Bringing digital service delivery to building materials

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In a world that seems inevitably drawn to digital service delivery, few industries have shown the same level of resilience as building materials. Even the hardware industry’s retail giant, Bunnings, didn’t set up its e-commerce business until 2018.

But with Generations Y and Z making up a growing proportion of the industry’s workforce (the Australian government reports that the average age of a construction worker is 34), they are incorporating their expectations into in terms of fluid digital commitments in their professional life. For Bowens, a 127-year-old lumber and hardware company, this represents the perfect opportunity to gain the business and loyalty of a new generation of Australia’s booming construction industry.

Andy Bowen joined the family business six years ago as chief investment officer to work alongside his brother, CEO John Bowen, and his father and chairman, Jack Bowen. He worked as an investment banker in New York City, but saw an opportunity to help revitalize the business originally founded by his great-grandfather by taking it in a direction the rest of the industry needed. still follow.

“We didn’t want to lose the connection with the younger generation of traders,” said Andy Bowen. Marketing director. “It is vital that we maintain and engage the younger generation and build a brand with this younger generation if we are to survive in the long term. Then the question was, how do we do this?

“And certainly from a digital point of view, we were lacking. But then the whole industry was.

While some hardware chains had made efforts around online retailing, none had stepped up to create a digital experience for bulky items such as coverings and flooring. Bowens considered the main obstacle to be the complexity of moving bulky and often fragile products in a manner appropriate to the needs of builders on site.

The solution was to reallocate Bowens’ 16 stores to Victoria and its vast array of delivery options by creating a digital interface and promising tight delivery times.

“We have stores that are industrially set up that work great for distribution when it comes to an online offering,” says Bowen.

The e-commerce site launched as a retail service in December 2020 and has so far generated a seven-fold increase in website traffic.

“I certainly didn’t expect that in a six-month period,” Bowen says.

Along with the e-commerce capability, Bowen oversaw the creation of a full marketing and e-commerce team within Bowens, which now numbers 10 people and will continue to grow. Bowen has also worked with influencers in the construction industry to spread the word, including To blockwinning builder, Matt Menichelli; and skilled carpenter and site manager, Stefanie Apostolidis, who heads the female construction workers support group, Melbourne Chippy Chick.

“Before the pandemic, I would have said that only 5% of our budget was digital communications. Now it’s more like 55 or 60 percent of our marketing budget,” says Bowen. “It has been effective for us, and us. will continue to push harder on this. ”

Working with Apostolidis seems to have definitely helped Bowens promote his offering to a new generation of construction workers. Bowen says that while only 5 percent of the people who walk into the company’s stores are women, they represent 22 percent of the company’s online traffic.

While the initial e-commerce offering was aimed at a retail audience, Bowen said the company has now created a connection for professional customers. It also launched an awareness campaign in mid-July.

“At this point it’s more about brand awareness than conversion rates,” says Bowen. “This will start to change, but certainly in those first six months it’s all been about raising awareness, and we’ll continue to push there, as merchants aren’t used to shopping online – the offer just hasn’t been here in Australia.

“Being the only ones with a large supply in the market for builders, traders, DIY enthusiasts and the general public is a good thing – we love it. ”

Bowen estimates that there is about a year of development work to be done at the site before Bowens completes its current scope of work. He compares the current atmosphere to that of the startups he observed in his previous life.

“It’s exactly like running a startup, but we’re sitting in a 127-year-old company,” Bowen says. “It’s a lot of fun and we have great financial support. We are creating something new and that is what is attractive to a lot of the team members. It’s an industry that hasn’t been able to do this effectively, and an opportunity for us to make a name for ourselves and to create a legacy.

“You have this younger generation almost expecting it, and if you’re not there you’ll lose market share. It’s a long term investment for us, we’ve done it to make sure there is a fifth and a sixth generation for this company. ”

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