Stay organized with collections Save and categorize content based on your preferences.

Toolstation: Migrating to Google Cloud and growing the business even during lockdown

About Toolstation

One of the UK’s fastest-growing retailers, Toolstation was founded in 2003 and sells tools and building supplies with over 500 stores across the country, as well as a growing presence in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United Kingdom

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

Contact us

Hardware retailer Toolstation switched its entire stack from data centers to Google Cloud to support trading through a turbulent year, boosting revenues by 48% and winning 500,000+ customers.

Google Cloud results

  • Delivers a seamless experience to 40,000 concurrent website visitors
  • Eliminates website capacity and lag issues, supporting a 300% traffic growth
  • Enables remote working so employees can adapt processes to lockdown, increasing revenue by 48%
  • Facilitates the planning and execution of a successful infrastructure migration exclusively using remote tools

Migrated the entire Toolstation tech stack in six weeks

One in eight people across the UK has shopped at Toolstation, according to the hardware retailer. And whether it’s supplying DIY enthusiasts or the construction trade, the company’s mission since 2003 remains simple: the right tools, at the right price, at the right time. Toolstation keeps more than 20,000 items in stock, from drills to drainpipes, all made available through services including next-day delivery and click-and-collect. With its call center, website, and more than 500 stores, the fast-growing business is dedicated to helping people find the parts they need to keep their projects moving.

So when COVID-19 measures brought the UK to a standstill in March 2020, Toolstation was determined to keep serving customers. “Other retailers stopped operations as soon as the lockdown started,” says Stuart McGrogan, Lead Architect at Toolstation. “We closed too, but only for one day. Then we reopened: using technology to serve our customers while staying safe.”

“We were migrating an estate that hadn't changed in 10 years, and doing it with a fully remote workforce. That takes a partnership, and working with Google Cloud, we could solve problems, stand things up quickly and know services would be online 24/7. That confidence made the project possible.”

Stuart McGrogan, Lead Architect, Toolstation

With its competitors closed, traffic to the Toolstation website quadrupled overnight to more than 20,000 concurrent users. “We immediately had capacity issues with our data center infrastructure,” says Stuart. “The website would lag and crash. At one point it was down for 12 hours due to a data center outage. We considered draconian measures like queueing systems. And we started to talk about Google Cloud.”

Toolstation is a £600 million business, but its tech team consists of fewer than ten people. Undaunted, Stuart and his colleagues decided to migrate the entire Toolstation stack from data centers to scalable infrastructure on Google Cloud: its website, its electronic point of sale, and its warehouse and customer management systems. And it chose to do it without in-person meetings, in the midst of a national lockdown, in just six weeks.

“We were migrating an estate that hadn't changed in 10 years, and doing it with a fully remote workforce,” says Stuart. “That takes a partnership, and working with Google Cloud, we could solve problems, stand things up quickly, and know services would be online 24/7. That confidence made the project possible.”

“From first discussions to migration, we moved Toolstation to Google Cloud in just six weeks. Now every system that supports Toolstation sits in Compute Engine. And apart from a two-hour pause for the switch, there was no disruption. We kept trading, with no negative business impact.”

John Danter, IT, Digital & CRM Director, Toolstation

Migrating the entire business in one go, overnight

In uncertain times, inflexible infrastructure can hold businesses back. When the UK lockdown began, Toolstation was unable to scale up its data center capacity at speed, leading to outages and poor performance. At the same time, the company had to consider that the fourfold increase in traffic might only be a temporary surge that could reverse in the future, turning CapEx investment in servers into a dangerous liability. “With Google Cloud, we could draw up a detailed business case well into the future,” says Stuart. “There was a very strong case to say that we would save money on Google Cloud in a whole range of scenarios, principally through savings on data center fees and firewall maintenance.”

Before lockdown began, Toolstation adopted Google Workspace. So when the team was forced to work remotely, it already had the communications tools on hand to do it. “If we hadn’t migrated to Workspace the month before the lockdown, we would have had a lot of trouble working remotely,” says Stuart. ”But with Google Meet, collaboration on Google Docs and Google Drive, we can get to work instantly. That's enabled us to keep going and plan and execute complex projects remotely, without in-person contact. Toolstation used to be all about meetings in the office. Now we’re 100% remote, and even more effective.”

Toolstation swiftly arranged a remote working contact center of 120 people to keep phone orders coming while it upgraded its website, warehouse, and other systems to cope with the increased volume. “In discussions with the Google team, over six weeks we matched each of our infrastructure components to its end state in Google Cloud,” says Stuart. “Ultimately, we plan to move to a microservices architecture, but that wasn’t practical at this early stage, where speed and simplicity were of the essence,” says Stuart. “So in this migration, we chose Compute Engine instances, along with Cloud Armor to provide security and stability.”

With the plan in place, the company’s Managing Director James MacKenzie and John Danter, IT, Digital & CRM Director at Toolstation, held a final meeting to check that each of the company’s stakeholders were ready to go. “We aimed to move all of our core systems in one Saturday night. Our fear was that on Sunday morning, our warehouses wouldn’t be able to pick goods, our stores wouldn’t be able to sell, and the website would be down,” says Stuart. Everyone was ready: Toolstation’s 24/7 warehouses and website paused, then started up again, two hours later, on Google Cloud infrastructure.

“From first discussions to migration, we moved Toolstation to Google Cloud in just six weeks,” adds John. “Now every system that supports Toolstation sits in Compute Engine. And apart from a two hour pause for the switch, there was no disruption. We kept trading, with no negative business impact.”

Getting to know customers and building a better business

Now Toolstation is working with Google Cloud and its partners to develop new applications, including improved business intelligence to help the company optimize its services. “We have a wide range of customers, from occasional DIYers to large companies in the building trade,” says Stuart. “For a long time, we focused primarily on growth, and to consolidate that growth, we have to recognize that those groups have different needs. Those distinctions aren’t always obvious—an enthusiastic home improver might regularly spend more than a small plumbing firm—which underlines the need for reliable data analysis.”

Toolstation uses a data lake built with BigQuery to identify eight segments in its customer base, then personalize its approach to each. “Superior data handling was always one of the attractions of Google Cloud, and it’s revolutionized our understanding of customers,” says Stuart. It’s also an opportunity to combine data from the company’s Google Ads account with retail information from its stores and other points of sale.

“One of the key advantages that we’ve seen since migrating is having highly detailed cost models for our website,” says Stuart. “We can see with a precision that was previously unimaginable what makes money, what doesn't, what motivates spending—the whole thing, including the value of our spend on Google Ads.”

“We were under a glass ceiling, previously, and we can’t get to that point again. We’ve eliminated issues around website capacity or lag, revolutionized our data analysis, and come through the year with the best of both worlds: many more customers and a better understanding of how to help them.”

Stuart McGrogan, Lead Architect, Toolstation

Toolstation grew revenues by 48% in 2020, while increasing its customer base by approximately 500,000 people. “These are record-breaking months for us, and we’re still growing,” says Stuart. “When we came out of the first lockdown, we expected to lose our new customer base and see a shift back to stores, but that hasn’t happened. Our website traffic is still 300% higher than it was at the beginning of the year, with up to 40,000 concurrent users and transacting £2 million of sales a day.”

Thanks to Google Cloud, these record-breaking numbers aren’t too much to handle. “Using Compute Engine has allowed our website to scale to many times the pre-COVID level and Looker Studio gives us real-time insight into our data, driving continued growth,” says Stuart.

Toolstation holds a range of factors responsible for this success, including a shift in consumer behavior: before the lockdown, 20% of orders were click-and-collect, but that ratio has leapt to almost 70% of the company’s business, as customers opt to do their browsing online. While underpinning its exceptional year is a reliability that keeps the company in business, no matter the circumstances: “Previously, our website would be down once a month, or even more frequently,” says Stuart. “But since the migration, we haven't had any website outages at all. With our other systems, we’ve had no situations where we could no longer trade. With Google Cloud, we’ve secured the continuity of service that we needed.”

Next, Toolstation is set to launch an app, built using Flutter in just six weeks. And looking ahead to the coming year, Stuart and his team plan to deploy a microservices architecture for additional stability. By connecting its data lake with that of Travis Perkins, its trade-focused parent company, Toolstation also hopes to create single, unified customer IDs across the group to improve service and collaboration.

“We were under a glass ceiling, previously, and we can’t get to that point again,” says Stuart. “We’ve eliminated issues around website capacity or lag, revolutionized our data analysis, and come through the year with the best of both worlds: many more customers and a better understanding of how to help them.”

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

Contact us

About Toolstation

One of the UK’s fastest-growing retailers, Toolstation was founded in 2003 and sells tools and building supplies with over 500 stores across the country, as well as a growing presence in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United Kingdom