In March 2014 Sean Kramer was appointed CIO of what was then John Deere Landscapes, two years later, moving home and family from Detroit to Roswell, Georgia. A big step for someone whose career that far had seen him rise to senior IT leadership roles at iconic motor industry giants like DaimlerChrysler and, most recently, Volkswagen. But the last four years have been a time of unbelievable change for North America’s leading wholesale distributor of landscape supplies: he was keen to apply his skills to the challenge of maintaining John Deere’s reputation for integrity while leveraging IT to deliver outstanding customer service levels.
In 2014 John Deere sold a majority interest in the business to private equity investor Clayton Dubilier & Rice (CDR) and at the time not only Kramer came on board but also the present CEO Doug Black. In October 2015 the company changed its name to SiteOne Landscape Supply, launching its new identity at the Green Industry & Equipment (GIE+) Expo in 2016 at Louisville, Kentucky following its IPO on the NYSE in May that year.
With over 500 locations in the USA and Canada, SiteOne is by a long way the largest wholesale distributor of landscape supplies for ‘green industry’ professionals in North America. It sells irrigation supplies, fertilizer and control products, landscape accessories, nursery goods, hardscapes, and outdoor lighting, along with a broad array of services designed to help landscaping contractors operate and grow their businesses. Over four years, the company has made 27 acquisitions, from single location businesses to groups with up to 33 branches, expanding product lines, for example in nursery and hardscape products, and enhancing each branch with access to the full SiteOne product range.
The prior state challenge
That level of expansion would not have been possible using the IT infrastructure Sean Kramer found in place when he arrived: “We took over a business that had a lot of operational instability. Basic IT services such as email and point-of-sale (POS) were very unreliable: we were running on hardware that should have been retired years before and our server room was in an office in Michigan. My first year had to be focused on operational stability.” A legacy ERP system dating back to 1986 did not work with the POS system, so retiring that was a priority: Kramer and his team worked hard to establish a strategic partnership with Microsoft, establishing that its Dynamics AX platform would be, over the long term, the most effective backbone ERP to support the business as it grew.
Deployment of the new system took a full year, and at the same time the business was grappling with rebranding from John Deere to SiteOne Landscape Supply across the entire organization. “There was massive change management challenge,” he recalls. “Our operational teams had to change the imaging in the stores, delivery trucks and signage. On the IT side we had to rebrand all our systems and forms down to the logos on the laptops.”
At the same time, the company was preparing for an IPO – as anyone who has been through this process will appreciate a public company has to work in a very different regulatory environment from a private business. Readying the systems for compliance best practice presented a major challenge for the IT team, but there were yet other large pieces of the jigsaw that could not be neglected.
Simple solutions for complex issues
As the outward face of the business the company website is just as important as the name over the door of the branch office. A new website was launched in 2018 after two years of development – and it’s still a work in progress, he emphasizes. “Optimizing our e-commerce capability is the driver here. For example we put in a new pricing engine with real B2B capability – after all we had to make sure that our pricing was consistent not only at the point of sale but across the website as well.” To help customize and optimize Dynamics AX to manage trade and revenue management complexities, he brought in a new technology from FlintFox – again after exhaustive consideration of available packages.
Integration of the diverse acquisitions the company would be making threw up issues that could adversely affect the SiteOne brand. Product duplication was a case in point he recalls, where the company that was being integrated had its own product listing, pricing and customer data that could frequently overlap and conflict with SiteOne’s existing record of the same products and customers.
E-commerce being seen as an important service enhancement for SiteOne’s customers going forward, he selected integration platform as a service (iPaaS)Dell Boomi to manage the integration layer and the SAP Hybris platform, a cloud-based suite of highly integrated products for online selling. “Hybris gives our customers the ability to order products online for either delivery or pick-up, as well as to create lists for commonly purchased products. We were fortunate to have Dave Brower (VP of Marketing) and Colleen Romero (Director of Digital Marketing) join our team and help lead this implementation. They have a track record of launching successful ecommerce platforms and made sure we had our bases covered.”
The problem of data management was addressed by partnering with Information Builders to implement Omni-Gen, a single platform for generating applications combining data integration, data quality, and master data management. Omni-Gen has reduced confusion when acquired businesses are integrated and helped expedite the process. SiteOne uses the platform to govern product lines and related variables such as color, size and texture. It also helps to standardize the customer data to ensure it’s consistent across the board. “With ecommerce , we can provide an efficient system for our customers to order that they haven’t had before. We’re excited to partner with them on how to make the system even better going forward.With e-commerce working for us, we are now able to turn our attention to a mobile app focused on improving the efficiency of inventory management in the branch, as well as checking out customers quickly to allow them to get to the job site faster and save labor cost. "
As a wholesale distributor, SiteOne lives according to how well it satisfies its customers. When it came to restructuring the IT department to support future growth and build more capabilities, Kramer and his manager , Executive Vice President Ross Anker, felt it was imperative to align the application development team with the business units they support. He broke his application teams into four different groups: Sales & Marketing, Supply Chain, Finance & Accounting and Acquisition Integration. Each is led by a Director well versed in the business processes and systems each business unit leverages to run its core business. "This close partnership with our functional teams is part of our secret sauce." says Kramer.
Sean also established an "Enterprise Services" side of the department which handles among other functions the service desk, end-user computing, infrastructure & technology, and cyber security. Last year, they migrated their data center out of that office in Michigan and into two well-established co-location sites. Their security program has continued to evolve. Starting from scratch at the beginning of his tenure, SiteOne's Chief Information Security Officer, David Black, has brought in technology and processes to help combat vulnerabilities daily. As the team looks to the future, SiteOne partners with many security firms to proactively address new risks when they surface.
The teams that deliver
He personally interviews every new member of his team. “I want to know that they understand our culture, and that they hear it from me.” He has not found it hard to attract people hungry to work at a fast-growing company that is bringing in new technology. True, he says, to this point it has been mainly what he calls ‘foundational technology’ driving the functionality of Dynamics with partners like FlintFox, Hybris and ServiceNow, but the team realizes that they will soon focus on enhancing customers’ ecommerce experience and evaluating new technology that can be put into the hands of these customers to improve their business processes. “Like everyone else, we want to further develop our analytical capabilities. You see it in all areas. I saw it in the automotive industry: advanced analytics is an opportunity for us to further enhance our 360-degree view of the customer. The landscape industry can be impacted by many different factors - weather, construction, etc. As we expand our product offering, this analytical data will show correlation with the desires of the local market.”
IT at SiteOne is essential to delivering the corporate strategy, which Sean Kramer summarizes as establishing a full product line offering in every major market for the landscape contractor in North America. “We have to make sure that we continue to be the best wholesaler that the landscape contractor has ever seen. We want to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology, making sure the customer experience is world-class in itself – and head and shoulders above the rest of the industry!”
He doesn’t regret the move from Detroit to Roswell either. He does prefer the Georgia weather, but what inspired him more was the constant support he has had from Doug Black, Ross Anker and the senior leadership team. “We have had tremendous support from our CEO and the executive leadership. I have never worked anywhere where we’ve had the teamwork and the support that the technology department has received here.” Without that support, he concludes, he couldn’t have moved the state of SiteOne’s IT from low tech on life support, to being a real driver for future growth.