BigCommerce Case Study: United Aqua Group
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More goes into a pool than just water
What’s better than swimming in a cool pool on a hot day or a heated pool on a cold one? At one point in time, if you asked Scott Ferguson, Vice President of United Aqua Group, he would probably have told you absolutely nothing is better. But, that was before he started working with a pool and spa equipment manufacturer more than 20 years ago.
“Yes, I knew there were various parts to make the pool operate, but once I started working in the industry and saw firsthand all that goes into making it run, I haven’t been able to look at a pool the same ever since,” said Ferguson.
Scott has gone from working with one of the top manufacturers in the pool industry to now overseeing one of the top membership organisations for pool and spa professionals who work in it, United Aqua Group, headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Founded in 1963, United Aqua Group is one of only two buying groups in the United States fully recognised by all the major pool and spa manufacturers. These manufacturers permit United Aqua Group’s members, residential and commercial pool builders, retailers and service companies, to purchase products from them at direct pricing.
United Aqua Group operates as a purely B2B organisation that serves a growing membership of 305 members in 45 states and counting. “Our members are actually owners. They're running their own companies and purchasing all the products they need to run their businesses through United Aqua Group,” said Ferguson. “They make purchases through our online store and we process orders for them and send them directly to manufacturers. You can think of us as a marketplace for the pool and spa industry, but it’s more than that because through the buying process, we deliver big financial benefits to all of our Owner-Members.”
Things get out of order with NuORDER
Prior to migrating to BigCommerce in November 2020, United Aqua Group ran its online business on NuORDER. And even though United Aqua Group is a pure B2B business, the platform wasn’t delivering the consumer-like experience its members wanted.
Having a catalogue that contains some 400,000 products, there’s never a good time to be unsure of your platform’s performance, but United Aqua Group found several things like site speed, ease of use, ability to customise and consistent performance, elusive while on NuORDER.
That’s when the decision was made to build a new store on an ecommerce platform that would give its membership more of everything they wanted.
BigCommerce is the preferred choice
At the top of United Aqua Group’s vetting list was to build on a platform that would provide B2B functionality and deliver a B2C experience. Also important to the organisation was building on a platform that would be visually appealing and allow its members to engage on the platform by being able to rate products.
In addition to BigCommerce, X-Cart and Channel Software were platforms United Aqua Group seriously considered. Magento and Shopify were casually looked at, but didn’t make the final cut. When asked why, Ferguson responded, “They are super expensive and we didn't get the impression they have the overall feature set combined with support and flexibility that we were looking for.”
This is where BigCommerce came into play. Right from the start Scott found himself highly impressed with BigCommerce’s capabilities based on the demo his team received. “It was one of the best demos I've ever seen,” he said.
Joe Fassbender, United Aqua Group’s Business Transformation Manager, thought so as well. “The demo really blew us away with the ease of being able to customise everything to our needs and the ease to provide custom development. It's not something other providers really offered us. Just knowing we can do whatever we want with the system was really important to us.”
But that was not all that led Scott and Joe to select BigCommerce as United Aqua Group’s ecommerce vendor of choice. There were other deciding factors, considerably more, and they listed them all:
- Integration to our ERP and the ability to pass information from our ERP back into our store
- A private login for each user in the company
- Quick loading and improved search
- Ability to upload order spreadsheets
- Members can provide product ratings
- Ease of managing images and other media
- Ability to choose multiple views and multiple shipping addresses
- Ease of managing categories
- Google friendly
- Ongoing support
- Ability to control graphics
- Ability for shoppers to add PDF attachments to their orders or accounts
- A dashboard to see purchases for the week and even compare orders from the previous week.
“Having a dashboard that allows us to see what our members are searching for is extremely helpful in how we manage and drive the store,” said Ferguson.
Everything on our list was marked off. Every ability we thought of could be accomplished through BigCommerce,” Fassbender said.
Making a big splash with BundleB2B
“One thing we were looking for was speed. BigCommerce and BundleB2B found a way to deliver it. Everything functions at a lightning fast pace and that’s really important when you have 400,000 products available to sell,” said Ferguson.
BundleB2B is the BigCommerce app that delivers a B2B payment processing solution through its invoice portal. The portal allows members to track, view and pay their invoices directly through United Aqua Group’s website and provides a simpler purchasing experience to members while pulling in additional revenue for the organisation.
But, that’s not all. Thanks to the site customisation BundleB2B built into the platform, members can manage and save multiple shopping lists for future purchases. They can even search for a particular product by entering a SKU or search for it by line item. Also, corporate account management features were added to allow a member company the flexibility to set up multiple tiers of buyers for their organisation with different levels of roles and permissions.
BigCommerce’s connection to the organisation’s ERP, Microsoft Dynamics GP, is what ensures accurate information flows seamlessly between the various systems that synchronise orders, shipping, and inventory data.
“I don't think we could operate the store without the enhanced B2B functionality BundleB2B provides,” said Fassbender. “Having this level of customised functionality with company account hierarchy makes life easier for the members of our organisation.”
Keep your needs and wants in front of you
The next big thing United Aqua Group is working toward is adding ACH payment functionality to its store so members can pay invoices directly through the site.
“It will provide customised onsite accounting functionality where owners can see all of their invoices, current balances and available line of credit. They can identify and pay specific invoices and it is all automatically tracked and applied to the appropriate accounts,” said Ferguson.
In parting, both Scott and Joe offered these words of wisdom to other membership-based organisations seeking to be successful in the world of ecommerce.
“Have a full list of requirements of everything you need plus everything you want. Think about what you are missing today and what can make your life easier and include that in your roadmap,” Fassbender suggested.
“Make your store a one-stop shop by offering users as much functionality as you can so they don't have to go anywhere else. And if you have a platform where you can do that, you are golden,” Ferguson said.
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