Van Leeuwen
Webshop: an extra sales channel for fast orders

Webshop: an extra sales channel for fast orders

Steve Vandermeulen
Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube, Vilvoorde, Belgium

Van Leeuwen’s international ambitions led the company to Belgium, where it would open its first business location abroad in 1947. Fast forward to 2019 and Van Leeuwen Belgium has grown into a team of 75 employees which supplies steel tube products to the local market from its base in Vilvoorde. Last year, Van Leeuwen Belgium added an extra sales channel in the form of a webshop. What does this mean for our customers? Steve Vandermeulen explains.

The Van Leeuwen Pipe and Tube Group realized from the start that being a local player is essential if you want to build an international brand. You have to be able to speak the customer’s language. That’s why the first international business location opened in Brussels in 1947. It moved to Vilvoorde in 1951.

Webshop launch

I started my career at Van Leeuwen twelve years ago, as a junior account manager. I am now a commercial manager for the industry branch and I coordinate marketing and sales activities. In this role I was also involved in the design and launch of our online webshop, which went live on 1 June 2019.

We started the project with 4.000 products and eventually selected 12.000 articles for our webshop. Our goal is to include most, if not all, of our products, including all available sizes. You should be able to type in the word ‘tube’ and see all available sizes. On the logistics side, we handle orders the same way we did in the past. For now, the webshop basically translates a regular order form.

Extra sales channel

In other words, the webshop is a tool to simplify the ordering process. This is not to be confused with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), which allows communication between the different systems of two different companies. While Van Leeuwen also works on EDI, it is a different process. The online shop is mainly a new sales channel in a very traditional business model. It is not meant for large, complex orders but rather for fast standard orders.

This means that customers without credit at our company can still pay through the webshop, which saves a lot of time. Customers can also use the online shop to do a quick pricing check, to see how much a certain product costs. This way, they don’t have to wait for our reply to their information requests.

Another benefit of the webshop is the ability to make wish lists. This allows you to save and revisit previous orders. The webshop also offers 1 day delivery, either by crane or truck. Customers can choose different payment methods, including the option to pay within 30 days after delivery. For now, the online shop is only available for the Belgian market, but we aim to expand the system to other countries and operating companies of Van Leeuwen as well.

Internal discussions

Since the steel industry is a notoriously conservative branch, we had many discussions about whether an online webshop would be a success. After all, we work with large companies, not individuals. Moreover, some companies, like large petrochemical firms, don’t even allow their staff to place orders at webshops. Small steel workers with ten employees, on the other hand, will gladly make use of the shop. This contrast caused a lot of hesitation on our side, until we realized that our sister company Wauters had already opened a webshop some time ago, with great success. That was a major eye-opener.

User-friendly webshop

Obviously, we are not the first to open an online shop. We excel in our user-friendly approach, however. We sell technical products and have been very successful in our visual representation of them. This helps our customers to place orders quickly, since they don’t have the time to spend five minutes on an order. It should be done in one or two minutes.

Improving business relations

As mentioned earlier, we are also working hard on EDI. In turn, our work on EDI has given the development of the online store a huge boost. Our goal for the future is to combine the webshop and EDI, which will require less manpower on this aspect of the sales process. The digitization process will not replace human workers, however. In their current form, the systems mostly act to improve our business relations. In other words, the online shop will take over certain tasks of our sales people, which means that they will have more time to spend on other aspects of their job, like bringing in new customers. We will always need people in our business.



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