This article originally appeared in Dallas Innovates.
Two years ago, when Bottle Rocket, an Addison-based technology company, and Animal Supply Company (ASC), an Irving-based distributor of specialty pet products to independent retailers, first met, neither company could have imagined where their journey might take them.
Fast forward two years, and the results of the partnership are not only changing the way ASC does business, but also disrupting the almost $100 billion pet industry.
Opportunity in a Changing Market
The pet industry has been experiencing explosive growth, largely driven by the rise in eCommerce shopping. In fact, eCommerce is expected to represent 25% of the overall share of the pet market by 2022, catapulting from just 4% in 2015.
In addition to the demand for more healthier food options, pet shoppers’ purchasing habits signaled they wanted choice and flexibility when it came to how, when and where to purchase. With the rise in eCommerce, consumers now expect both in-store, local shopping experiences, alongside the convenience of online shopping options. That meant that traditional brick and mortar stores needed to enter the eCommerce marketplace to retain and win back consumers who were flocking to online competitors, like Amazon and Chewy.
ASC knew it had an opportunity to develop innovative solutions to help its retailers compete as they struggled to meet this challenge. But how could ASC help its business partners compete in this evolving world without a clear digital strategy of its own?
With 21 warehouses across the country, more than 7,000 retailers with over 23,000 doors and relationships with more than 465 premium brands, ASC had strong connections and a robust network in place. However, with aging front- and back-end systems, limited customer data and a lack of the right teams to support its digital needs, the distribution company knew it needed to evolve internally first. It needed a comprehensive strategy that focused on more than technology. It needed to establish partnerships that fostered innovations to build digital champions and competencies.
Creative Meets Creative: The Digital Mindset Emerges
It takes creative leaders to recognize the need for change and push forward even in the face of uncertainty. In his first year as CEO, Don McIntyre set out to better understand the overarching challenges ASC and its retailers were facing. As a result, Don set a vision for nothing short of a full-scale digital transformation. One of his first steps? Recruiting digital strategy and marketing expert, Angela Spears.
“Aligning with best-in-class technology partners has been a cornerstone of our digital strategy, igniting our ability to have speed and the expertise in specialty areas critical to our success,” said Angela Spears, SVP of Digital Strategy & Marketing. Bottle Rocket was one of those partners.
ASC’s starting point was reimagining the customer ordering journey. Given ASC had grown rapidly through acquisitions, the first step required dismantling four legacy ordering systems and deploying one national eCommerce platform, OroCommerce. Next, ASC partnered with the user experience (UX) team at Bottle Rocket to develop a new UX design and navigation for the web front-end, making web orders simpler and engaging. With this new foundation in place, the team quickly shifted gears to take on their next big challenge.
With the web design created and national web deployment in motion, ASC set out to tackle the next part of their strategy. Enter the ASC mobile app.
With the app, retail customers can use their smartphone to quickly find products, create favorite shopping lists and track orders. A barcode scanner allows customers to search for products and add items to a list or cart with ease. Face and touch ID recognition allows for trouble-free log in, while a personalized dashboard gives each retailer access to their order history with one tap.
With synchronization between web and app, ASC customers can move freely between handheld devices and computers, anytime, anywhere. They can also share inventory responsibilities through varying levels of access and permissions built into the app.
Genia, a retailer from North Carolina, told ASC that the app cut her order time by half. “Before the mobile app, I had to walk around and write everything that was needed down by hand and enter it into the cart manually by UPC. Now, with the app, I can walk around with my smartphone and scan everything directly into the cart,” she added.
Becoming Market Makers
With a new eCommerce platform and mobile and web ordering available to its retailers, ASC turned to the next part of its strategy: helping independent pet specialty retailers compete online. The rise of eCommerce in the pet category has largely been dominated by Amazon and Chewy. Independent pet retailers needed the ability to set up their own online presence and access to eCommerce fulfillment to compete.
The answer to this challenge? Animal Supply Connect, a digital eFulfillment and delivery solution to connect independent pet retailers with their online shoppers. ASC implemented eCommerce fulfillment in 10 of its 21 warehouses to create the ability to ship direct to consumer on behalf of their retailers in a simple and economical fashion.
Through ASC’s Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) development team, the company developed smart logistics technology that allows retailers to connect seamlessly to the company’s APIs in order to fulfill and deliver products purchased on the retailer’s website. The solution provides delivery to the pet shopper within two business days.
With Connect, ASC’s retailers have a new tool in the toolbox to compete and retain their valued pet shoppers.
What We’ve Learned
ASC’s success has been a true team effort. The full support of the CEO, the right partners, a willingness to invest in a change management plan and the support of an agile methodology to get to market quickly have all been critical success factors.
These successes were some of the reasons the $1B Irving company was attractive to investors. In February 2019, ASC was acquired by Summit Partners and Goldman Sachs.
“We’re looking forward to continuing our digital journey with our new investors by our side,” said McIntyre. “For me, Angela and our entire team, staying true to our digital vision has been a top priority. It’s critical that we innovate to make it simple for our retail partners to do business with us, but also so that we can provide our partners the tools to modernize their businesses, exceed consumer expectations and compete in a complex marketplace.”
With two years of commitment and investment in digital behind them, ASC has the technology, infrastructure, and ability to offer diverse, targeted solutions to its retail and brand partners.
For example, retailers can expect more time-saving functionality to be released this year, such as online returns, online payments and automated receiving. The next phase of Animal Supply Connect includes more options for automated plug-in connections directly into the ASC platform, making it quick and simple for retailers to launch their online stores and ship direct to their pet shoppers.
For brands, ASC is working on the ability to gather and distribute rich product content through their new Product Information Management (PIM) software. With PIM, product content will be more user-friendly, including more robust product descriptions, images and advanced search functionality.
We’re Just Getting Started
In the beginning, ASC envisioned developing solutions that strengthened relationships between its stakeholders through digital experiences. Now two years later, they’ve accomplished that and much more. Executives and employees have evangelized the digital vision across all levels of the company – from the Board of Directors to the warehouse managers to the sales representatives. The innovations developed have done more than enhance the customer experience – they’ve enhanced ASC’s corporate culture and have fundamentally changed how the company operates.
All of this has been possible because of tireless efforts from its small but mighty internal team, which has been strengthened by partnerships with best-in-class tech partners like Bottle Rocket, OroCommerce and Allata. Together, ASC and its partners are continuing to innovate so they can serve those who matter most – their retailers, brand partners, pets and the people who love them.