing purchasing controls and approvals and things like that. And while I’d say that the majority of our customers don’t require that, it really is a blessing to be offering that for customers that do. So I’ll anxiously be awaiting the roadmap as Adobe continues to invest into that program and brings more tools and ways for people in the B2B space to really meet those needs of our customers, the share data, and to be able to grow business with native tools and not necessarily needing to go outside the ecosystem that Adobe has created to supplement that.
Guillaume: Yeah, it’s a great tool for any business and it’s quite a leap when you don’t have that kind of digital tool to now have one, the B2B suite from Adobe Commerce. There are some other tools that do that too but this one’s great. Now you have all those access rights, for example, an engineer can add parts to a cart but will not have the rights to check out because it’s over $100,000. Then a supervisor comes in and they’ve autonomous to add or remove employees and manage access rights and permissions for a full checkout if you reach a certain threshold of money. And you also have all those procurement lists for pre-made and separate cards for many separate projects. So it’s a blessing for a business that needs that kind of sophistication for B2B processes.
Guillaume: All right, Eric. Well, thanks for being here today.
Eric: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Guillaume: If anybody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way?
Eric: You can reach me through our customer service at the website. We have a ‘contact us’ and my email is on the website as well. So if anybody’s looking to get in touch that’s the best way to do it. I’m on LinkedIn as well. I don’t really do social media these days. So those are the two ways to get a hold of me.
Guillaume: All right. Thank you, Eric.
Eric: All right. Thank you.