IJsvogel Retail: Building business value fast by empowering developers to easily connect apps

About IJsvogel

The staff and customers of IJsvogel Retail share a passion for pets and gardening. Through its 200 stores managed by 1,200 staff, as well as its online webshop, IJsvogel Retail offers expert advice and quality products to help customers care for their pets and enjoy their gardens. To supply its stores and wholesale customers, the company runs a large purchasing and logistics operation.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Netherlands

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

Google Cloud helps IJsvogel Retail grow its business by improving its access to insights from data, which helps it to better understand customer needs and manage online and offline demand.

Google Cloud results

  • Empowers the IT team to focus on creating business value by making it easier to connect services
  • Offers data insights across the whole business, with real-time monitoring and reports ready in days, not weeks
  • Keeps the business functioning and pet owners supplied during COVID-19 by supporting remote working with Google Workspace

Connects apps 88% faster, with Cloud Functions

Founded in 1896, IJsvogel Retail’s first brand was Boerenbond, meaning “farmer's union” in Dutch, now a well-known supplier for garden, home, and outdoor life products. Next came Pets Place in 1985, the largest pet supplies company in the Netherlands. For gardening enthusiasts and pet loving customers alike, IJsvogel Retail’s mission is simple: to share its expertise, while providing a vast range of home and lifestyle products in stores and online.

"At the beginning, we were focused on our products. Now, we need to get to know our customers. To do that, we need a holistic overview of all the applications in our infrastructure and the ability to make the most of the data we have."

Herman Holterman, CTO, IJsvogel Retail

After signing a partnership with bol.com, IJsvogel Retail’s online sales quadrupled, and in the second half of 2018 its own online store saw an increase in orders of 60%. It wanted to find a way to improve the IT infrastructure for its own internal logistics by making it easier to connect applications and services. The question: how to speed up app implementation, connecting systems and opening up new opportunities for data analysis? Today, IJsvogel Retail shares how it found the answer by connecting its services using Google Cloud, and implementing Google Workspace and Chromebooks in store.

"At the beginning, we were focused on our products. Now, we need to get to know our customers," says Herman Holterman, CTO at IJsvogel Retail. "To do that, we need a holistic overview of all the applications in our infrastructure, and the ability to make the most of the data we have."

Connecting services faster to create more business value

When Herman first arrived at IJsvogel Retail, the company's infrastructure was hosted on-premises, and it could take some time to get new services up and running. "We had more of a closed architecture," he says. "There was very little integration, so projects such as bringing a new supplier onboard or changing the way we ordered products could take a long time and incur high costs." The IT team supporting this infrastructure was focused on operations, not development. "We had a large number of system administrators focused on functional tasks, and we relied on outsourcing development to external consultants," Herman explains.

"Thanks to Cloud Functions, it now takes us two weeks to build connections between new applications, rather than four months. That means we can build fast and create value for the business, as well as saving money on not hiring external consultants."

Herman Holterman, CTO, IJsvogel Retail

The first step in solving the problem was putting an ESB (enterprise service bus) architecture in place, enabling services to communicate via a centralized service instead of point-to-point. "After doing this, we were able to start thinking about our next move: to the cloud," says Herman. "I was already familiar with Google Cloud from my previous company, and we had already started using Google Workspace too. After hearing about Cloud Functions at Google Cloud Next 2018, it was like an epiphany. I realized we could just build on Cloud Functions, shoot it into the cloud, and have an API ready to connect."

Herman's team started using Cloud Functions to run its code, using Pub/Sub to handle event ingestion, and Google Cloud’s operations tools for monitoring the stack in real time. The time spent on operations is further reduced by using Cloud Scheduler to automatically schedule jobs and Cloud Run to quickly deploy and scale containerized applications.

"Thanks to Cloud Functions, it now takes us two weeks to build connections between new applications instead of four months," says Herman. "That means we can build fast and create value for the business, as well as saving money on not hiring external consultants."

Making data insights readily available from C-suite to logistics

With the new Google Cloud infrastructure in place, Herman then began using Pub/Sub to push data to BigQuery. "Previously, we were receiving daily emails with a 10-page PDF of already outdated tables that were difficult to read," says Herman. "One day, I was playing around, and saw connectors for Google Analytics and Google Data Studio in BigQuery. From there, we started creating real-time data reports tracking the turnover and inventory in our stores. Our CEO is now used to being able to check his smartphone and see real-time turnover on a store level and on a product level." Finance reports that previously took three months to prepare are now ready in two days.

IJsvogel Retail is going further by implementing Looker for its analytics platform. The aim is to democratize the access to data across the organization. Using Looker, the team can generate insights into every part of the business, from the point of sale (POS) systems to the ERP system, helping with order fulfillment, supply chain management, and marketing. For example, in the logistics department, the warehouse managers are able to see how many orders are being picked an hour or how many orders are left to fulfill.

Diving in with Chromebooks for a flexible point-of-sale system

The first step in IJsvogel’s transformation was to enable easier access to the POS back end. For this, Herman decided to switch from IJsvogel Retail's previous productivity software provider to Google Workspace and start using Chromebooks within stores.

"We needed to replace our POS systems across all the stores as employees were using old-fashioned cash registers," he explains. “By moving to Google Workspace and Chromebooks, employees can now carry out administrative tasks directly from the aisles, such as stock checks, instead of the previous two-step process of taking down details, then going back to fixed terminals to key them in.”

The proof of employee uptake arrived when the IT team received a Chromebook for replacement that was dripping wet. "The store manager had been using it with a scanner to carry out stock checks on the back end of the POS system and had dropped it into a fish tank," says Herman. "When we sent him a replacement, he was amazed to see that not only was all his data in place, but the tabs that he had opened were saved and ready for him to use."

"Not only is the time to market a fraction of what it used to be, switching to Google Cloud has changed how our team works. Previously, it was a case of ‘it can't be done,’ whereas now we say ‘bring it on.’ We are seen as business enablers rather than naysayers."

Herman Holterman, CTO, IJsvogel Retail

Coping with twice the demand to keep pets and owners happy

Google Workspace also proved crucial during COVID-19 in March 2020, when many of IJsvogel Retail's administrative staff had to switch to working from home. "Employees could easily access their files at home through Google Drive, using Docs, Sheets, and Slides, and communicate using Gmail and Google Meet," says Herman. "During that period, Google Workspace was critical for us, as it meant we could continue to run the business at a time when demand was exploding as people stockpiled pet food."

Following the travel restrictions imposed during COVID-19, IJsvogel Retail saw its online orders double between March and June 2020. "Despite doubling in order volumes, I didn't lose a minute's sleep over the part of our infrastructure hosted on Google Cloud," says Herman. "In fact, we had to scale down some functions as our partners couldn't cope with the number of orders coming in."

Creating a more dynamic IT culture that helps the business grow

Using Google Cloud has contributed to a change in culture within the IT team. "Not only is the time to market a fraction of what it used to be, switching to Google Cloud has changed how our team works," says Herman. "Previously, it was a case of ‘it can't be done,’ whereas now we say ‘bring it on.’ We are seen as business enablers rather than naysayers."

One of the next steps for the IT team is to start using Google Kubernetes Engine to build a continuous integration and deployment pipeline for its new Belgian Pets Place webstore. "We are able to house the Kubernetes platform we created in the Netherlands, which is where 95% of our customers are located, so it will help to minimize latency," says Herman. "If it's a success, which I believe it will be, then we'll also migrate the Netherlands webstore over to Google Cloud." To connect even more services, Herman and his team are planning to implement Apigee, a Google Cloud API management solution.

"With Google Cloud, we're no longer held back by technical hurdles, and the IT team can innovate to drive the business," says Herman. "We can develop more partnerships, connect more services, and create more data insights to get to know our customers more and serve them and their pets better, online or in store."

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About IJsvogel

The staff and customers of IJsvogel Retail share a passion for pets and gardening. Through its 200 stores managed by 1,200 staff, as well as its online webshop, IJsvogel Retail offers expert advice and quality products to help customers care for their pets and enjoy their gardens. To supply its stores and wholesale customers, the company runs a large purchasing and logistics operation.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Netherlands