Jan Dunlop of theClickLab serves as webmaster for Pure Fiji and has led the company’s internet commerce efforts for over 20 years. With websites uniquely designed for seven different countries, Pure Fiji’s powerful story of socially responsible and environmentally mindful growth shows the impact an e-commerce company can have on an entire nation.
How it all began
A mom, a daughter, a table, and a dream.
Gaetane Austin founded Pure Fiji at her kitchen table in 1996 along with her daughter and co-owner Andree, according to Jan Dunlop who also serves as a family friend of the Austins. “Andree had a flair for product design and Gaetane had a good business background.” They put their heads together and started a company that focused on making award winning soap products for the local market before expanding to manufacture lotions and oils. Pure Fiji now offers a full line of all-natural bath and body care products in an environmentally friendly and responsible way.
Focus on Community
Pure Fiji takes corporate social responsibility seriously and has embedded this passion into every aspect of its operations on the South Pacific island nation. Sustainable development is a core value that is having a positive impact on the social, economic and environmental conditions for the Fiji Islands.
Pure Fiji takes a leading role in affecting social change on the island. Decisions are not made solely on its impact on the company’s bottom line, but also its impact on the island’s residents. Jan shared this story:
“A lot of their products are wrapped in a hand-made, beautiful paper which is really pretty and has flowers embedded in it. There is one remote village on the island that makes that paper. They make about 4,000 sheets a week that they sell to Pure Fiji. It has enabled that village to keep all their young people in the village and it has even helped them build a school there.”
Instead of outsourcing the manufacture of this paper to a large vendor who could mass produce and then discount bulk orders, Pure Fiji has made the decision to invest locally and empower an entire village to grow with it. The company is willing to spend extra money in order to support families and communities on the islands.
Similarly, Pure Fiji’s desire to build the island nation’s economy includes making decisions that put people over profit. “Pure Fiji had a product-filling line they used to use, but then decided to retire it and hire people instead. In Fiji, one family member will usually support quite a large family so if you can employ another person, you are supporting another whole family,” Jan said. Pure Fiji now employs hundreds of people, especially in the outer villages.
Pure Fiji’s products are not only all-natural, the entire manufacturing process is environmentally friendly. According to Jan, raw ingredients for products are wild-harvested - which reduces the need for artificial irrigation, fertilization and pesticides, thus reducing the impact on the local ecosystem and maintaining sustainability. Oils are cold-pressed and botanical ingredients are “wild-crafted” -- harvested respectfully in their natural habitat while taking care to remove only what is necessary at that time. In a business world that chases fast-paced production and the largest profit margin, Pure Fiji stays true to a focus on processes that ensure the highest possible product quality.
An early player in ecommerce during the 1990s, when ecommerce was in its infancy, Pure Fiji settled on Miva Merchant because the company knew it wanted to run multiple stores on the platform. “The multi-store question was there from day one because the company wanted a webstore for Fiji and a webstore for the United States,” Jan said. “We went with Miva Merchant for many years and stuck with them because I really couldn’t find anything else. It was very structured and hard to really do anything outside of the box.”
AmeriCommerce launched in 2005 and answered a lot of questions Jan had while investigating e-commerce platform alternatives. “We saw the need to have a more flexible platform and that’s when we came across you guys. With our number of products and our number of variants, we couldn’t use Miva. It was a nightmare,” he said. In addition, “They weren't developing out certain features because I believe they were worried they might chop off some of their revenue from their plug-in providers.”
Why AmeriCommerce was Right for Pure Fiji
When migrating from one platform to another there can be potential unknowns. As Pure Fiji’s web master, Jan had his work cut out for him in choosing the right platform for his client and close friends. “I knew we were going to need a lot of hand-holding,” he said. “I could see there were a couple of other providers that looked really good on the surface. But when I dug deep into their support tickets and what people were complaining about, there was a lot of, ‘These guys never get back to us,’ remarks. I signed up for trials on four platforms and sent a support request to each one just to test response time and response quality. You guys nailed it there.”
Self-hosted vs. SaaS
An early question many entrepreneurs and managers of e-commerce websites face is deciding on a self-hosted or software-as-a-service platform. Jan researched Magento, a self-hosted platform, and said, “We looked at Magento and I have a friend who runs a Magento site. He has to look after his site and it’s complicated. It’s hard to manage and then there are security issues. The ability for AmeriCommerce (a SaaS platform) to just look after it for us was key in making the decision.”
Geographically- and Currency-based Multi Stores
Looking to expand through contacts in the United States, Pure Fiji was able to get into the spa industry and become a premium spa brand. From there, the company pursued distributors in other countries. Now, the Fiji Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States are all countries where Pure Fiji can do business because of AmeriCommerce’s multi-store feature. Pure Fiji’s unique use-case for multi-stores based on country allows the company to do business internationally in the country’s own currency while also delivering unique front-end experiences per storefront.
Improve Operational Efficiency
The multi-store feature also helped Pure Fiji improve efficiency by centralizing the product catalog and inventory systems for all stores. “One of the features we rely on the most is product cloning and sharing resources like images across all the stores,” Jan said. AmeriCommerce also eliminated the need for the corporate headquarters to run additional processes to reconcile inventory reports. “They were managing inventory with Quickbooks and then exporting to a spreadsheet and they were asking, ‘How can we get Quickbooks to talk to AmeriCommerce?’ And I was like, ‘Why don’t you just use AmeriCommerce? You can create invoices, print invoices and create quotes. Now, the company doesn’t even use its in-house system anymore. All order processing happens via AmeriCommerce,” Jan said.
...And I was like, ‘Why don’t you just use AmeriCommerce? You can create invoices, print invoices and create quotes. Now, the company doesn’t even use its in-house system anymore.
Platform Integrations and API Access
Pure Fiji’s US distributor uses the Avalara integration while Australia was able to develop a custom inventory system that utilizes the AmeriCommerce API. The Fiji Islands’ government is requiring all locally-based companies to submit all business invoices electronically. “Because of the API, we have the ability to develop a program to pull these invoices and send them to the government,” Jan said. Thankfully, this feature comes standard out of the box for any AmeriCommerce customers that may be launching international online storefronts.
Ability To Compete Economically
Despite Pure Fiji’s small stature as a company on a global level, Jan feels AmeriCommerce gives them a slightly more level playing field. “Pure Fiji is considered a premium spa brand like Dermalogica and other large companies that may have hundreds of employees in their e-commerce department. What AmeriCommerce has allowed us to do is compete at a similar level as some of these huge brands.”
Advice for others
“Don’t skimp,” Jan said. “Don’t just pick some super cheap e-commerce platform if you want to grow your business because you are going to hit limits very quickly. Choose a platform that can handle the growth that you want.”