The Van Hage Story
Van Hage has been at the forefront of the horticultural industry for over 60 years. The company now operates three premium garden centres – in Great Amwell, Chenies and Peterborough – and is one of the largest garden and leisure retailers in the UK!
Each centre offers an extensive range of plants, outdoor furniture, garden and homeware products, with an onsite café. At its flagship garden centre in Great Amwell, over 750,000 people walk through the door annually, attracted by the gardening range as well as the free animal farm, a miniature railway, and every winter there’s an ice-skating rink that caters to 70,000 skaters! And since integrating the functional bridge, it has a growing online store as well.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Van Hage wants to grow and prosper but always with an eye on how to better serve its customers. Although it diversified by offering customers broader choices and experiences, Van Hage wanted to become a serious digital retailer, with the latest eCommerce platform being a big driver for this transition.
Van Hage was still using classic Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2.6 installed back in 2000 (yes, almost 20 years ago!) and although it was an early installation, this remarkable system continued to do the job well.
Head of IT and eCommerce for Van Hage, Chris Luther, says: “Based on how long we’ve had our version of NAV, the Return on Investment has been brilliant … it’s been a great investment for us as a business.”
A website had been set up using Magento for occasional online sales, with Classic NAV doing in-store sales and company financials. Unfortunately, they could not ‘talk’ to each other as Classic NAV was too old to use with Magento’s modern technology. This meant creating items in Classic NAV and repeating the process in Magento, and manually updating inventory and prices, which was very time-consuming and prone to errors. And there was a real issue of overselling products because there was no connection with the inventory system.
A solution was needed which allowed Van Hage to integrate stock information, retail pricing, special offers, customers’ details, footfall, invoicing and everything else into one centralised business system, across all stores. Rather than two disjointed systems, the solution needed to support a high-tech eCommerce platform – and it needed to be done soon. Time to call in the experts!
Van Hage met with its trusted Microsoft partner, The NAV | 365 People (that’s us!), to consider the challenges and available options.
“As a business, we were not in a position where fully upgrading to Dynamics 365 Business Central was an option for us, and timing was a big issue,” says Chris Luther. “But as always, The NAV | 365 People came up with a solution that was fit for our business.”
Rather than spending up to 18 months upgrading, by using a functional bridge Van Hage could have everything it wanted with the Sana Commerce platform without having to wait.
Our Managing Director, Ian Humphries, says by implementing the latest version of Sana Commerce with the old version of Dynamics NAV using the functional bridge, means this older NAV solution carries on as before.
“The functional bridge allows them to take the step forward into the new world without compromising the implementation of the eCommerce project. It saves them investing even more money in a very old solution and starts them on the path to moving to the latest version of Dynamics 365 Business Central.”
How does a Functional Bridge work?
In this case, Dynamics NAV 2018 (the latest version at the time) is used as a bridge, sitting between the existing Classic NAV and the latest Sana eCommerce technology.
Chris says the functional bridge allows them to use all the functionality available in the Sana Commerce platform with Dynamics NAV 2018 but still using its NAV 2.6 data. “Rather than upgrading our version of NAV or using a different solution, we were able to use our fantastic version of Sana with our classic database, and the functional bridge does all the data movement.”
By implementing Sana Commerce using the functional bridge, Van Hage has reduced the man hours required to run its website. No double entries are needed, orders flow into Classic NAV, saving time, and correct stock levels are maintained. “This means we’re able to sell more stock, and we’ve implemented ‘click and collect’ which has proven to be popular with our customers,” says Chris.
“Also, it allows us to have a better view of where our sales have been performing. Previously we had to manually enter sales information onto spreadsheets, whereas now it’s all in NAV which allows our finance team to be more aware of what we’re spending and what we’re making online, as well as allowing us to forecast what we need to purchase to fulfil our sales.”
The biggest benefit of implementing Sana Commerce with the bridge is it relies on the same principles as Van Hage’s known version of NAV – meaning the training required was minimal because users already knew how to do tasks like sales orders, item input and setups.
Chris says the new implementation is used every day across the company. “We can see where our sales and stock levels are at, and we can actually manage what we’re doing as a business going forward online and trying to grow our eCommerce side of the business.”
Working with The NAV | 365 People
As Head of IT and eCommerce at Van Hage, Chris says a great benefit of working with The NAV | 365 People is being assigned an individual consultant (as they were) or a team. “He made the implementation very easy for us, being very helpful throughout the entire process … he allowed us to be better at what we were doing and to make our site one step ahead of where we wanted it to be.
“I have and I would always recommend The NAV | 365 People. Their ethos is about customers. It’s not about making money so much as making sure their customers are happy. Their customer service is absolutely second to none.”
Exciting times are ahead for Van Hage as it continues to grow and flourish, in no small way due to its loyal customers, dedicated staff, the wonders of Microsoft Dynamics and Sana Commerce, and the daring and expertise of our team here at The NAV | 365 People.
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