Wolseley lays a strong foundation for innovation through a product information management strategy
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Wolseley lays a strong foundation for innovation through a product information management strategy

Headquartered in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, Wolseley UK is the operating company for Wolseley plc, the world’s number one distributor of heating and plumbing products. The company is the largest provider of those materials and associated services to the UK construction sector. It markets and sells its products via printed catalogs, its website and stores.

The Wolseley UK central sourcing team manages 500,000 product lines across 1,500 stores and six print catalogs; therefore, accurate, detailed product descriptions are essential. Even the slightest discrepancy can have a big impact when it comes to specialty heating and plumbing products, which must often meet local safety, health and building codes.

“We are advertising products that people are buying to a very detailed specification, so they have to have very accurate information,” said Rachel See, head of e-commerce at Wolseley UK. “Otherwise, customers will end up purchasing the wrong product, which not only is an inconvenience, but also can have health and safety implications.”

Additionally, Wolseley UK products are constantly evolving as lines are added and updated, which means that the company must continually update its product information across all marketing channels.

Staying Ahead of the Market
To support this goal, Wolseley had invested heavily in information technology; all its UK stores have been networked to mainframe central computers for over 15 years. However, as a true innovator in the use of technology to improve business performance, the company began to look for a smarter way to gather, maintain and publish product information.

“Our customers are experienced tradesmen, and they expect helpful descriptions and thorough specifications for the products they buy,” explained See. “To stay ahead of the market and maintain our competitive advantage, we wanted to have a more streamlined and cost-effective way of providing this information.” Specifically, Wolseley wanted to find a better way to gather product information and to enrich it with digital assets such as installation diagrams, technical data, and health and safety sheets. The company also wanted to provide its store personnel with faster and better access to product information. This would allow them to service customers better and faster.

The company began to look for a corporate-wide product management platform (PIM) after See moved to Wolseley UK’s central e-commerce team in 2008.

“We evaluated two other systems, but STEP came out a clear winner,” said See. “It quickly became apparent in our evaluation that the system would be able to perform well in a much more complex environment with many more products and across websites, stores and catalogs.”

As a product information management platform, STEP works by enabling businesses to gather raw master data in a central repository. It enriches and manages this information, makes it consistently available throughout the business, and quickly delivers approved information throughout the product life cycle—from procurement to multiple sales and support channels.

Greater Employee Productivity and Customer Service
See and her team initially used STEP to rework the company’s range of printed catalogs. From there they implemented STEP to manage and centralize product information across all channels, brand by brand. To empower store employees with faster access to better product information, the company used STEP to create PIP—Wolseley UK’s Product Information Pages—and made it available over the company’s intranet.

PIP was designed to quickly and easily provide accurate and detailed product information to employees in stores. Employees using the service can instantly access accurate information on technical and health and safety specifications, as well as images and returns policies. The sourcing team also posts FAQs on PIP, covering the most common inquiries it receives from colleagues.

The in-store teams started seeing the benefits of the new system very quickly. In fact, in the first month alone the pages received several thousand hits. See explained, “PIP has enabled our customer-facing employees to serve customers more quickly and provide a great level of service, which is leading to increased employee productivity, happier customers and greater customer loyalty.”

Foundation for New, Innovative Tools
STEP has also become a foundational element of SAM (Stock Availability Manager), a new automated, audio stock-inquiry service that gives Wolseley’s customers real-time stock information on more than 36,000 products via any phone. SAM provides customers with immediate access to stock availability. Stock levels are continually updated throughout the day, allowing customers to get the information they need quickly, without placing a call to Wolseley personnel.

“SAM wouldn’t be the competitive differentiator it is today had it not been for STEP,” said See. “With STEP, we’re now even more confident that the information that customers get through this innovative system is accurate and reliable.”

Furthermore, STEP has enabled Wolseley to deploy a number of touch-screen kiosks in its Sustainable Building Center, a national showcase for all the sustainable and green building materials that Wolseley offers. These kiosks allow visitors to see presentations of the latest environmentally friendly products. By taking their product information feed from STEP, Wolseley ensures that the information presented to visitors is up-to-date and accurate.

Catalog Production Time Reduced by 40 Percent
In terms of productivity, Wolseley UK has reduced catalog production time by 40 percent as a result of implementing STEP, giving the production team more time to focus on researching and developing the product range while improving catalog accuracy and drastically reducing production costs. “Having all product information in one central repository has made a tremendous difference in how we operate,” commented See. “It has helped us to be more innovative in how we go to market and how we serve our customers.”


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