Noel Burkman: Follet

Follett Corporation is one of America’s oldest and largest privately-owned companies and is a global source of educational materials that are distributed to schools, colleges, and public libraries through its subsidiaries. They are the largest distributor of course materials and logo apparel and operate out of 1,000 retail locations.

The Challenge

The challenge at hand was to establish a digital presence and e-commerce platform for the legacy company. The platform had to support more than a thousand existing retail stores, each of which had independent brands, different course materials, needs, and inventory.

We were also tasked with integrating into a legacy supply chain and logistics system, as well as developing a payment platform to support all forms of payment, including financial aid. After the initial build, a complex marketing strategy was developed to bring this product to market, where it was promoted across all campuses under close to a thousand different brand names. We also had to train thousands of retail employees on how to use this new system.

My Role

Director of E-commerce

I oversaw the build of an e-commerce platform and participated in the planning and execution of the go-to-market strategy.

The Work
  • We hired IBM to develop the initial platform foundation.
  • I put together a competent and skilled team of developers, database admins, data architects, UI/UX, designers, etc.
  • Our team took it over and during the first season, it went into catastrophic failure. We discovered the site was implemented with no security or performance consideration, e.g., no firewall, load balancing, or session management.
  • The new team had to patch and do a utility rebuild.
  • We continued to evaluate application performance, and as a result, we implemented tactics leading to more than 3X performance improvements.
  • Migrated to open source platform savings over $1 million a year in licensing fees and  reduced cost development and maintenance.
  • Had to support 1,000+ in-store pick and returns. 
The Outcome

Starting with zero revenue, we grew the revenue of the e-commerce platform to over $600 million a year during my tenure. It became one of the top 75 revenue-generating sites in the world, going from a peripheral consideration to the core strategy of the organization, future warehouse management, and logistic systems we built to support e-commerce as opposed to the other way around.

This was a monumental effort from start to finish. It began in a state of crisis with a new team that had zero experience working together and needed to quickly come up to speed on a codebase that was complex and undocumented. It was an exercise in leadership, technical understanding, and multi-team cooperation. The results were beyond anyone’s expectations. I am very proud to have been one of the leaders of this initiative for Follet. 

––Noel Burkman, Director of E-commerce