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Blog: DATAFirst: Ready for a Web Data Overhaul

By Bridget McCrea

The changing landscape of e-commerce providers promising “cheaper, easier and faster” alternatives has forever changed the electrical distribution channel. DATAgility, the developer of data quality scorecarding program DATAFirst, is partnering with NAED to help distributors improve their data quality. DATAFirst is a distributor-driven data quality program, not a data warehouse, that is open to all NAED members. Frost Supply of Maryland Heights, Mo. recently began working with DATAgility, and we will follow their journey step by step in this series of articles over the next months.

Like most electrical distributors, Frost Supply of Maryland Heights, Mo., has watched its ecommerce sales increase over the last few years. As that portion of its business has grown, so has the need to develop, maintain, and administer a website that its customers can rely on. As part of that mission, Frost Supply recently began working with DATAgility, developer of data quality scorecarding program DATAFirst.

With seven locations and 120 employees, Frost Supply specializes in five key areas:  electrical, lighting, voice and data, industrial automation, and tool fastening and safety. By partnering with NAED, DATAgility is helping distributors like Frost Supply improve their data quality – a strategy the will help firms develop faster e-commerce sites, sell more products, and provide an exceptional customer buying experience.

According to DATAgility, the program follows this formal, but simple process:

  • Distributors are asked to encourage manufacturers to subscribe to the program.
  • Manufacturer data is rated against a quality system that measures seven key data characteristics and assigns a rating that will be published on the NAED website.
  • DATAFirst provides participants with easy-to-use reports that are written in business terms and are focused on providing information to the executive team.
  • A Partner Scorecard service matches the manufacturer and distributor data sets together to ensure data is synchronized for efficient electronic ordering, warehouse automation, and effective web selling.

Once this process is complete, DATAgility says distributors can begin to benefit from optimized sales, increased customer loyalty, productivity improvements, higher revenues, improved operating efficiencies, and stronger distributor-manufacturer relationships.

In this series of tED Magazine articles we’ll follow Frost Supply through the process of improving its data quality and its e-commerce presence, starting with a look at why the company is implementing the process, what’s been done so far, and what it expects to gain from the experience.

Ready, set, go
Frost Supply is ready to take its ecommerce platform to the next level, according to Nick Arb, marketing manager. “We knew that a big part of getting there would rely on our having quality product data, which we really haven’t had up until now,” says Arb. “Along with our next generation website, we really wanted to enhance the product data offering and make it a valuable resource for our customers.”

According to Arb, Frost Supply’s website was ripe for an overhaul. The site’s product data, for example, had been pulled from the distributor’s own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and was intended for internal purposes only. “A lot of our descriptions and keywords were abbreviated for our own use,” says Arb. “So while we may know that ‘blk’ stands for black, once you put those three letters out onto the web they really don’t mean anything to anyone.”

Getting that and many other product descriptions and keywords ready for ecommerce sales takes work, says Arb, and requires accurate descriptions, quality images, and product cut-sheets – to name just a few of the key elements. “On our first generation website we put a lot of effort into correcting product descriptions and getting at least one image up online for every product,” recalls Arb. “For our next site, we wanted to have attributed product data for all products to make it easier for customers to comparison-shop and see all of the data on one screen.”

As a starting point, Arb says Frost Supply reached out to the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW), a service that helps manufacturers and distributors find the most cost-effective methods for running their day-to-day businesses. “We told them that we were trying to get better quality product data,” says Arb, “and that we wanted to combine our efforts (ecommerce + better data) in order to better service our customers.”

After hearing about DATAFirst at NAED’s recent AdVenture Marketing Conference, the Frost Supply team quickly realized that its internal ecommerce initiatives aligned well with the offering. “After watching the DATAFirst presentation we realized it was similar to what we were working on internally,” recalls Arb. “We had a lot of the same goals, namely getting quality data and reporting back with any pain points that distributors were having as a result of the data they were using.”

Leveling the playing field
The web is one of those business channels where the size of your company really doesn’t matter. “Anyone can basically compete on a national scale,” says Arb, who is hoping that Frost Supply’s new, optimized website will help it “gain some market share by going up against larger competitors like Grainger and Amazon.” He sees quality product data and solid customer service as the two keys to making that happen.

From the DATAFirst experience, Arb says Frost Supply would like to come away with an automated process that streamlines the introduction of new products and other additions/deletions from its online catalogue. “I’d like to see a pretty painless process that we can use to pull new product information into our system and data warehouses,” says Arb “and right out onto the web.”

To date, Frost Supply has submitted its data requirements study to DATAgility and will soon be meeting with the company to discuss findings and discover pain points associated with the firm’s existing data. Next, the distributor will be accessing a data feed and syncing it up with its manufacturers’ data. According to Arb, Frost Supply’s goal is to have the beta version of its new website live sometime in January 2014.

“We’re prepared to deal with speed bumps along the way, but we’re kicking everything off now and are aiming for that early-2014 launch goal,” says Arb, who expects the distributor to allocate a good number of man-hours and much effort to the task. “We’re hoping that a tool like DATAfirst helps us gain an edge and get our website up to speed efficiently and effectively.”

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