The Old Economy Gets a Virtual Boost

by WOHe

Just a few years ago, we could all sense that revolution in the
kitchen and bath industry was in the wind. We could see the
promotion and glitz generated by companies selling technological
utopias. We could taste the impending satisfaction of paperless
transactions. We could smell the sweet aroma of easy success based
on revolutionary ideas.

Whether it was revolution, evolution or as many feared
devolution, we all knew it was marching over the horizon. At that
time, we questioned whether our companies were “Old Economy” or
“New Economy.” The new economy was going to quickly conquer the
brick and mortar storefronts with virtual storefronts. Coup d’etats
would occur in ordering, product selection and communication,
relegating the old methods to the past. Paperwork was to become
antiquated. If you were not a part of the new economy, it would
roar over you.

To many this was a source of great anxiety. But then, the
technology companies tread upon financial landmines, Internet
companies were found to be charging forward with paper swords the
“new economy” suddenly appeared dead.

But, while the new economy may not have burst through the gates
and run amok in our businesses as first expected, it is changing
much of what we do. And manufacturers and their reps are playing
important roles in presenting these changes to the
dealers/distributors.

Manufacturers and their reps are playing important roles in
presenting these changes to the dealers/ distributors and some
resistance is understandable. There is comfort and confidence in
the tried and true methods currently incorporated in their firms.
Changes can be perilous and time consuming but the way we’re doing
business is transforming, whether we want it to or not. It is to
everyone’s benefit to make the most of these innovations.

Here are a few major changes that reps and manufacturers are
currently offering to you.

Virtual Storefronts
Brick and mortar
stores have not been replaced by virtual stores, but they have been
enhanced by them. Manufacturers now have extremely good and
informative Web sites that can be utilized by both
dealers/distributors and their customers.

These are magnificent sites on which customers can view
products. Door styles, design ideas, wood species, options and
color selections are all there for them to peruse at their leisure.
This is far superior to handing literature to customers. Customers
are not going to misplace this in their car. They are not going to
crumple it up or spill coffee on it. Your literature is current the
day you buy it, but the Web sites are current the day your customer
visits them.

As I’m writing this, I am viewing one of my manufacturer’s Web
sites. It is a detailed site covering topics such as Company
Profile, Design Ideas, Features, Accessories, Specs, Construction
Details, Care Instructions and Warranty. If you take a minute and
review one of your manufacturer’s Web sites, you will see much of
the same.

Think of how many pieces of literature you would require to
answer these types of questions for your customer. Better yet, how
much would all of that literature cost you to have and how
frequently would it become outdated? Providing customers with more
information at less cost is a revolutionary “new economy” idea that
is easy to support.

Web site Dealer Sections are another important advancement. They
contain sections for forms and updates that assist with many
subjects. Bulletins, Appliance Panel Forms, Co-op Claim Forms,
Credit Forms, Order Forms, Merchandis-ing Forms and Delivery
Schedules are just a few examples of what can be found there. These
are available to be printed, and some can be filled out online.

Catalogs and Orders
Design systems and
their electronic catalogs are already mainstays in the industry.
Recently, I have begun using a different form of electronic
catalog. Changes in technology have given the manufacturers the
ability to present their price and spec books electronically, often
in a PDF format. Further, with a free download of a program that
can open PDF files, you can sit at your computer and view the price
and spec book on your monitor. It can also be given to your
contractor, builder or remodeler so that they can do the same. This
looks just like the paper price and spec book. No more fumbling
with all of your binders is necessary the info is a click away.

I recently previewed a computerized design catalog, where the
manufacturer has combined the PDF images of its actual spec book
within the design catalog. This is not only an innovative idea, it
is revolutionary in increasing accuracy and effectiveness in the
design and sales process.

Manufacturers are eagerly marching toward operating “paperless
offices,” and various technologies are being implemented to achieve
this. Utilizing e-mail for communicating product orders, bulletins
and confirmations is now in place at many manufacturers. Exchanging
important information such as orders, confirmations and bulletins
via e-mail is tremendously efficient and, best of all, it
significantly reduces the amount of paper flowing through the
office.

Another change concerning orders and confirmations is the
implementation of EDI or the online ordering of products. Some
manufacturers now permit product orders to be sent to them directly
from design or pricing systems.

Other manufacturers have developed order capabilities within
their Web sites. This process not only reduces the time it takes to
implement an order, it also reduces the number of times that the
order is transposed, thus reducing errors.

With all of the hype and hope that the technology companies have
trumpeted, online communications and transactions between companies
may be the most powerful. B2B online has the promise of improving
how all of us do business.

With revolutionary ideas like these, we can smell the sweet
aroma of success. Easier product selection, faster and more
accurate communications and less paperwork. Long Live The New
Economy!

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