Sophisticated e-commerce platform for an award-winning PPE supplier
Customers have a wide choice of suppliers from whom to purchase PPE, therefore Tower regards CtrlCloud, its customer e-commerce platform, as a key differentiator which sets it apart from its competitors.
However, with an increasing portfolio of over 200 customer-specific stores and an ever-growing backlog of enhancements, Tower recognised the need to transition away from a heavily modified (and therefore difficult to maintain) off-the-shelf solution, to a bespokely developed platform built to support both the current and future needs of Tower and its customers.
The CtrlCloud 2.0 project posed a broad range of challenges, requiring a number of different skillsets:
Building the solution from the ground up, one of the first tasks was to integrate with Tower’s existing OGL finance and stock control system to extract customer account data along with basic product SKU and pricing information. Next, layered upon this, was the catalogue hierarchy and detailed product information (such as descriptions, images, variants, etc.) extracted from Tower’s recently installed Perfion product information management (PIM) system.
Following this came the store configurator, which allows the Tower Onboarding team to setup each customer’s store in precisely the required manner. The customisable options range from bespoke branding and product visibility based upon job role, to allocation and budget limits, and sophisticated approval workflows – all aimed providing Tower’s customers with fine control over the purchases made by their employees.
Finally came the customer-facing UI, which was designed using a mobile-first approach, due to the large percentage of customer employees needing to make purchases via their mobile devices while out-and-about conducting their daily business. This is an area where Tower now has a significant advantage over its competitors, who are generally using older, desktop oriented solutions.
I'm absolutely delighted with our decision to work with Yammayap.
The collaboration has been smooth, and you made it easy for us to deliver the project within the timeline and budget. The end product, CtrlCloud 2, has exceeded our expectations and has been very well received by the shareholders, directors and indeed the entire company. From a business perspective, it has helped drive our success and enhance our reputation, and personally I have really valued working with Yammayap, giving me a new insight and experience of software product development projects. Ultimately, as a business, we are thrilled with the results, and I can confidently say that we would choose Yammayap again without hesitation.
Post-launch, Ed Morey at Yammayap sat down with Gary Trudgett, Marketing Director at Tower Supplies, to talk about the creation of CtrlCloud 2.
Certainly, Tower Supplies was established in 1983 by Jonathan Aris, who started by selling cleaning and janitorial products to local businesses from the back of his car. Over the years, the business has grown steadily, and we now offer a wide range of products, including PPE, workwear, uniforms, and safety equipment, in addition to cleaning and janitorial supplies.
We primarily serve customers in the UK and Ireland and currently employ over 150 people. In the last financial year, our turnover was in excess of £50 million.
Tower Supplies caters to several key markets, with the largest being our Cruise division. In addition to core cleaning and janitorial products, we supply hotel consumables for cabins, such as toilet roll, hand towels, facial tissues, and even tea stirrers!
Our Power and Utilities division focuses on providing protective workwear and uniforms for jobs involving electricity, gas, and water, with products like flame-retardant items, arc flash gear, and breathing apparatus.
The Marine division specialises in maritime and cargo safety, offering a range of PPE, including head protection, hand protection, eye protection, and coveralls, to ensure the safety of workers handling cargo on and off ships and while at sea.
The Facilities Management division serves diverse facilities, including prisons, hospitals, schools, universities, and large office buildings, offering cleaning and janitorial products, workwear, and uniforms tailored to the specific needs of each sector.
Finally, we have numerous National Accounts comprised of household names – particularly in the Automotive industry – plus local and national government agencies, to whom we supply a broad range of PPE, workwear and safety equipment.
No problem, when I joined Tower Supplies two years ago as Marketing Director, I investigated why customers preferred us over our competitors. One critical value-added service that stood out was our online ordering platform, CtrlCloud, which provided customised catalogues with bespoke business rules to our gold and platinum customers. This platform is a key retention tool for us.
However, CtrlCloud was already eight years old when I joined, and it was facing some significant challenges due to the fact that in the intervening period, we had updated and streamlined a number of our other systems. As a result, it was clearly apparent that a fundamentally different approach was required, one which was more tightly integrated into the other solutions we had invested in.
A secondary, but by no means insignificant issue for us was that the platform prevented us from delivering the seamless customer experience we desired. This was because straightforward tasks, such as adding products or changing prices, required developer intervention – which lead to delayed responses and customer dissatisfaction.
Charlie Aris, Tower Supplies' CEO, asked me to lead this project, so I worked with the Senior Management Team to explore potential alternatives. To begin, I conducted research using Google to find suitable software development platforms. Within two to three weeks, I gathered insights on the platforms our competitors were using and other off-the-shelf options available.
Another avenue we considered was a bespoke application, and I engaged with five development agencies, including Yammayap. The decision to involve Yammayap stemmed from a recommendation by a locally-based consultant, who was advising us on other marketing strategies. Initially, I invited Yammayap – along with a couple of other agencies – to meet with us, so they could learn more about our challenges and requirements.
What set Yammayap apart was their genuine interest in understanding our business. They persistently asked probing questions, delving deep into not only what we do, but also why and how we do it. Their proactive approach impressed us greatly. Yammayap challenged our established practices by asking, "Is this the approach you want to take moving forward? " and provided valuable insights, asking, "Have you considered this? Have you thought about that?" Their understanding of our challenges instilled a high level of confidence in their capabilities.
Moreover, Yammayap's approach began with a comprehensive discovery phase, setting them apart from the other agencies. While the others swiftly presented quotations with significant contingencies, Yammayap took the time to understand the requirements from each division, as well as the perspectives of the board of directors. This process involved extensive questioning and direct interaction with our team members to assess their current understanding of CtrlCloud, as well as its future needs.
Yammayap's vision extended beyond simply upgrading CtrlCloud 1 to a shinier version on a stable platform. Instead, they envisioned the system's growth and scalability over the next five years. Their proposal involved building a modular system, allowing us to customise and enable specific modules for each customer. This modular design meant that when new modules were developed, we could selectively activate them for existing customers, mitigating business risks, upskilling our workforce, and providing a seamless customer experience.
In summary, Yammayap's commitment to understanding our business, their thorough discovery phase, and their focus on building a scalable and customer-centric modular system convinced us that they were the ideal partner for this critical project.
Certainly, we have experienced a range of significant benefits since implementing CtrlCloud 2. Firstly, our sales pitch has greatly improved. Instead of promising a fully bespoke solution, we now emphasise the system's benefits, including improved stock control, cost management, and enhanced order visibility. This customisable approach sets clear expectations for our customers and aligns their understanding of the product.
One of the most significant benefits of CtrlCloud 2 is its user-friendliness, which has had a positive impact on both new customers and our internal onboarding process. Customers find the system remarkably easy to use, allowing swift onboarding with minimal training. They quickly adapt to the platform and start placing orders without any hassle.
Another advantage lies in the streamlining of our internal processes. The Tower onboarding team can now set up accounts and configure advanced features without relying on developers. This newfound independence has improved efficiency and reduced turnaround time for getting new customers up and running on the platform.
Furthermore, our customer service team has gained the power to make small changes without external support. When a customer needs to add a new team member or modify job roles, our team can handle it promptly. The 'impersonate' feature has been a game-changer, as it allows our customer service representatives to understand customer issues better, by viewing the platform from the customer’s perspective.
These are all great benefits for the new customers we’re onboarding, but another important part of CtrlCloud is ‘Project Rebuild’ which involves transitioning our existing customers from CtrlCloud 1 to CtrlCloud 2. Currently, we've successfully moved around 70 customers, but this has posed a challenge for Tower in terms of managing customer expectations regarding CtrlCloud 2's capabilities. The introduction of store standardisation with CtrlCloud 2 and the deliberate exclusion of certain anomalies from CtrlCloud 1, has presented some customer education-related challenges. Despite this, we're now witnessing a high percentage of orders flowing through CtrlCloud 2, significantly reducing manual processing and the associated risk of input errors. As a result, most orders seamlessly integrate with OGL, our finance and stock control system, ensuring a smooth order fulfillment processes.
CtrlCloud 2's features have also put us ahead of our competitors, providing an outstanding user experience, particularly for mobile users. This mobile-friendly approach suits our many field-based users, allowing them to place orders quickly and effortlessly.
Overall, CtrlCloud 2 has been a game-changer for our business, improving platform resilience, onboarding, and customer satisfaction.
The partnership with Yammayap has been exceptionally personal, setting it apart from other external collaborations I’ve experienced. Our communication predominantly involved direct human interaction, such as phone calls, Teams meetings, or face-to-face discussions. Even when we used tools like Trello or Basecamp, it was primarily to schedule conversations and discuss specific topics. This approach was appreciated, as it avoided inundating us with emails and fostered a more engaging and efficient communication process. Unlike some experiences with developers who might take a passive stance after sending an email, Yammayap actively pursued answers and followed up promptly, which was refreshing.
The fortnightly catch-up meetings and the progress Gantt chart were invaluable. As the project lead, I could summarise the progress for the Senior Management Team, addressing their primary concerns about timelines and budget. These regular meetings assured us that Yammayap was in control of the project, instilling confidence in the process.
During our interactions, Yammayap exhibited a remarkable ability to communicate on multiple levels. They could explain technical aspects in a way that made sense to me as a Marketing Director, allowing me to relay information effectively within the business. Similarly, they engaged with Rob King, Tower's Finance & IT Director, on a more logical and coding-oriented level, helping him understand the technical aspects in detail. This dual approach ensured that both commercial and technical considerations were addressed, facilitating well-informed decisions.
Looking ahead, while my direct involvement in the project will decrease now that the initial CtrlCloud 2 release has been successful, I envisage an ongoing relationship with Yammayap. The continued development of CtrlCloud is crucial to our business's sustained success, and we foresee the need for further customer-driven enhancements to evolve the product.
Yammayap's understanding of our business is fundamental to this partnership. We value working with partners who can provide valuable advice rather than merely fulfilling requests without critical evaluation. Yammayap's willingness to challenge our ideas and ask, "Why do you want this?" reassures us that they genuinely care about delivering the best solutions for our business needs. This approach is refreshing, as we appreciate the commitment to understanding the reasoning behind our requests, ensuring that the solutions provided align with our long-term goals.
I'm absolutely delighted with our decision to work with Yammayap. The collaboration has been smooth, and you made it easy for us to deliver the project within the timeline and budget. The end product, CtrlCloud 2, has exceeded our expectations and has been very well received by the shareholders, directors and indeed the entire company. From a business perspective, it has helped drive our success and enhance our reputation, and personally I have really valued working with Yammayap, giving me a new insight and experience of software product development projects. Ultimately, as a business, we are thrilled with the results, and I can confidently say that we would choose Yammayap again without hesitation.
You're welcome, Ed. It was a pleasure speaking with you.