Jolien van Turnhout, Responsable for Agora France
Industry: Consumer Goods
Wholesale florist Agora’s new warehouses, which were constructed next to the company’s headquarters in Kontich in 2012, are quite impressive. Inside they have a ‘cash & carry’ shop, where customers - small and large florists - can freely shop for flowers. Since the end of 2010, they can also shop online in Agora’s web shop. The number of orders increased immediately. The system is mainly successful in France, where the distances are greater. This increases Agora’s certainty of sales for part of its stock. The shop also has opening times to guarantee the freshness of the flowers.
We buy flowers in the morning at the auction in the Netherlands. In the afternoon, they are delivered to customers or customers collect their flowers from our warehouses. Customers from southern France receive their deliveries at night, due to the long travel time”, Jolien Van Turnhout, who is responsible for Agora in France, says.
Agora’s webshop also has opening hours, so customers cannot order too late and will never receive their flowers only a few days later. Customers can place orders online between 14 PM and 4 AM. Then the web shop closes until 2 PM for the auction.That allows Agora to guarantee that orders are delivered directly from the auction. Thanks to the web shop, Agora now has a better overview of the orders and the wholesaler can keep smaller stocks, even for large shops. The web-shop increases Agora’s certainty of sales,because it already has buyers for part of its stock.
In the meanwhile, Cegeka, Agora’s main IT supplier, is expanding the e-commerce system of the Van Turnhout family. Smaller customers will soon have access to the web shop as well. “For larger customers, we buy flowers by the ‘box’. Smaller customers cannot handle such quantities. In the e-shop, they will soon be able to order flowers by the ‘bunch’.
For this purpose, Agora will keep a small stock in our warehouses, where florists will be able to collect their flowers. Selling flowers ‘by the bunch’ also allows smaller florists to buy their fresh flowers online.”
Despite the success of the web shop, sales in the ‘cash & carry’ wholesale have not decreased, as many customers want to see the actual flowers. However, Jolien Van Turnhout has noticed an increase in cross-selling: “In the web shop, peo-ple can browse the online catalogue, see pictures of the flowers, check all possi-ble colours, and view related items. Customers are more likely to try something different. In addition, you can place your order online in a few clicks. The process is much faster than in the past.”
In the past, customers had to check the catalogue and the options before submitting their order by e-mail or fax. Some of them were combining their orders to collect flowers once or twice per month. In France, that was also due to the larger distances. Today, Agora can deliver sev-eral times a week. “Because of all that, we notice that customers are placing more frequent, but smaller orders. In France, the web shop is already a great success, and we are also noticing an increase in online orders in Belgium.”
The web shop is fully integrated with the back-end system, which automates most of Agora’s administration. Orders by e-mail or fax have to be entered manually into the administration system by sales-people. That step has disappeared for online orders, which means there is more time for other things. The web shop also supports prospection for Agora. “Our sell-ers are visiting potential customers and are showing them our offer online on an iPad. Prospects will immediately see that the web shop is very user-friendly. That way, the e-shop strengthens our position in the market.” The future: web shop for accessories The project took a little longer than expected, because of different priorities. “But when other flower suppliers also started to build web shops, Cegeka immediately took it up a notch”, Van Turnhout explains. Cegeka also integrated the e-commerce system with Agora’s AS/400 backend and with picture and product information databases. The master data are stored in a single location, and the middleware makes smart use of them. The central data store is the exchange between the systems.
Cegeka also ensures monitoring and maintenance for Agora’s servers, and in the external data center the company uses. “We currently also have two of Cegeka’s developers working here. They are pro-gramming the web shop for accessories.
We have been cooperating with Cegeka for a long time and Cegeka knows our company very well. That is a real asset. We may have a discussion sometimes, but it is always solved without any prob-lems. We are both family businesses, so we share the same drive and we under-stand each other very well, Jolien Van Turnhout concludes.
"Our sales people are visiting potential customers and are showing them our offer online on an iPad. Prospects will immediately see that the web shop is very user-friendly. That way, the e-shop strengthens our position in the market.”