Based in San Jose, CA Valin Corporation is one of the largest distributors of automation, filtration, fluid handling, fluid power, heating and process control products for a wide range of industrial applications. Valin — No. 43 on Industrial Distribution's Big 50 List — represents brand-leading manufacturers offering comprehensive solutions to the process markets including technology, life sciences, energy and transportation.
When it came time to re-engineer the company’s business model based on a digital multi-channel e-commerce approach, a number of key factors contributed to Valin’s success. They crafted a strategy centered on a new vision that would transform their customer’s expierence, enhance productivity in operations, improve the way employees collaborate and increase Valin’s value in the marketplace. The new e-commerce strategy would be a key element in Valin’s greater vision of running their business more efficiently, globally and data driven.
Valin Corporation’s Vice President of Marketing, Anne Vrancic, recently did a Q&A with ID to discuss Valin’s journey from the planning phase, through the launch and how the site is being received now that it’s been up and running for 8 months.
ID: Anne, let’s start at the beginning. What compelled Valin to undertake this task? Why did you decide to completely relaunch your eCommerce initiative?
Anne Vrancic: One of the things that we pride ourselves on at Valin is our ability to listen to our customers and have a strong pulse on where industry trends seem to be moving. We launched our first site in what now seems to be the “stone-age” of the internet, all the way back in 2000. For more than 10 years, this site served as our base for our online business, making structural improvements along the way. Then right around five or so years ago we were noticing that there was a real shift in the way our customers wanted to interact with our website. That was our first sign. We spent a considerable amount of time and research trying to uncover what kind of pain points our customer base had when interacting with our website and how we could make improvements. We knew this couldn’t be done in a vacuum, however. It needed to be part of entire digital strategy that would transform the business model.
ID: Could you discuss that strategy a little more?
AV: When we created our eBusiness vision, we knew we were going to have to make radical changes in how we operated our business. We wanted to use the technology we had more effectively in order to capture, contextualize and deliver data both upstream and down within our supply chain. Additionally, we knew this transformation would affect all of our departments due to interdepartmental process-transfer data overlaps. In order for this to be successful, we needed full participation from the entire Valin team. The primary goal was to keep the customer front and center while still improving productivity.
ID: What about Valin’s role as a distributor played a part in your strategy?
AV: It's no longer about if a company should invest in building an eBusiness structure. It's now imperative for a company to build a foundation on an eBusiness strategy and investment roadmap if they plan on sustaining their business over the next 5-10 years. Many distributors today are operating their businesses on an application infrastructure that was built 15-20 years ago, pre-eCommerce, and in distribution that model is no longer relevant.
ID: Specifically concerning the new eCommerce website, what are some of the features that separate it from how it functioned previously?
AV: The best way to describe it is that our customers are able to find what they need faster, and we’re able to better assist customers with questions they wouldn’t necessarily be able to answer on their own. The new site allows for a level of ‘self-service’ for our customer base. For example, customers are able to check a particular order status through their own account and quickly be able to pull up an invoice they may need to check. Not only does this serve the customer better by allowing them to find important information on their own quickly, but it also frees up the time of our talented customer service base to assist in a more robust way. When making a purchasing decision in our industry, some customers need a level of expertise in the assistance they require to make the best possible decision for their particular situation. The customer may need information about the product itself or the best approach in specifying that product for a unique application. Our customer service reps are now able to help customers with more application engineering questions instead of more administrative inquiries.
ID: What was one of the main challenges when taking your new site live?
AV: One of the biggest challenges was making our way through some of the SEO hurdles I’m sure everyone is familiar with. We were pretty good about preparing our Google analytics because we knew that Google would try to sandbox us when we went live. It is just something you have to anticipate and be ready for. One of the biggest mistakes companies make when developing a new eCommerce site is to think the work is done. "If you build it, they will come…" doesn’t apply to eCommerce. We had to have an SEO strategy ready to roll out when the site went live.
ID: Were there any other challenges discovered inside of Valin when this site went live?
AV: Yes. A big function within Valin is our quality assurance testing including our code testing and validation. We have to do even more quality testing on new codes by software developers so it works not only with the eCommerce environment, but the rest of our system. Any time there is a new code development on in our digital infrastructure, the quality assurance team has to test and validate that code to make sure that it does not break something inside of the system. This testing has become a critical function inside of our new digital infrastructure. We had to treat this new digital platform as a completely new business model because that what it is. It’s different than the traditional industrial distribution sales model, both from a technical and a resourcing side. There are clear differences in the workload and you have to recognize it. This is the only way to truly improve the experience you are providing the customer.
ID: So how do we find your new site?
AV: Our new Valin eCommerce site can be accessed at www.valinonline.com.