April 29, 2014, 2:20 PM

With the right e-commerce platform, this manufacturer and distributor opens new doors

Thanks to its new e-commerce platform, Prince Corp. can finally show multiple levels of product pricing based on such criteria as customer contracts and the costs of sourcing inventory. It’s even looking toward setting up e-commerce sites for several hundred of its dealers.

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Midwest-based Prince Corp. knows how to make and sell food and supplies for farm animals, wild birds and pets, and it’s an experienced distributor of lawn and garden supplies. When it comes to e-commerce technology, it’s not as knowledgable.

But it’s getting there. A big step forward, company executives say, was the launch last year of a new e-commerce platform that provides what Prince has long needed: the ability to display web content with multiple pricing levels based on such criteria as individual customer contracts and the costs that can vary based on how products were sourced.

Prince went live early this year on the new e-commerce technology developed by web design and development firm Warp 9, which built the site on Magento open-source e-commerce software from the eBay Enterprise unit of eBay Inc. Warp 9 deployed the Magento Community edition, which is free of licensing fees. Open-source software provides developers with access to the software code for making modifications to it.

For Prince, the flexibility of the new e-commerce platform has made all the difference in its ability to better serve customers and maintain control over products and profit margins, Prince president Jay Fleming says. “We thought long and hard about the features that our internal staff and customers were asking for in a new e-commerce site,” he says.

In addition to showing personalized pricing to customers based on their contract terms, Prince also needs its e-commerce site to dynamically change pricing for products based on order volume and the prices and shipping costs charged by suppliers, Fleming says. “We have a very complex pricing structure that was difficult for other systems to handle,” he says. “It was complicated, but Warp 9 was able to pull it off exceptionally well.”

The new e-commerce site also includes a fast-reorder feature that lets repeat customers quickly check large numbers of back orders and add bulk-product orders to the online shopping cart.

Prince is also looking ahead to additional ways to build on the flexibility of its new site, Fleming says. Prince recently acquired another Midwest distributor of animal feed and lawn-and-garden supplies, Siemer Enterprises Inc., and “we’re planning on consolidating their software and e-commerce technology into our systems,” he says.

And in another huge project that would help it build sales and relationships with its network of dealers across seven Midwest states—Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio—Prince is considering working with Warp 9 to build copies of its e-commerce site for several hundred of its dealers.

“Many of our customers have expressed interest in having their own e-commerce site, but don’t really know where to start,” Fleming says. “The idea is that we would essentially clone our site and its functionality, and brand it to the specific customer with their own URL.”

Prince says it would charge each customer a “nominal fee” to set up their site. In turn, Fleming adds, Prince would “ensure that they are buying our products, which further strengthens our relationship with them. We see the potential of this model going to several hundred of our customers. It is pretty exciting.”

Andrew Van Noy, CEO of Warp 9, says his firm has traditionally worked mostly on retail e-commerce sites, but lately has seen an increase in demand for B2B sites. He says he has found the Magento e-commerce platform—in both its free Community edition as well as its licensed Enterprise edition—to provide good support for such B2B functionality as multiple pricing levels.

Although the Magento Enterprise edition is known as a platform for larger companies, Van Noy says the free Community edition has proved flexible enough to  support the needs of companies as large as $300 million in annual sales.

He notes that Warp 9’s fees for developing an e-commerce site range from $30,000 to $200,000, depending on a site’s complexity and number of features.

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