Retailer Forced to Don New E-Commerce Garb

Case Study: An outdoor sports equipment seller's purchase of clothing retailer Ex Officio hastened the need for a fast, flexible, scalable e-commerce system.

When K2 Inc., best known for selling outdoor sports equipment, bought outdoor clothing manufacturer Ex Officio LLC from The Orvis Company Inc. last year, it marked the first time that the sporting goods giant had entered the consumer apparel market. Because of that, K2 had no e-commerce solutions in place to handle the new product lines.

As part of the acquisition deal with K2, of Carlsbad, Calif., Orvis, of Manchester, Vt., provided a six-month window in which Ex Officio could continue to use the old e-commerce system it had been sharing with Orvis.

At the end of six months, however, Orvis would begin charging for this service. This meant that Chad Luellen, Ex Officios e-commerce manager, had to scramble to find a new solution quickly. The solution also needed to work seamlessly across various back-end systems.

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"We had a limit of how much time we could stay on Orvis systems without having them charge us for IT support," Luellen said. "When we got purchased, we originally had six months to upgrade, but due to some changes in [plans], it got [squeezed] down to three months before we had to plug in a new system and go live. ... That included [integrating] our complete ERP [enterprise resource planning] system [and] our wholesale system, as well as the Web," Luellen said.

Luellen needed to find a vendor that could integrate all these back-end systems and complete the task quickly. He also said he had to make sure that the solution was scalable so that other K2 properties could use the same solution in the future.

Luellen began evaluating various products, including Microsoft Corp.s Commerce Server (the software that Orvis had been using), WebSphere from IBM and solutions from smaller development companies in Seattle, near Ex Officios Tukwila, Wash., headquarters.

But Luellen was most intrigued by MainStreet Commerce, of Lighthouse Point, Fla., and its BusinessFlow product. Luellen said BusinessFlow was easy to use and seemed to offer everything he was looking for at a reasonable price.

"After going through some demonstrations with MainStreet and looking at their back-end [configuration tools], I had a really good feeling about the technology," Luellen said. "It was more intuitive than some of the other demonstrations I had on other e-commerce platforms. They had the ability to turn it around quickly, and they had this great architecture that could be customized to do just about anything you want."

In addition, Luellen said he liked that MainStreet offered a flexible solution that gave him more control over design and configuration than the Orvis e-commerce system. MainStreet was also offering a hosted plan so Ex Officio did not have to deal with server maintenance; MainStreet could hit the ground running to meet Ex Officios demanding installation schedule.

Whats more, Luellen said he felt he could work with MainStreet after the initial installation to make changes and refinements that wouldnt cost him an arm and a leg.

Nick Laurie, chief technology officer at MainStreet, said the BusinessFlow software has been designed to work with back-end systems, whether its integrating with e-commerce or a telephone ordering system.

"We approach flexibility from our core architecture. All features are configurable. [Customers] can take our out-of-the box solution and configure it to the way they do business," Laurie said.

The old Orvis system Ex Officio had been using was a highly customized version of Microsofts Commerce Server that Luellen said was extremely inflexible when it came to making changes.

"The Orvis system had been customized [to the point that] there was nothing that we could really plug in," he said. "We were limited with our IT resources because we were sharing them with Orvis. It was difficult to make quick changes on the Web site, and its reporting abilities were limited. We were able to build our business, but it wasnt the optimum technology base for us."

Although Luellen said he was sure BusinessFlow was the right product for the project, convincing Ex Officio President Rick Hemmerling and Vice President of Operations Bob Carroll that MainStreet Commerce, a small company offering a reasonable price, could really handle the job was another matter.

"The hard part was actually convincing the president and the CFO that MainStreet was a solid company since their bid was coming in lower than companies that had less experience," Luellen said. "[I understood] it was based on the way they had set up their business and being able to reuse that technology, but its funny because it was a hard sell [at least initially] convincing them that the lower bid was higher quality."

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