The Old Economy Gets a Virtual Boost

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Brick and mortar stores have not been replaced by virtual stores, but they have been enhanced by them.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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