The right technology can be an online workhorse. At WineAccents.com, switching e-commerce platforms not only saved the company the estimated $50,000 cost of hiring additional staff to wrangle disparate front and back-end systems, but freed up enough time and resources to start a second online business, CEO Henry Coleman tells Internet Retailer.
Coleman says that prior to the switch, his five-employee company had been using one company’s software to run the front end of the online wine accessories business plus a second software product to connect to UPS. It also used a separate e-mail program, an open-source customer invoice system and Intuit Inc.’s QuickBooks software for accounting. “We had five separate systems to try to run the company,” he says. “When a customer called with a question, I started using two computer screens, with maybe three to four windows open at a time, to answer it. It was a nightmare.”
Coleman wanted business processes to support serious business aspirations for the site. The challenge was to match some of the technical functionality of bigger companies without having a big-company budget, and either find a way to link the different systems or find a new e-commerce platform that would do it all in one interface-at a price he could afford.
Initially he found back-end systems that connected to front end templates that would have created pages he couldn’t customize, or highly customizeable products that would achieve the look he wanted, but would require him to hire a database expert to connect the front end to back-end systems. Price put those solutions out of the running, with the least expensive starting at about $50,000 plus ongoing support, and the most expensive running up to abut $150,000. “If you are grossing $500,000 to $1 million a year, you don’t have $150,000 around in cash,” he says.
NetSuite Inc.’s version 9.0 e-commerce platform, with a basis in accounting software, added enough flexibility in customizing its front-end, customer-facing templates to get Coleman to sign on as a beta user and then a regular customer. “Finally I had a system that integrated everything from customer service, ERP, UPS tracking, accounting, ordering, front end and everything else, that gave me about 90% of the design functionality I wanted,” he says.
Implementing an integrated system lightened the workload on Coleman’s five-employee company and made it possible to avoid spending an estimated $50,000 to hire additional technology and accounting staff to pick up the slack from the five disparate systems. Coleman put that extra staff time and the NetSuite platform to work launching a second online business, online child safety gear retail site SafetyDepot.com, this year. “Otherwise, we would never have been able to launch SafetyDepot,” he says. “With the same amount of staff that we had to run the business using the five separate systems, we were able to launch an entirely new company.”