When HVAC Direct was looking to build their eCommerce site, they looked into several options without finding a definitive solution to fit their business’ needs. As a business that allows customers to buy HVAC systems and equipment for their homes directly from them, as opposed to a wholesaler, HVAC Direct’s business model is unique. As they offer a wide-range of heating/cooling parts, systems, and even fireplaces, their eCommerce site would require more customization, more product attributes, integrations, and a tie-in to their ERP and CRM systems to be successful.
As their research continued, they hired a Senior Manager of eCommerce, Chris, to help spearhead their project. With his experience in working in the eCommerce space previously, he knew what platforms to avoid, and what could help their business thrive. That’s where Magento, and our relationship with them came into play. Our Senior eCommerce Marketing Manager, Cole Godsey, led the interview with Chris, and dove deeper into why they chose Magento over other platforms, and why 121 was their preferred agency to work with.
Cole: Tell me a little bit about you and your role and how involved you were in the process.
Chris: I have been with HVAC Direct for over seven years, and I was hired to basically create the site. Now I do the day to day operations and all that fun stuff. I kind of started it all. My background is eCommerce, and I’ve worked with numerous different platforms, like, their commerce, and even Shopify. You know, just pretty much everything from out of the box software to more advanced software. At one point I was working for the Obama campaign store, back in 2008. So, you know, I’ve been doing it for a while.
The owner of that company hired me to start hvacdirect.com. And that’s why I chose Magento.
I really like it because we can pretty much do whatever we want. Which, you know, is why we continue to stay with Magento, because of the ability to make changes as needed.
We’re not a standard type of product, we know that.
Using a Shopify or, you know, one of the similar stores isn’t an option for us.
And we also don’t want to go bigger and go with, you know, like, NetSuite or something, because then we don’t have as much flexibility either. So that’s kind of why we landed on Magento originally, and why I still like Magento.
As far as the transition, I found you guys after Magento’s assistance, because I was reaching out to them on whether or not we wanted to go with Magento 2 open source or Magento 2 Commerce.
Cole: Nice! So the way I’m understanding it, when you were hired on to build the site, initially, there wasn’t any platform that you guys were on previously, it was more kind of a, “Hey, I strongly recommend Magento because it’s significantly better and gives us more flexibility in these other options.” Right?
Chris: Correct. Yeah, so it was…the owner had an idea, and had a couple other competitors that were doing it. With my experience, I knew the ones not to choose because they wanted to be able to handle it.
One of the biggest ones that we have is just like product specs, and later now, all of the other eCommerce ones that I’ve worked with in the past, I really struggled with that or it just wasn’t an option for Magento.
For us, that was the highlight.
And then of course, I wanted something that was open source that we could change as needed.
Because, you know, again, niche products, so we need to be able to customize how we show them. So that’s primarily why we chose Magento. Everyone else failed at layered nav. Like right now we have, I think 200 product attributes, just because we’re a spec heavy product, where other ones, they just kind of handle that, especially once we’re starting to filter by them.
Cole: And that’s definitely that’s such a huge key differentiator versus the others especially with you guys being on open source. It just gives you that flexibility, and customization that quite honestly a lot others just don’t offer, you know?
During the first intro from Magento to us, how did that go?
Chris: I think we started it in 2020, early part of 2020.
It actually might even be in late 2019, when we started the original, like discovery calls, I didn’t purchase Magento until 2020, if I remember correctly.
The biggest deciding factor for me wasn’t necessarily speed. It was being comfortable with, knowing that I can hand over basically the keys and say, “Hey, here’s our current site, we need to migrate over to Magento 2, because you know, 1.9, is phased out.”
And knowing that, I’m handing it over to intelligent people that are very fluent in English, we had tried a couple other times, and were far, far cheaper options. But there were a lot of issues, a lot of things were breaking. And English was definitely not their first language. So we were struggling, yeah.
For me, it was just being able to trust that everything’s good. We are kind of a niche product and had a lot of customization at the time of wanting to switch over. We weren’t really an out of the box, “hey, just copy this over new theme and go.”
It was a lot of back and forth as more of ongoing communication after we started as well, which I was happy with.
Cole: And to be quite honest with you, Chris, that’s, I’ve heard that quite a few times is like, “well, we ended up coming to you guys. Because you know, we went with someone else who was cheaper, but we really didn’t get what we were expecting.”
Chris: I got exactly what I was expecting with the cheaper people.
You know, like it was one of those, like, “hey, we’ll migrate you over for $3K,” it’s like, “Sure, we’ll try it.” I mean, $3K, sounds amazing. And if they can get 60% of it done, great.
What they delivered was pretty much what I was expecting, it was falling flat on its face. You know, when I started looking at, and I’m gonna say you guys are the higher end of the people that can help migrate us over.
Cole: So kind of diving a little bit deeper into the migration process, you know, how long did that take? And I mean, how was the entire process overall, with getting the site migrated over? Because I mean, I’m sure things pop up now. And then, it was interesting to kind of learn how that process looked and what your experience was with that.
Chris: So we spent a good amount of time on the actual layout of the site, trying to make sure that everything was to our liking. Once we got that kind of buttoned up, it moved fairly quickly.
And I kind of come from a place, I’ve been in for a very long time, so I know things never go as fast as what you would like.
So we purchased Magento 2020 so they could start working on it. We didn’t launch the first site until the Spring of 2021. It was just one of our small sites just to see how it would handle (the upgrade). Then we migrated our hvacdirect.com site, (our main line) in July of 2021. That wasn’t ideal for us, because we sell heating and cooling equipment (during the Summer). The summer is our most demanding time, but we had deadlines. We knew that Magento 1.9 was being phased out. We had to do it. Everything was ready. So we ended up taking that leap. I would have much rather tried to figure out how we could have sped it up to launch in like earlier that year. But it just didn’t happen.
Cole: In terms of the integrations you guys currently use, are you using any custom integrations and out of the box integrations? I wanted to know a little bit more about that setup.
Chris: So we have tons and tons of custom stuff that you guys have done.
Last, I heard we had over 150.
And that’s why we like Magento; all the customization! Some of it’s just minor stuff, some of it is quite in depth.
We do have an ERP system called Acumatica.
We have a CRM software called Oduu. (A third party we worked with) made a connector that goes between the two.
They (the third party) was not that smart.
And I would never allow them to touch anything on Magento.
It’s so bad with them that we’ve asked for changes in our CRM software and they are like, “oh, well, the only way that we would do that is if we change whatever files are in Magento”.
And I say, “No, we’re just gonna leave without it,” because I don’t trust them at all touching Magento.
Cole: Yeah, that’s hard if you don’t trust them, because it’s like, like you were saying earlier, it’s like, you have to have that trust for them to actually make the updates and do it right and not break everything.
Chris: Correct! And I mean, if we weren’t a smaller site, okay. You know, when we have 200 people on our site at any given time, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales every day, even if it’s down for a half an hour, it is a big issue.
And we lose trust very quickly.
The good thing is with 121, I’ve never, never been really concerned with things.
I mean, there’s been times that there’s been hiccups. And it seems like everyone understands and tries real hard to figure out what might be going on.
The only time that there was an ongoing issue was about a month. And that was determined to be something that a third party had done, you know, but it was a lot of finger pointing.
And of course, I was willing to agree with 121 that I’ve never had any issues. And you know, we had just launched some code with that third party (before working with 121). So you know, everything pointed to them, but there was a lot of finger pointing going on. But we ended up getting it resolved.
Cole: Well, that’s good that ended up getting resolved! I know, you had talked about the revenue side of things. From a business standpoint, what impact could be seen with being on Magento versus other platforms?
Chris: It’s kind of hard for me to say as far from customer experience, because it’s for different (customer) types.
You know, like, my previous life was all like quick T shirts, buttons, pens, you know, like just quick purchases. Where now we have a more thought out, complicated, product.
As far as how Magento operates. I mean, I would definitely recommend it to anyone that’s even thinking about a simple shop, providing that they are knowledgeable and realize that, you know, you’re going to need a programmer at times. If you want just a simple t-shirt shop, go to Shopify or American commerce, but if you want something that’s going to be more dedicated, go with Magento.
Cole: I know you touched on it a couple times. But just to call it out again, overall, how is your experience in working with 121 eCommerce?
Chris: No complaints!
Cole: That’s awesome to hear! It’s always reassuring to hear that, “hey, there was an issue, we helped you work through it!”
Chris: Yeah, the only “drawback” was, it took longer than expected.
Originally, I think, and I’m going off my memory from several years ago now, but I think, originally, we were trying to launch by like September, or October of 2020. And we didn’t launch until July 2021.
So that was, you know, that was the only drawback.
A lot of it was, I think, when they first looked at it, they didn’t, they knew that we had a lot of customizations.
But I think that as they dug deeper and deeper, there were more and more and more customizations that they were finding.
So again, you know, we’re kind of a unique situation. We had already had about four years of custom programming, and 1.9, before they came on board. So it’s a lot of digging in and finding stuff at that point.
Cole: That is really good information! Needless to say that much custom programming would take awhile to research and find out. How does HVAC Direct’s site compare to other competitors in this space?
Chris: So a lot of our competitors have gone the NetSuite route.
We’re talking billion dollar companies, obviously, that have purchased into our marketplace.
So our competitors, like AC Wholesalers is one of our biggest competitors.
They don’t have the same flexibility that we have. So they can’t display things differently or may update the site for the consumer to make it easier because again, we’re not going after the intelligent installer, we’re going after the regular homeowner that just their furnace went out. And we need to get them into the closest match.
A lot of times it’s moving things around on a page to make things easier to see.
Or like having little pop ups or information that I think our competitors are starting to fall behind on or we’re trying to make it easier. I don’t want the customer to constantly be calling in and talking to a salesperson when they could just find it online and do it themselves.
That, of course, saves us a salesperson.
So just trying to make it as easy as possible to where some of our competitors are now going the route of, I need them to call in because it’s just too complicated of a product.
It just saves us labor.
Cole: The other thing that I like, on the website that I think is super unique, is the little pop up at the bottom that says, “Wow, someone in Cambridge, Massachusetts just added a product to their cart.”
Chris: Yeah! So, that is a plugin called FOMO. Anyone can add it to their site, I’ve just made some connections with it. So like when people go to the (order) success page, it’ll pop up saying somebody just purchased, you know, somebody signs up for our newsletter, it’ll just do different things.
I mean, it’s kind of a fairly simple thing for anybody to add to their site. It’s just something that we finally took the time to do. We didn’t actually do it until about a month ago.
Cole: That’s great! And I love the fact that it is called FOMO because it does add that (fear) where someone who goes to your site is immediately like, “Oh, someone just made a purchase I should probably really think about doing that now” and it gives them that extra little push and urgency.
Chris: Yeah, that or “oh, this one says hurry. We’re almost out of stock and somebody just bought it.”
Cole: Chris, honestly, that really covered everything that I really needed to know about this.
So did you have anything else?
Chris: No, that’s it!
Cole: Awesome! I appreciate your time Chris, and learning more about your build!
**This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity**