Dealer Sales Not ‘Net Reliant’

Equipment Sellers Dip Their Toes Into E-Commerce; Some Wade in While Others Stay in the Shallow End
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For More InfoWeb addresses of companies mentioned in this article:

Bradley Broadcast & Pro Audio – www.bradleybroadcast.com

Broadcast Supply Worldwide – www.bswusa.com

Crouse-Kimzey – www.proaudio.com

Full Compass Systems – www.fullcompass.com

Harris Corp. – http://premier.harris.com/broadcastHas the Internet changed the business model for dealers that sell broadcast products? Not definitively.

Yes, equipment manufacturers and dealers are exploring the question of how the Internet will boost sales. Some have not embraced the concept; others now depend on the Web for a portion of their sales.

But when it comes to selling broadcast equipment, industry players still generally prefer one-to-one contact with their customers for the purchase, usually by phone. If the Internet somehow allows contact to happen digitally, suppliers seem willing go along. But many sellers still need to be convinced that e-commerce is better for sales.

Comments by dealers reveal patterns about how companies are using the Web. Most of these companies have introduced online services in recent years, but balked at making the actual sale electronically. That’s changing slowly.

Talk to customers

For instance, dealer Broadcast Supply Worldwide, based in Tacoma, Wash., offers two Web sites for its customers. BSWUSA.com features sale items from the company’s direct mail flyers. The entire updated BSW Catalog is to be on this site in March. ( See sidebar for URLs of companies mentioned in this story. )

"Anyone, regardless if they have an account with BSW, can place orders on this site with a valid credit card," said BSW President Tim Schwieger.

After more than two years of preparation, BSW now has a business-to-business site, called BSW Online.

On this site, qualified customers can manage their own accounts. BSW customers can access information and services, including account balances, product research, online ordering, product stock status, order history and shipment tracking.

Customers who wish to have access to their account through BSW Online must obtain security clearance and have an open billing account at BSW.

‘Adjunct’ role

Dealer Bradley Broadcast & Pro Audio has been a model of tradition in this digital age. It has a Web site, but until December of 2000, the site offered limited information, said General Manager Art Reed. Interested parties could order a Bradley catalog online.

Now, when visitors look at featured Bradley products online, they can also subscribe to an e-mail newsletter that is sent periodically.

For Bradley, the computerized world had been the gateway for the more traditional approach of catalog distribution and personal contact.

"You don’t just jump on the Internet and become a distributor," said Reed. "We’re a specialty market. So to me, (the Internet) is an adjunct. What we are doing, more and more, is transacting with our customers via e-mail."

Reed said e-mail transactions take place mostly with long-time customers.

In this New Year, Bradley released an online version of its print catalog. Reed said the time has come for expanded online commerce.

With more workers changing offices due to consolidation, an online approach can help companies sell more products.

"(Bradley customers) are in large facilities and … they aren’t sitting around the phone waiting for a call," Reed said. "You can spend all day trying to connect with them. Or they can sit down and bang (out) an e-mail to me and I can send an e-mail back to them."

He said formatted quote and order forms for online purchasing were being prepared for future use.

Bradley, based in Frederick, Md., is looking forward to the convergence of the traditional, printed word with its online form.

No extra steps

Reed believes broadcast equipment Web sites will become economically viable when content does not have to be repackaged for distribution in different media – print and online.

That’s how most broadcast equipment companies contacted by RW see online sales so far. One company source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the World Wide Web has yet to provide evidence of enough sales to justify a significant investment in a company Web site.

"We’re being successful selling, but it’s sure not coming from that," he said.

According to another sales executive, the Web is just a different sales tool.

"It’s another way to accommodate customers, to reach out to new customers," said John Vitale, national sales manager for Full Compass Systems Ltd. "We prefer to interact over the phone."

The dealer, based in Middleton, Wis., sells more microphones than other products, although the company also sells more than 600 lines of equipment for sound reinforcement, audio/video, recording and other markets.

Chief Executive Officer Jonathon Lipp determined that catalogs would best market the company’s products.

Vitale said, however, that old and new ways of doing business can coexist. The company’s fliers can be read online, or customers can select products in 200 categories as displayed on the Full Compass Web site.

Full Compass has toll-free phone numbers to process orders. It hopes to set up a direct ordering system online, although a specific time frame has not been disclosed.

Phone comes first

"We’re pretty conservative in that regard (e-commerce). We will embrace the technology as it makes sense for us to do it," said Vitale. He said Full Compass intends to be able to process orders by phone as customers pick items via its Web site.

Full Compass plans upgrades to its Web site in 2001, said Vitale. At press time, company officials were still working on those changes.

Full Compass believes that the potential of e-commerce cannot be ignored. Want to look up a special, or any price for a Full Compass product? Go online. But for now, the company would like buyers to order by phone.

Harris Corp.’s Broadcast Communications Division is based in Mason, Ohio. Harris distributes other companies’ radio products, and manufactures its own. The company maintains an expansive Web site for the promotion of both.

In January, Harris launched an e-commerce site that enables radio broadcasters to order equipment online.

The company plans to make available expanded technical information as well as online customer support at the site, said Sarah Foss, Harris Broadcast Communications’ director of marketing.

In addition, U.S. radio broadcasters can order products offered by Harris Broadcast through its field sales force or by a toll-free phone call to the company’s Broadcast Center.

Some suppliers use their Web sites to generate interest in the industry, rather than direct sales online.

Crouse-Kimzey merged engineering with consultation in 1971 and has since distributed multiple products lines to broadcasters. Although the dealer’s Web site is a good portal connection to more than 300 equipment vendors, Crouse-Kimzey does not seek to sell anything online. In fact, its site may be most noted for its visual commemoration of radio’s golden age. The site has a notable collection of vintage photos for free viewing.

Mark Bradford, general manager of Crouse-Kimzey’s head office in Dallas, said links on the company’s Web site are designed to provide visitors with information that the company would, then, not have to keep on file: spec sheets, product descriptions from the manufacturers and more.

"We use it for that and we do have our inventory clearance on there (the Web site)," said Bradford.

The dealer considers e-commerce as an offshoot of its traditional business.

When asked what type of labor commitment would be needed to maintain a fully interactive Web site, Bradford said, "That would be more than a full-time job. We would have to designate a couple of people to take on a monumental task like that. And to do that, we would have to know that there was going to be income coming from that (the Web site)."

The company that puts its entire product line online would have to update the Web site during inventory clearances and the multitude of price changes and sales that occur over the counter every day.

Reed agrees that online commerce requires a lot of work.

"My dream is to have an integrated database from which I could draw usable information to both put on the Web, and to deliver to a printed catalog. Currently, it’s not like that," he said.

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