Today, many companies are diverting to the Internet to purchase material handling equipment. As a growing distributorship, what is the best approach to developing a website that will secure our future customers? Are websites profitable in the material handling field?
— Ray Reagan Jr., General Manager, B & H Industrial Service, Inc. (Springfield, MO)
Ken MacDonald: I believe that websites will be a channel for purchases and communications as we go forward. To develop your website, you can sometimes work with a manufacturer, or you could outsource the task. Another possibility is to hire an IT college student as an intern to start you on your way. Not only can you save a few dollars, you also may help create a future employee. As far as whether the website is profitable will depend on your company’s promoting it to end-users, as well as whether or not it requires technical development. You must have a presence, similar to other marketing tools. For some companies, the initial expense of developing a website is considered a cost of doing business, and eventually it will pay for itself.
Larry Abernathy: A good website is a must for every distributor, and it should be constructed to show off the best you have to offer in products and services. One of the reasons you need a website is that your manufacturers all have websites that list their distributors for certain areas. Your potential customers will want to link to your site while doing their research to check out your capabilities. Most advertising that is now done in magazines is driving the potential customer to a website. Almost all of the leads we receive now are actually requested over a manufacturer’s website.
John Cosgrove: Before developing a website, the first step is to determine how you want to take your company to market. If you are attempting to sell product as a commodity, then a brief description and price sheet will suffice. However, if you are attempting to generate interest in a system type solution, you will need to incorporate case studies of systems and solutions previously developed by your company. Graphics are very important. Pictures and a description of the operation for each system are essential.
As far as website design, it’s important to locate a company that you are comfortable with, one that understands your company’s needs and goals. Initially, we tried to develop our own web page, but eventually found a professional group that understood our company and the market we wanted to attract. After development, we encouraged our existing customers, as well as our prospective ones, to visit the site. The more interactive the site, the greater the results will be.
The jury is still out regarding the Internet and how it will affect the material handling industry. Just a few years ago, it appeared as if the net would become a large factor in our industry. Today, I’m not so sure. However, as material handling professionals, we must be ready to capitalize on all opportunities that e-commerce offers.
Michael Dubbs: First I would like to respond to the second part of your inquiry. To date, our website has been a big black hole. I can identify a few inquiries we have received from the Web, and one or two orders from our online catalog. Together these responses have not even come close to generating a return on our Web development dollars.
In developing a website, I suggest that you try to make it as informative as possible. I believe that material handling purchasers who visit your site are looking for information on what makes your company unique, and why they should do business with you.
Bob Weeks: The market for material handling purchases on the Internet has not yet matured. Many products are difficult to order because of the specification and application questions that need to be answered. The Internet is a great tool for advertising and references. Look at it as the yellow pages of the future with a far greater capability for detail. The more you have to offer as a material handling distributor and value-added supplier, the more you have to write about on your website.
We have a site with product selection and ordering capability that was constructed by our manufacturer. The number of actual purchases that are made is small, but the site is a success because it gives the customer all the options they require. Most customer literature orders are now done on the website, and there are many items of interest that customers can access or download. For a distributor to consider his website to be profitable, he must keep his costs down by utilizing all the available links and programs his suppliers offer. This should give you the platform to keep up with the rapidly increasing desire of customers to use the Web.