CBS Bahamas: Seamless Ecommerce Across the Islands

by | Jul 5, 2023 | Outside The Box, Retail

CBS Bahamas: Seamless Ecommerce Across the Islands

In our conversation with Brent Burrows at CBS Bahamas, we talk about what it takes to create a seamless shopping and ecommerce experience for home improvement and construction customers, within the unique challenges of the Bahamian supply chain.

Rochelle Hi everyone, I’m Rochelle Berry, and today we’re here with Brent Burrows II, senior manager of CBS Bahamas. Hi Brent. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Brent Hey, thanks for having me.

Rochelle So, you’re in The Bahamas. Tell us what’s going on and what’s trending down there?

Brent Yeah, in beautiful Nassau, everything is great. You know, of course we have the lovely weather, which a lot of you guys in the U.S. don’t have. But, yeah, I mean, right now is a great time for The Bahamas. I’d say we’re finally bounced back after Covid. Things are starting to pick up a lot in our industry and the home improvement and the construction sector. So things are pretty much many years later finally getting back to normal, which is nice.

Rochelle Oh, that’s wonderful. What brought you to CBS Bahamas?

Brent CBS is a family business. So I guess just following in the footsteps of my father and, you know, that’s kind of what brought me back here. I’d always had an interest in CBS and in retail from when I was a kid, went off to university to study business administration and marketing, and I guess that’s how I kind of ended up here.

Rochelle So how long has your family, how many generations go back to living in The Bahamas?

Brent I was born and raised here. Family has been here for, you know, four or five generations back. So we’re a hundred percent Bahamian on both sides of the family. CBS itself was founded in 1973, which is actually the same year that The Bahamas gained its independence, and coincidentally that’s our 50th anniversary this year. So the company has been around for a while. My father has been there, not the full 50 years, but close to that, I think 40 he just passed. So yeah, it’s been a long time.

Rochelle Wow, that’s awesome. So having this family business, talk a little bit about the dynamic of that.

Brent Yeah. So basically CBS as a company sort of is split into two main parts, I guess you would say. We have the retail operation, currently have two physical branches, our online web store, and that deals with more of like the DIY home improvement side of things. And that’s sort of what myself and my father are more involved with in the day-to-day. And then the other side of the business, which is my father’s partner, my uncle, he’s more responsible for the project sales.

We also have a small manufacturing division. We make a lot of aluminum products, storefront door systems, and then we do supplies and installations of condo buildings, office buildings, things of that sort. So that side of the business sort of specializes in impact-resistant products, windows, doors, glass, aluminum, and, and then we, like I said, we have the retail side as well, and the two go hand in hand. We try to think of ourselves as sort of the one-stop shop. You know, if you’re, whether you’re building or doing a major renovation, we can kind of supply everything from the architectural type products to the roofing to also the things you need to finish your home, whether it’s home decor, even lawn and garden supplies, whatever the case might be. So we try to provide the full solution between both sides of the company.

Rochelle And when you talk about impact, you’re talking about hurricanes, I assume?

Brent Exactly. Hurricane resistance. So, you know, that’s a huge thing here in The Bahamas. The way we build down here has to be a little bit more stringent than I think a lot of places in the U.S or, or even around the world. So, we specialize in the hurricane-resistant products, the windows and doors, the things you need to really make your home as safe and secure as possible.

Rochelle How many other relatives are working within the business?

Brent So there’s a couple that are working smaller roles here and there. For example, my little sister is working part-time helping us with website development. A cousin of mine is working on the project sales side. There’s not that many of us, probably four or five total. But in terms of like full-time, I guess the more full-time, permanent positions that I would be myself, my father and then, the uncle John Treco, who’s the president.

Rochelle Wow. I’m fascinated with family businesses. I used to own one myself, and I know that there are so many great benefits. It’s sometimes hard to turn it off though at the family dinner table, so I’m always curious to hear how that goes for other people. So when did you start working at CBS? What, how old were you?

Brent Well, full-time in 2019, so about four years, but as long as I can remember, growing up as a kid , every summer and winter break I was doing something at one of the locations. But yeah, full-time 2019. So, was working here growing up, went off to school, you know, got my degree for a few years in Charleston, South Carolina. And then after that, spent a few years working on yachts and then at a national park, I guess kind of having fun. And then it was time to come back home and get dialed in with CBS.

Rochelle Time to buckle down, huh? Well good for you. What a fun journey you’ve had to get there. So who are, what kind of competition? If somebody needs home improvement, are you the only place to go or are there other smaller places that somebody might go?

Brent We’re definitely not the only place. There are a few other places. We do think we are the best solution in terms of, like I said, providing that all-in-one package where you can kind of get all your shopping done at one spot, instead of having to shop around at different places. But no, there’s definitely, I mean, there’s healthy competition here in The Bahamas. There are a few other players in the home improvement industry and also in like that more bulk material or supply-type side. You know, dealing with the more raw building materials, the blocks, the, the lumber, things of that sort. But yeah, of course I’m biased, but I think we are the best solution.

Rochelle Well, and I want to touch on that supply chain, and I only really know this, I’ve visited The Bahamas a couple of times as a vacationer, but also watching HGTV and some of the shows, where they’re trying to do home improvement, the supply chain is quite different where you’re having to boat things into the different islands. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you may help a customer with solving those problems?

Brent That’s a good point. And so there’s two sides of it, right? There’s us getting our product from our vendors where we, you know, resell to the customers and the majority of our stuff comes from the US. And, and yes, it comes by boat and containers, and that process in itself is a little bit of a challenge because we can’t just order things and they show up a few days later. You know, it’ll take three, four weeks to get a shipment from a vendor here in The Bahamas, sometimes longer. So that became quite the challenge during Covid as I’m sure it did for a lot of people. And I think we got really good at our team identifying new vendors to work with and keeping the supply incoming so that we could still keep our shelves reliably stocked for the customer.

And then on the other hand of it, you have the distribution from us to our customers in the other islands. And yeah, The Bahamas is made up of 700 different islands and keys. There’s probably 30 of those that I would consider major islands, and by major islands, I mean with like airports or small towns and settlements. But one of the ways that we’ve differentiated ourselves from the competition is we’re really the only home improvement store providing a proper ecommerce platform or web store where not only our local customers here in Nassau, the capital, but our customers across the entire Bahamas can go online, shop, get their items delivered to the mail boat that they need to make it to their specific island. And not only that, but they get the full tracking and updates along the way, the proof of deliveries, the photos, et cetera, et cetera. And as far as I know, we’re the only ones offering that solution, and that really enables our family island customers to have confidence in shopping with us and, and it keeps them coming back. You’ve got to keep in mind, even though we are in The Bahamas, you know, we are also competing with the Home Depots and the Amazons just like you guys are in the U.S. So our big thing is fast, reliable service and, and great customer service.

Rochelle Can you talk a little bit more about that technology that you’ve instituted in your business? I’m sure it has to integrate with the website, your point of sales and is that all in an ERP?

Brent There’s a lot of different moving parts, but we’re fortunate enough to have them all talking and working nicely together. And, and forgive me if I don’t know the ins and outs of the technical details, but, yeah, so our ERP provider is ECI. We run on Spruce, which is an ERP system specifically designed for lumber and building material stores. And the in-store POS talks to the website, which talks to our shipping software and also to our Apex locker software. And everything plays really nicely together. Fortunately for us, we do have an in-house developer that helps us to keep on top of these things. So yeah, we’re in a pretty unique position for being a Bahamian company, in that the experience we offer is very similar to what you would get out of a U.S .company, and that’s just not commonplace here in The Bahamas yet.

When we launched our ecommerce platform, coincidentally, I think it was March of 2020, right as the pandemic started to kick off, we were basically the only ones selling online at a large scale here in The Bahamas. I mean, online shopping just wasn’t the norm the way it is in the U.S.. And we really were the first ones to start pushing that. And it’s taken off since then. And now we have well over 10,000 items online.

We have something like, I’ve got to check, but it’s around 15,000 registered customers on the platform and the Bahamians have really embraced it because it just makes it so much easier. You know, we’re offering same day, next day delivery. Like I said, we’ve got the full tracking for our family island customers, the in-store pickup at both locations with the Apex Smart Lockers. It all works together really nicely and it provides this super unique experience that’s just not seen anywhere else in The Bahamas.

Rochelle Very good. Can you talk about what made you, did you research for the locker solution or did it just kind of fall in your lap?

Brent I did a little bit of research. I, I mean, the story is not that great. I think I was in the U.S. somewhere and I went in like a Home Depot, and I was like, wow, that’s, this is cool. And, and so I just started Googling and I spoke to a few different companies and I do remember that Apex was, it was –I knew nothing about lockers. I didn’t know how they worked, I didn’t know how we needed to get them to talk to the website. I didn’t know how any of it was going to play out. But the people I spoke to at Apex from day one were super helpful and supportive, and they kind of saw the vision and they saw what I wanted to achieve, and together we made it happen.

So we, we started with the lockers at our flagship location. We actually opened a second branch not long after that, and we of course put the lockers there from day one. And we’ve actually already added on to our lockers at the flagship location since then as well, because I mean, they get a lot of use and the customers just love them. Again, it’s very different and unique for The Bahamas. And it helps us to stay organized too. I mean, internally it’s one less person we have to have working, staffing a pickup desk. We have a full audit trail of our deliveries into the lockers, our pickups from the locker that it just works really well. It makes life super simple for us.

Rochelle How is it helping your team, your staff and your labor?

Brent Well, like I said, with the labor, I mean, the way the locker are self-serve, we just don’t need somebody physically at a desk all day, every day. So it helps in that aspect. And then, you know, when it comes to picking and prepping the orders, it helps the team to really stay organized because now they have like a full insight into what orders have been picked, what’s ready for pickup, what’s been picked up, what’s not been picked up.

And not only that, but the items themselves are secure. There’s no way anybody can mess with them. Nothing’s going to go missing or get damaged while waiting on pickup. So it helps us to stay super organized and it really, I think allows us to scale up the pickup operation to a level we probably couldn’t manage it if we were doing a traditional sort of pickup desk.

Rochelle Makes sense. Yeah. Now are the lockers inside or outside?

Brent They are inside at the moment.

Rochelle Okay. So it’s available during business hours?

Brent Yep, during all normal business hours, which for us at the main store is 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday through Saturday and then 9:00 to 5:00 on Sunday. So it’s good coverage. We would like to eventually get into the outdoor lockers and it’s something I’ve been talking to Apex about now, so in due time.

Rochelle Yeah, well it’s an exciting option for sure. Are your customers mostly homeowners or are they contractors or is it kind of 50-50?

Brent I’d say traditionally the majority of our customers were homeowners, like the DIYers and then recently with the addition of our new location, which is more of a contractor-oriented type store, we’ve sort of broken into the, I guess you’d say, the contractor or the professional market. So it’s getting closer to 50-50 now.

Rochelle Okay. Where is your other location in relation to where you are now?

Brent It’s not far away. I mean, the island’s so small, it’s maybe a 10, 12-minute drive, but it’s a completely different store and experience. So the main store is more of like a home improvement, home decor, things of that sort. And then the other location is more of like this bulk kind of, like I said, building materials, roofing, sheet rock, metal track and stud, things of that sort. And then together, they both fall under our website. And so you have this nice online shopping experience that gives you access to both catalogs. You can order from one location, pick up at the other, vice versa, however you want to do it. So it all plays together really nicely.

Rochelle So what are you excited about? What’s next?

Brent Well, we’re getting ready to launch our new website, hopefully in a week or two that’s going to replace our original website that we started with back in 2020. And it’s on a completely different platform, and it answers a lot of the concerns and questions or issues that we’ve had from customers in the past. And I think it will allow us again, to scale up even more and better serve our customers, particularly our family island customers. So there’s dozens of cool new features that’s going to make the online shopping way better, easier, faster, and so we’re excited about that. And the plan then is to take the catalog from 10,000 products to hopefully 20, 25,000 and we should be in pretty good shape.

Rochelle Great. Are you talking to other peers in the retail, maybe specifically in home improvement, but in retail in general, on what’s coming up with technology and what’s fun or interesting or valuable to add to your business?

Brent I try to. Not too long ago I did a webinar with Lumber and Building Material Journal on this same sort of topic. And you know, I think what’s interesting about our industry is home improvement, lumber yards, building material stores traditionally are very old school. They don’t embrace technology, and I think it’s sort of daunting or scary to most operators of these sorts of stores. And I don’t know, they just need to give it a try, would be my advice, ‘cause it makes life so much easier and it makes you reach that much further. So I’m a big advocate of technology, you know, seamless operation, everything talking to each other, making it as easy as possible for the customer, but so I always preach that whenever I can.

Rochelle What do you think, and this is what I’d love to end on, is I guess what is your vision for CBS and for your career?

Brent So what I want to work towards is, we’ve got to make the online shopping even more seamless for all of the customers across The Bahamas. And it’s pretty good now, but there’s a long way to go. What I mean by that is it’s got to be this complete door-to-door delivery where it’s just as simple and easy for the customer. They don’t have to worry about mail boats or transportation or delivery or shipping companies or anything of that sort. We sort of provide this all-in-one solution where you order today and then two days from now your stuff is sitting on your doorstep and it’s all under one roof, simplified, ready to go.

And not just for the products we carry in stock, but what we’d like to figure out, which would be huge for The Bahamas, is how can we open this up to not just the products we normally have in store, but all the products available across our vendor catalog? So how can a Bahamian come on our website, order something, have it imported, basically imported in from the U.S. and then delivered to their door in a matter of maybe a week or less? That I think is the unique opportunity that nobody’s really figured out here that we want to take advantage of.

Rochelle Yeah, and what I’m hearing you say is it’s not just the technology, but it’s also going to be the strategic partnering with your vendors and then the supply chain. Would you be considering having your own transportation and not going through a third party?

Brent Yeah, and we do that really well with our local deliveries here in Nassau, which is the island where we’re on, Nassau, New Providence. And so we do our deliveries in house. We don’t use a third party for that. And we need to recreate that for the other islands as well somehow. And we’re not, we’re testing a couple ideas.

We’ve got a pretty good program going in Eleuthera, which is another one of the bigger islands. Customers there can have a seamless pickup experience where they can go online, place an order to pick up with an affiliate on that island. And, you know, they don’t have any stress or anything else to deal with. As far as they’re concerned, CBS is providing the end-to-end solution. We’re doing that now on a small scale and it works quite well. So the idea is to figure out how to scale that up and put it in other islands and then add the delivery aspect to it as well.

Rochelle Wow. Lots to think about.

Brent It’s lots of opportunity, which is the exciting part. I mean, you don’t get, you can’t get bored because there’s so much opportunity here in The Bahamas specifically to take it to the next level.

Rochelle Yeah. Well I can see the excitement and your eyes light up with what’s next. So, good for you for having a clear vision and I’m really excited for you and I’ll be following your story for sure.

Brent Awesome. Thank you very much.

Rochelle Thank you so much for your time, Brent.

Brent I appreciate it. Thank you.