Started in 1946 in Montreal, Canada as a children’s apparel manufacturing company, Gildan has gone on to become one of the world’s leading vertically-integrated manufacturers of apparel, socks and legwear.
While well-known in the industry for the quality of its products, Gildan is also known for its social, environmental and governance (ESG) program. And due to its long history of ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices, Gildan was named one of the “100 Most Sustainably Managed Companies” in the World by The Wall Street Journal in 2020.
As for the company’s portfolio of brands, Gildan serves both direct-to-consumer (DTC) markets with brands like American Apparel and GOLDTOE, as well as other business. Additionally, Gildan has a Board of Decorators website, which is an inspirational community of decorators created by and for decorators. Most recently, Gildan consolidated six different sites into one, launching its new B2B wholesale website, gildanbrands.com.
To learn more about the company’s ecommerce journey and its digital transformation, we sat down for a Q&A with Kees Olthof, the senior manager of consumer experience at Gildan.
Gildan’s B2B Ecommerce Growth Interview
How much of your business is direct-to-consumer (DTC) vs. business-to-business (B2B)?
Kees Olthof: “I would say that the vast majority is B2B wholesale. DTC for us is a sales channel, but it’s much more than that. It’s also the ability to be close to our customers and interact with them directly, which enables us to become much more customer-centric. Additionally, the DTC websites give us full control over the brand and customer experience.”
Originally, when you moved from paper to an online catalog for wholesale, what motivated that switch?
KO: “As a brand, we recognized that paper catalogs are an outdated medium. They are one dimensional, only allowing us to interact in one way with our customers. And so, we realized with an online catalog, we can offer a much richer, interactive experience. That was the main driver for us to go online and move away from a paper catalog. Additionally, moving online was a part of our sustainability initiative because it’s been a great way to save paper and continue to reduce our carbon footprint.”
Now, what is motivating you to expand your B2B ecommerce offering and switch to BigCommerce?
KO: ”We have been in the B2B ecommerce space for over 15 years; however, we were using legacy systems that were only accessible to very large clients. We were missing certain capabilities and the technology was very costly to maintain. It worked, but not great.
“When we evaluated different ecommerce platforms, we needed a solution that checked all the boxes. Business requirements, culture match, product roadmap, total cost of ownership etc. Is this a company we could see ourselves partnering with, not just for one, two, three years, but long term?
“With BigCommerce, we found a state-of-the-art platform that can create a much better customer experience and scale globally — that was key. And the lower cost; that’s one the main reasons why we moved away from legacy systems and onto BigCommerce.”
For product fit, what were the specific features you needed from a B2B ecommerce platform?
KO: “In our case, what we really appreciated was the API-first approach. We saw BigCommerce as the center of our B2B ecommerce system, but it’s not a one-size-fits all solution — I think those days are over. So your ability to seamlessly integrate with other solutions was something that really stood out to us.”
Can you tell me more about what you’re doing with your mobile app and how you’re using it?
KO: “The mobile app started off as an inventory finder. Customers could find inventory on our website, but it’s much more convenient to use a phone if they are on the road or have someone in their store. So based on the customer’s location, the app can tell them the nearest distributors that carry the product, and then from there, they can use the app to call, send an email or request the product.
“Now, because there’s so much more you can do with an app, we’re broadening its function to add a swatch scanning feature. Customers can use their phone’s camera to scan one of our swatch cards with all the different fabrics and different colors and see exactly what styles are available for that particular color.
“Whereas, before customers would have to use a table to find available styles for that color. We are very excited about this feature because it’s something customers have been asking for, and we could have never solved it without the mobile app.”
With all these different sites, how do you deliver a seamless customer experience?
KO: “Going back to your earlier question, the reason we chose BigCommerce is to function as the cornerstone of our digital ecosystem: our DTC retail sites, B2B brand sites, the Board of Decorators site and the mobile app. The goal is for these not to be silos with individual initiatives, but to have one unified experience, which is why we needed a single back-end — and that’s what BigCommerce accomplishes for us.
“BigCommerce stores all of our product information, which means customers have the same experience whether they are searching on the mobile app or the website. And for our internal team, it’s much easier to maintain and innovate with a single platform that extends to each different channel.
“Basically, thanks to BigCommerce, we are able to connect these initiatives, which we couldn’t do before. So, no matter where you are in your customer journey, you will be served the same seamless, smooth experience.”
Do you have any DTC best practices that you are planning to incorporate on your B2B wholesale site?
KO: “We’re integrating social media on the site, so you’ll see user generated content. Taking a page from consumer sites, social proof is still relevant for B2B. We find that a lot of DTC practices are starting to gain traction in B2B. While not everything is the same or applies, there are a lot of learnings we believe will be critical.
“Also, we want to ensure we have more two way conversations — which is something you obviously can’t do with print. So whenever customers want to leave feedback on the site, they can. For example, in our FAQ section, it asks, ‘was this question helpful? Yes or no?’”
What suggestions or advice would you give to other B2B companies going through a digital transformation?
KO: “I would say to any other B2B company, when you shift your business online, take the opportunity to become more data-driven. That’s something you can do very well online but not so much offline.
“Quantitative data is more the “what” that you can get out of your web analytics. On the other hand, the qualitative data is the “why,” which you can learn from onsite surveys and feedback. Then, work on shifting your culture to be open minded and continue to validate your assumptions.
“Also, make sure that everyone in your organization has access to that wealth of data that you’re collecting through online interactions, whether that’s on social channels, your website or a mobile app. It’s vital to share these insights beyond your digital team and incorporate them in your business decisions.
“I think that’s key for any manufacturer because first-party data is something that you don’t always have without direct access to your customers. I believe that these direct customer insights are really key for any manufacturer to optimize processes and ultimately create better products.”
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