IBM® WebSphere® Solutions Case Study

Ply Gem Remodels Its Web Presence (Cont'd)

About Ply Gem

Ply Gem Facts

Business Needs

Integrate multiple websites to create a single, consistent corporate presence

Networking Solution

IBM WebSphere Portal, implemented by the AT&T Professional Services team to manage the content and appearance of multiple websites

Business Value

Help buyers see the full range of products for cross-selling opportunities; provide efficient means to manage content

Industry Focus

Exterior building products

Size

5,500 employees at more than 24 locations nationwide

Headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, Ply Gem is a leading manufacturer of building products for home exteriors. It provides a comprehensive range of products through more than twenty different brands. From siding and trim to windows and stone, Ply Gem offers complete and customized solutions for home building and remodeling. The company's products help customers create beautiful, practical and easy-to-maintain exteriors.

Situation

Growth at Ply Gem came largely through acquisition, and its legacy of varied operating approaches was evident in the various websites for the company’s brands. Messaging and design were inconsistent, and customers found it difficult to navigate among the various Ply Gem brands. Unified management of the sites was impossible. As Ply Gem moved to integrate its corporate operations, the company also needed to unite its presence on the Web.

Solution

Ply Gem chose to unify its web presence with support from the AT&T Professional Services who worked with IBM® WebSphere® Portal, a content management platform, to integrate the sites’ back-end functionality and the front-end design. The different sites now have streamlined management access and consistent look and feel. At the same time, the websites can be customized so brands can maintain their individual styles.

Built on Innovation

AT&T is a household name, but not for websites. We were a little tentative, but it did not take us long to know we made the right choice.”

- John Stephenson, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Ply Gem

For Ply Gem, innovation is the foundation of success. In 1943, Company founder Bernard Hewitt began repurposing shipping crates, selling the plywood to lumber yards and furniture manufacturers. After expanding into wood paneling and vacuum bags, Ply Gem’s next big move was to aluminum and vinyl siding, a groundbreaking product providing homeowners with high quality, low-maintenance siding options. The company has continued to expand its home exterior offerings with an extensive range of products that includes siding, trim, windows, gutters, fencing, roofing and stone veneer.

Houses have personalities, and home exteriors say a lot about the homeowner and what they value. With Ply Gem products, homeowners and builders can customize home exteriors to match their individuality, while creating homes that are attractive and affordable. Committed to environmental sustainability, Ply Gem continues to develop products to increase energy efficiency, including its low-energy windows and insulated siding.

Community and collaboration are at the center of Ply Gem’s operations. The company works through a large network of associates, offices, brands, distributors and customers. Ply Gem does not sell directly to the consumer, but relies on building good relationships with distributors, builders and architects. The company employs over 5,500 associates at more than 24 locations nationwide. It is dedicated to community giving, and values its work with Habitat for Humanity and Homes for Our Troops. Ply Gem has also provided exteriors for homes on the TV show “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.”

Something Doesn’t Match

Growth through acquisition had left Ply Gem operating as a group of independent units that were not tightly integrated. Each product group functioned as its own business unit. “There were times when we appeared like we didn’t know our own business,” said John Stephenson, Senior Vice President, Marketing. “Our various business units were functioning independently and quite differently from each another.” In need of a business remodel, Ply Gem, led by CEO Gary Robinette, began its transition from a holding company to an operating company, unifying its different brands under a single Ply Gem umbrella.

A major component of this effort was the integration of the company’s web presence. Ply Gem had as many as fourteen legacy websites, each one designed and maintained separately. The company’s web presence lacked cohesion. “We had no consistency in anything – messaging, promotions, contact information, the presence or non-presence of social media icons and tags. Even the ‘About Ply Gem’ section was written differently,” said Stephenson.

Inconsistent websites meant confused customers and undoubtedly, missed sales opportunities. Ply Gem offers all you would need to build a complete home exterior, but the company’s web presence didn’t show it. A customer who may have known about Ply Gem’s windows might not know the company also makes siding and stone veneer. “Without direct links between websites, we had fourteen sites that never cross sold each other,” said Stephenson. “Without question, the better the website, the more likelihood your distributor will promote it or suggest to their customer that they go there to learn more. We were not a referred place to go.”

IT infrastructure was also a problem. “We were inefficient in that each one of our brands had its own website, individual expert and separate hosting. Trying to keep track of all the domains, the uptime and the statistics was a nightmare,” Stephenson said. The websites were maintained on different schedules, and never as a united effort. Even promotional offers differed across sites and brands. “They didn't look alike, they didn't act alike, they weren’t maintained at the same time. It was just a really bad situation,” said Stephenson.

Finding the Right Framework

Ply Gem decided to unify its web presence and identified four possible vendors to help. When the company invited the four to visit its booth at the industry’s largest tradeshow, the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show, the AT&T Professional Services team showed up. “Of the four groups, only two came,” said Stephenson. “Because we were so busy, we were only able to give them about 10 minutes of our time. The other suitor left right away, but AT&T spent a day taking notes and walking through the booth. They were really trying to understand our business.” Vendor relationship are a priority for Ply Gem. “We’re very demanding, we expect people to work as hard as we do or harder,” Stephenson added. The choice was AT&T.

The AT&T Professional Services team got right to work. After extensive internal conversations, Ply Gem knew what it wanted, but not necessarily how to get it. AT&T helped structure the process. “This was a huge project for Ply Gem. AT&T did an awesome job, helping us break it into its parts so we could get through it,” said Stephenson. “It was pure problem solving, led by very cool heads.” As the project manager and website architect, AT&T helped outline the statement of work and the budgets. AT&T also listened to the input from the different product groups and began website development in June 2011. The process required ongoing communication and weekly meetings.

Based on Ply Gem’s requirements, AT&T used IBM WebSphere Portal to create an online portal to integrate Ply Gem’s corporate presence. WebSphere Portal is a content management platform able to accommodate Ply Gem’s large-scale, multi-site requirements. The portal serves as a single point of control for the company’s many different websites. WebSphere Portal unifies the backend—how the websites are created, managed and updated—while enabling flexibility in site design. This solution gives Ply Gem more power to manage content day-to-day. The first phase of Ply Gem’s corporate portal went live in January 2012.

Creating a Smooth Exterior

With unified websites, Ply Gem achieves consistent messaging across brands. WebSphere Portal standardizes site structure, without compromising personality. While the header, footer and basic page set-up are the same across websites, the brands can still present their own style. “It was important that we didn't rob them of their personalities,” said Stephenson. “One brand may be a little more gritty, while another might speak to a feminine audience; meanwhile, one is directed to the contractor and the other is focused on homeowners. In other words, they each get to be themselves.”

Ply Gem is able to connect its different products and offer a better experience to customers. When they first open a page, customers know they’re at a Ply Gem site, even if the brand name is different. The solution helps customers learn about the variety of products and contact suppliers, builders and contractors. Importantly, communication between sites is improved. “You can seamlessly shift from our various product groups, from siding brands and window brands, to stone , trim , fence and rail and our corporate site.” Stephenson said.

The contractors who specify Ply Gem products are key to its success. The new website setup helps Ply Gem maintain these relationships. Now when a contractor directs their client to a Ply Gem site, it will appear tailored to that contractor, removing any content about possible competitors or distribution locations. “It changes the look of the site a little bit to look like that contractor, and then basically it disables the dealer finder function,” explained Stephenson. “So now a contractor can, with good faith, send customers to Ply Gem's site and say go explore.”

Another gain for the bottom line: website maintenance is streamlined. “There were significant efficiencies in doing this,” said Stephenson. All websites are now hosted on the same hardware at Ply Gem’s Kansas City offices. In addition, WebSphere Portal makes it easy for Ply Gem to manage and update content. “We now have a very easy way to keep content fresh, keep it clean and updated, to add a product and add a brand. All of that adds up to a very user friendly site and we've got lots of users,” Stephenson said. Already, the number of new user visits is up 300 percent.

‘The Right Choice’

The solution supports future growth as adding new sites is straight-forward and cost-effective. For instance, Ply Gem recently entered the cellular PVS trim business. “We were able to build the Ply Gem Trim site on the backbone of what we already had. It took less time and significantly less money than if had to build a trim site from scratch,” said Stephenson.

The AT&T Professional Services team continues to help. AT&T and Ply Gem meet regularly over the phone, and meet about twice a year in person to look at the big picture. In addition to adding more brand sites to the solution, AT&T is building a new tool for website catalog updates which will enable Ply Gem to more easily manage those products over the long run. “The tool allows us to update our catalog without uploading spreadsheets. It’s really exciting stuff that they’re doing for us,” said Stephenson.

The impact on customers? “The overwhelming response has been very good. It looks good, it's consistent, and the customers like it. It's been very positive.” Stephenson said.

And the AT&T team? “AT&T is a household name, but not for websites. We were a little tentative, but it did not take us long to know we made the right choice,” said Stephenson. “At the end of the day, it comes down to the people. The team we worked with on this is as good a partnership as we’ve ever had. And if I had to do it all over again, AT&T would be our one and only choice from the start. They really made a believer out of me and my team,” he said.

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