ES Tech Group is the parent company of EvolutionX and FusionPlus. Its mission? To deliver powerfully differentiated B2B e-commerce capabilities for manufacturers, wholesalers and dealers/distributors.
The company’s new web store, EvolutionX, launched one year ago. OPI‘s Heike Dieckmann speaks to Dave Bent, President of the company’s US operations, about the progress that’s been made and why there’s so much potential for dealers/distributors that adopt the software program in the UK, the US and — ultimately — beyond.
OPI: Let’s start by learning a little more about ES Tech Group.
Dave Bent: Sure. ES Tech Group umbrellas both our commerce and content capabilities. EvolutionX, our new, leading-edge B2B commerce solution, is currently being rolled out to over 350 existing customers in the office, jan/san and industrial supplies distribution sectors throughout the US, UK and Ireland.
FusionPlus Data normalises and enriches wholesaler and manufacturer product content and syndicates to distributors and software vendors. For example, over 1,000 OP dealers in the UK and Ireland use FusionPlus content within various ERP and e-commerce solutions — including EvolutionX — and we are already experiencing rapid growth since our launch in the US late last year.
OPI: How did you get involved in ES Tech Group?
DB: I spent ten years as the CIO of Essendant, then moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to work for Avnet, a $17 billion global electronic components distributor. My background includes nearly 15 years in distribution which gave me great insight as to what dealers need to remain competitive from a technological standpoint. For example, I was very involved in the work we did at Essendant for online product content, search and e-commerce. I met Paddy [Donnelly — one of the original co-founders and CEO of the company] when we worked together while I was at Essendant.
OPI: And you joined the group about a year ago?
DB: Yes. Paddy and I reconnected at SP Richards’ ABC event in Orlando, Florida, last July. I was introduced to ES Tech Group and was exposed to the brand new web store, EvolutionX, for the first time. I saw what it’s capable of and became a partner in the business shortly thereafter.
I joined because I truly believe the new web store is a differentiator in the B2B commerce space — it blew me away in terms of its features, functionality, capabilities and scalability.
OPI: What does EvolutionX set out to do?
DB: It’s all about providing a differentiated end-customer experience. How do you make it as easy as possible to buy a product online in the B2B space? How do you offer a highly personalised experience with rich content? How can you be as convenient as possible? Most importantly, how do you position dealers to be truly competitive with Amazon?
OPI: I’m guessing EvolutionX offers solutions to those questions?
DB: Very much so. The company’s tagline is ‘Content. Commerce. Connected’. Through our FusionPlus catalogue, we can bring rich content to a website. With EvolutionX, we have a web store platform which integrates that content to a dealer’s/ distributor’s back-end ERP platform.
We invested about $3 million into completely redesigning our platform and delivering what is now EvolutionX. One of the thought processes behind the redesign was that we wanted to create something whereby our customers — dealers/distributors — don’t need IT resources or developers to manage the look and feel of the site, change prices, add products, update the marketing and merchandising, etc. We wanted to put all the content and functionality at our customers’ fingertips and ensure they had full control of their web stores. The platform is now ‘feature complete’ for the most sophisticated B2B processes and scenarios that support Fortune 100 end customers without additional consulting and software development.
Personalisation was the next piece of the puzzle. Say the customer of an office products dealer is exclusively a buyer of school supplies. With EvolutionX, the dealer can segment this buyer and create a completely unique experience when he/she logs in, so that the buyer sees content specifically focused on school supplies.
It goes without saying that everything we build is mobile-enabled which is critical in today’s world.
Overall, it’s a 100% secure, stable platform that’s cloud-hosted. We have dealers/distributors which service government contracts and those that supply Fortune 100 companies. If necessary, EvolutionX can be scaled to very large multibillion dollar enterprise customers too. We’ve built all the functionalities that end-customers need — such as managing budgets and workflows, for instance — into the program.
OPI: Have all your customers transitioned to EvolutionX now?
DB: After we launched the new version last year, we went into beta testing and took some UK and US customers live on the web store. We’re envisaging complete migration to EvolutionX by the end of the year — that’s about 350 dealers/distributors.
Parallel to that, of course, we’re canvassing for new prospects. In the US, where we’re growing the fastest, we’re looking to expand our customer base by about 50% in the next 12 months.
OPI: You’ve already mentioned broadly who you’re working with. Do you have a sweet spot in terms of your target audience?
DB: No, it’s a real mix. In the UK, OP dealers/distributors are still our core, without a doubt. We’re also really engaged — both in the US and the UK — with the jan/san sector and various industrial verticals, partially through our work with FusionPlus whereby we’re helping wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers with their catalogue content.
The office products portion is very advanced in terms of its adoption of the digital paradigm. Many other industries — though massively diverse — haven’t been challenged from a digital perspective, so OP is definitely ahead. This was initially driven by companies like Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax, which built out their B2B platforms and did excellent jobs from a digital perspective.
Now Amazon Business is pushing these efforts even further, so it’s vital that dealers/distributors — in all verticals — take steps to remain digitally competitive. That next step is to offer much richer content, a more customer-oriented web experience, personalisation with truly integrated logistics and tracking and, of course, mobile.
OPI: Is EvolutionX particularly suited to the larger customer?
DB: EvolutionX scales from the smallest company to multibillion-dollar entities. In terms of B2B functionality, it outperforms any of the well-known e-commerce solutions like Magento, Shopify, BigCommerce, etc.
Most of our customers in the UK are in the less than $10 million bracket and a considerable number are under $5 million. The deciding criteria is less about size and more about readiness to engage in the experience, however. In my mind, three things must be in place to make a dealer/distributor successful nowadays in digital terms: you need rich content for the website — that could be FusionPlus; you need a great web store platform — EvolutionX; and you also need the people and the talent to drive and manage both in an efficient way.
In terms of our target audience, like I mentioned, most OP dealers have a front-facing web store of some kind. In industrial, many have a website, but no commerce capabilities. Jan/san sits somewhere in between.
OPI: Let’s conclude with ES Tech Group’s expansion plans.
DB: We’re definitely planning to expand. Canada and Australia are real opportunities. Canada specifically might be on the horizon later this year or next. The system is architected for multilingual application but, to be honest, there’s plenty of scope left in the US and the UK.