Best of Both Worlds: Business and Technical Considerations for Multisite Implementations

By: Mat Herron, CommercePros Community Writer

Case Study: Ferguson Enterprises and Pollardwater


Ferguson Enterprises is a $15 billion wholesale distributor headquartered in Newport News, Va. Founded in 1953, the company covers several segments within the construction industry and grows its business through either same store sales growth or business acquisition.

Ferguson’s online B2B and B2C e-businesses represent $2.3 billion and $1.5 billion in annual sales, respectively. The company’s B2B business focuses on its trade professional customers, while B2C is built from a series of dotcom acquisitions, including brands like, Power Equipment Direct and Signature Hardware, which sell finished goods, i.e. faucets, fixtures, snow blowers, customized bathtubs and whirlpools. Ferguson’s B2B operations run on Oracle Commerce, while B2C runs on a series of commerce platforms.

In 2015, Ferguson switched to Oracle Commerce On-Premise solution. Chris Ann Jackson, Ferguson’s director of B2B e-business, said the switch added scalability for its growing business as well as several key business functions: Business users could run web content management systems for editorial copy, which the initial, product-focused transactional site did not have. Ferguson also wanted to increase personalization capabilities and leverage Endeca and Experience Manager due to its number of business verticals.

Ferguson’s first opportunity to leverage Oracle Multisite came after purchasing one of its B2B companies, Pollardwater, in 2014. Founded in 1837 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Pollardwater is the country’s oldest continually operating distributor of water and wastewater tools and supplies for municipal water and wastewater operations. Online sales are nearing $10 million annually. 

An outdated design and functionality hampered Pollardwater’s existing website. Orders initially processed online had to be manually entered on the back end. Ferguson’s goal was to create both a new experience for Pollardwater that leveraged Oracle’s infrastructure, as well as a future model where Ferguson could have greater speed-to-market when adding other brands to Multisite, Jackson said.

Many considerations were taken into account in defining Pollardwater’s needs and modernizing its e-business. Among the high-level questions were identifying target customers in its business vertical, whether it needed to be treated as a separate entity, or as a family of brands. More technical concerns included shared features, inventory management, merchandising profiles, user registration and the inclusion of job-specific pricing.

Reflecting strengths

Pollardwater’s new site needed to reflect the distinct differences in its customer base and business processes from Ferguson’s.

For example, Pollardwater sells 20,000 unique products on its site. Transactions consist of “quick credit card orders, small everyday items,” Jackson said. By contrast, Ferguson has 900,000 SKUs purchased by larger companies working on multiyear quotations and huge project-managed jobs.

Ferguson chose to keep user registration processes separate, while allowing customers to use the same e-mail address to login to each site and leveraging back-end functionality like content management in Endeca and Experience Manager.

Both sites allow customers to create lists of products, request quotes and see order history. Some features only appear in one brand or the other.

Customer job boards and online bill pay are unique to Ferguson Waterworks customers because they have larger jobs and lines of credit, whereas that functionality is not needed on Pollardwater, whose customer typically pay with credit cards for smaller purchases. With respect to freight, Pollardwater can run free freight promos independently of the way freight charges are calculated by customers, Jackson said. Pollardwater’s pricing structure is simple, versus Ferguson’s more complex model that includes job quotes as well as setup and ordering from multiple geographic locations.

Merchandisers use the same tool – Experience Manager – and leverage familiar rule sets and digital assets, but they can create customized landing pages and promotions even for the same product categories. Business users have a centralized structure to create diverse content experiences for customers.

Leveraging back-end capabilities

Ferguson’s Multisite uses a utility server that runs back-end jobs, data feeds and other utility functions that are separate from the customer-facing services, said Tim Harshbarger, Applications Architect III for B2B at Ferguson.

Ferguson and Pollardwater use Web Center Sites for content management, as well as a CSR application called ACMC that runs the same CSR functionality based on a customized version of Oracle’s Customer Service Center. Ferguson is using the out-of-the-box Multisite design for Pollardwater and for leveraging everything IT carom the codebase. Many site configurations with the UI/UX experience are configured in BCC, where Ferguson can define core CSS and different components for the brands.

The next phase is to use Oracle’s BCC to leverage that merchandising and marketing capability and maximize personalization. Features can be turned on and off to drive customers who visit catalog-based sites to and B2C properties.

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Best of Both Worlds: Business and Technical Considerations for Multisite Implementations