For passionate owners of European motor vehicles, all roads lead to FCP Euro. For many years the company’s vision has been to support European car owners with its highly curated and quality-oriented online catalog of car parts. It began as a true “mom and pop shop,” starting out in the 1980s as a small brick-and-mortar store in Groton, Connecticut, where founder Nick Bauer’s parents sold car parts to European car aficionados looking to maintain their vehicles. Eventually, Bauer and his friend Scott Drozd, the company’s current CEO, launched FCP Euro as a fully ecommerce business.
Today, the company has more than 250 employees, many of whom were FCP Euro customers themselves before they joined the organization. In addition to its quality online catalog, the company has invested heavily in developing a large library of video tutorials, as the largest percentage of its sales are directly to consumers, and FCP Euro strives to be a trusted source of car maintenance and repair information for current and prospective customers.
FCP Euro recognizes the critical role data plays in the organization’s ability to fulfill its promise to customers. The company’s supply chain and inventory analysts must have access to accurate, reliable data. The marketing department relies heavily on data to determine the content customers are most interested in consuming on the company’s popular YouTube and social media channels. But for FCP Euro, the road to being data-driven wasn’t always smooth.
Struggling to tame a Wild West of data
- Fragmented, difficult-to-manage legacy data systems stitched together
- No data management strategy
- Lack of confidence in their data and the ability to execute on new data initiatives
The legacy systems that FCP Euro initially used in its data analytics were fragmented, difficult to manage, and difficult to observe. In addition, data reporting had traditionally been handled as one-off requests, and the entire data ecosystem had evolved out of that approach—there was no central plan, no strategic approach to data reporting and analysis.
“The data team didn’t have time to help drive the business forward because they were busy keeping the lights on,” said Brandon Harris, FCP Euro’s VP of Analytics. “They were fixing problems when they came up, adding columns here and there to datasets, and taking requests from the organization and turning them around.”
Another challenge was ensuring the rest of the company had confidence in the data that was being produced. The BI tool the company used at the time was open to everyone, so anyone could go in, create tables and reports, and push them out to whomever they wanted. According to Harris, “It was a Wild West of information—you never knew where reports came from, where sheets came from, who built them, or whether or not you could trust them.” Lack of confidence in these data reports resulted in a lack of confidence in Harris’s data team in general, who were seen as “guilty by association.”
The company was dealing with a spider web of data dependencies, as difficult to unravel as a pile of tangled cables. It was nearly impossible to figure out where the data came from and what had happened to it to bring it to its current state. “That’s one of the aspects that attracted me to Coalesce,” explained Harris. “I knew we needed a tool to help us manage data lineage, transformation, and governance.”
Free to focus on the company instead of code
- Consolidate all data across the company with Snowflake
- Automate data ingestion with Fivetran
- Automate data transformation and governance with Coalesce
To turn things around, Harris and team needed to gain a more complete picture of what was going on—both internally and externally. “That’s been a big effort for the team,” he said. “We needed to source all this data, get it consolidated, then start stitching it together into datasets that give us better insights.”
Solving the challenge of managing all these difficult-to-support systems was what Harris’s team was looking to address with Coalesce and other investments it made in the data space, which also included Snowflake and Fivetran. “That’s typical of the approach I’ve taken,” explained Harris. “How can we bring on platforms that can help us do our work more effectively, so that our time can be spent on more valuable efforts like driving efficiencies, optimizations, and better experiences for our customers?”
Harris knew that Snowflake was going to be central to consolidating all data across the company and he needed tools to help support that. Fivetran was an easy choice based on how seamless it was to get up and running in the cloud and bring data into Snowflake. But once the data was in Snowflake, what was the best way to transform that data and get it into a robust, business-ready dataset?
Harris determined that a strictly code-first approach to managing their data transformations wasn’t going to be effective for his team. Instead, he preferred taking a low-code visual approach. “Code is very powerful, but it’s one of the most inefficient ways of doing something,” said Harris. “If you can have someone write the perfect code for you and then use that, that’s what you should do—and that’s what we get with Coalesce. We drag and drop and tell the tool what we want to do as far as data transformations, and we don’t have to worry about managing the code.”
For Harris, the best thing about Coalesce was that it was rooted in SQL. “For us, that was a significant drop in the barrier to entry,” he said. “It’s much easier to get started with Coalesce because all you need to know is SQL, as opposed to some other options out there.”
Less time needed for support, MTTR
- 25% decrease in the time allocated to break/fix support, essentially adding an extra headcount to the data team
- Shorter mean time to recovery (MTTR) if problems do occur
- Renewed and continued confidence in the data and data team across FCP Euro
Today, with the new data management system in place, the time Harris’ team allocates to break/fix support is reduced by at least 25%. With a data team of five employees, this translates into an extra headcount who can now focus on work that drives the company forward. Coalesce also helps shorten mean time to recovery when problems do occur. “Not only is Coalesce a more flexible and resilient data transformation pipeline, it’s an easier way to dig into problems when they arise,” said Harris. “I can very quickly diagnose and identify where a problem might be, and then fix it faster than I could without it.”
As for improving the rest of the company’s confidence in the data, after adopting Coalesce, there was a big difference that internal stakeholders could see right away. When anyone asked Harris about where the data came from, he could sit down and show them in great detail. “That really instilled a lot of confidence,” he said. “They could trust this information, and could ask at any time how we arrived at a dataset.” In addition, FCP Euro employees throughout the company are now able to access the datasets they need on their own, and see and understand the data lineage for themselves.
One thing that differentiates FCP Euro from its competitors is that it offers a lifetime guarantee on everything it sells. “Whatever we provide, we stand behind it for life,” explained Harris. In order to honor its return policy but still remain profitable, a high level of insight and observability is critical so the company can keep track of things such as COGS and return levels. “Coalesce gives us that data and makes sure it’s accurate and can be trusted,” he said.
With its data pipelines now completely rebuilt, the company is looking to grow and expand its reach, making itself more competitive in new markets, such as selling more to West Coast European car enthusiasts or owners of electric vehicles. It also wants to use data for regular insight into its catalog of offerings and better align itself to the evolving needs of customers. To help achieve this, FCP Euro continues to rely on its partnership with Coalesce to take its business to the next level. Said Harris, “Coalesce is happy to partner with us in every part of this process and build our trust in the platform.”
“With Coalesce we can now start to build a more scalable and resilient path from raw data to our business-ready datasets to generate insight for the business. We don’t need to keep the lights on, we don’t have to worry about code and scripts, and every little thing every step of the way, because we now have a platform to do this for us.”
—Brandon Harris, VP of Analytics, FCP Euro