Manufacturers, distributors and contractors discuss how a new initiative is benefiting their companies.
A Quest for Robust Product Information
Without direct access to a manufacturer’s robust product information, distributors and end-users find obtaining accurate information on a specific electrical product can be a challenge, especially online.
For purchasing managers like Dan Poss of Frisbee’s Inc., an electrical, plumbing and HVAC contractor, the frustration of searching for product information can be an all-too-familiar feeling. Results frequently turn up incomplete information, lacking important details such as size, color, technical specs and photos.
“I used to have to search for the item number on Google and go through three or four websites to find the information or spec sheets that I was looking for,” said Poss. “Or I would have to call my distributor and try to explain it over the phone.”
Often, the lack of product information available can lead to purchasing errors and returns, consuming even more time and energy.
“You don’t want your people to get to the job site and then find out that you didn’t buy the right thing. Then you have to take it back, get credit for it, and order something else,” he said. “So accurate information is important. My plate is full, and I need to find all the content I can to make my job more efficient.”
With busy customers seeking faster and better information, robust product data is driving sales.
“The goal is: how do we provide better information to the customer? The more data we can get to the customer, the more likely they are to buy from us. And, the less administrative work we have to do in the background to support it, the better,” said J.R. Tapper, Director of MIS, J.H. Larson Co. “We have to get the marketing data from the vendor: that’s how we are going to sell more of our vendor’s product.”
Banding Together as an Industry
With the increasing need for robust product marketing data, IDEA introduced the IDW Bands of Excellence rating system and sourcing initiative.
The Bands of Excellence program measures each manufacturer’s completion percentage for providing robust marketing content to their trading partners through the IDW, which includes population of specification documents, attributes, images, and descriptions. Manufacturers who are providing this essential marketing content to their trading partners are being recognized for their support through this program. These four elements were selected as measurements because together they encompass the minimum content a distributor needs to add a product to their web storefront.
Manufacturers Electri-Flex and ILSCO quickly responded to their distributors’ requests to participate in the program.
“Some of our key customers brought it to our attention that the attributed data was really important to their business. We gathered all the powers within our company—leadership, sales, marketing, IT—and dedicated the resources to make it happen,” said Dennis Linden, National Sales Manager, Electri-Flex Co.
Electri-Flex was in the process of upgrading its ERP system, so most of the 22 attributes of extended product information for its 700 products needed to be developed for the IDW. The company decided to go above and beyond what was mandatory, and in less than 60 days, the company’s IT manager, Dan Stevenson, accomplished the impressive task of populating 100 percent of its stock products with marketing content, including images and spec sheets. As a result, Electri-Flex achieved the Platinum Band of Excellence, the highest level in the program which recognizes manufacturers who populate the essential marketing content for 75-100% of their stock products.
For ILSCO, the journey to the Platinum Band of Excellence was a logical next step after years of preparation.
“We’ve been involved with IDEA since the beginning, so we had developed the building blocks and were prepared,” said Jim Kosciolek, Senior VP Sales & Marketing, ILSCO. “Attributed product data was important to the industry so it was important to us. We focused attention on it, put in a little elbow grease to it, and got IDEA the marketing data in the format they needed.”
ILSCO’s process consisted of its product specialist, Randy Shelley, converting the company’s marketing content to the appropriate format and developing the spec sheets using its website. ILSCO also supported its channel of choice by populating 100 percent of its stock products with marketing content and achieving IDEA’s Platinum Band of Excellence by the time the program was announced publically.
Impact on the Supply Chain
Now that ILSCO, Electri-Flex and dozens of other manufacturers have populated their products with robust marketing data in the IDW, what impact is it having on the supply chain?
Crum Electric Supply, a distributor of both ILSCO and Electri-Flex products, is using the attributed marketing data from the IDW to build an internal catalog within its business system. The catalog will provide the information customers are looking for conveniently and efficiently. Without a complete internal catalog, Crum’s employees have to spend time searching for marketing data online before getting back to their customers which can result in lost time and sales. The company is also matching the new marketing content in the IDW with all of its pricing matrixes and price groups to automate its processes even more.
“The electronic efficiencies are vast. The extended data in the IDW—unit of measures, weights of products, pricing, descriptions, images— makes our product information consistent and increases efficiency all through our business transactions including ordering, management, and billing. As the data improves, our staff can handle more volume and important tasks with fewer errors,” said Jeff Hockin, President, Crum Electric Supply.
Likewise, Border States Electric (BSE) is using the marketing content in the IDW to enhance the company’s product content and search capabilities in its BSE-Commerce product catalog. By using content provided from manufacturers, BSE can safeguard against errors, retain data integrity and improve response time to customers.
“The IDW content from the Bands of Excellence program is extending our marketing knowledge, expertise and customer base to the participating manufacturers,” said Barry Nelson, Vice President Marketing, Border States Electric. “We’ll use our marketing arm to get the right products to the right people by producing catalogs, brochures and fliers based on product data from the IDW.”
JH Larson is using the marketing content from the IDW internally in its ERP system and externally on its customer website.
“Rapid access to marketing product data accelerates the order turnaround process. When our sales people find the information they need for customers with a couple clicks of a mouse, as opposed having to tell the customer that they will call them back and then go searching for the information, the customers appreciate that. Everyone is looking for a way for things to happen faster with less cost,” said Tapper.
In fact, when JH Larson selected its new ERP system last year, integration with the IDW catalog data was a key decision point. As a result, if a manufacturer adds marketing content to the IDW, the company can use it immediately.
“On our customer-facing website, our customers have been able to log in, order, manage their account and see our inventory for many years, but they’ve always requested product images,” said Tapper. “After our ERP conversion, we were excited to be able to take the IDW catalog data and publish the images directly to the website. Our feedback from customers is: ‘This is great, can we get more?’”
As a JH Larson customer, Frisbee’s Poss is happy to have a faster way to find the product information he needs.
“Sometimes our end-users require that we have the spec sheets on products. Going to JH Larson’s website is faster for us, and we can be assured that we have the right information because it is coming directly from the manufacturer through our distributor versus some unverified website out there. Ultimately, it is a lot simpler to go to one website, instead of having to go to three or four places to find a spec sheet,” he said.
Poss also uses the marketing content on JH Larson’s website before he purchases an item; he double-checks to make sure it looks right and has the correct specifications.
“It helps quite a bit. I like having the pictures and additional information; it makes me confident to know that I am buying the right thing,” said Poss.
Preparing for the Future
Manufacturer support of the Bands of Excellence has led to rapid increases in marketing content for the products in the IDW. Since the program initiated, the marketing content in the IDW has increased over tenfold. Progress is being made, but the future offers opportunity for growth and efficiency.
“There’s no doubt: more customers are requesting information in an electronic format, and this is just going to grow,” said Crum’s Hockin. “Manufacturers are discovering how valuable it is for them to be in control of their data, managing how it is being presented and who is representing it. The IDW creates that opportunity for us.”
ILSCO (www.ilsco.com), Platinum Band of Excellence, is a privately-held, American-owned electrical connector manufacturing company.
Electri-Flex (www.electriflex.com), Platinum Band of Excellence, is a leader in electrical conduit manufacturing.
Crum Electric Supply (www.crum.com) is an independently-owned electrical distributor with 11 locations in 4 states.
Border States Electric (www.borderstates.com) is an employee-owned electrical distributor with 55 locations in 13 states.
JH Larson (www.jhlarson.com) is a privately-owned electrical, plumbing and HVAC distributor with 8 locations throughout 3 states.
Frisbee’s Inc. (www.frisbeesinc.com) is privately-owned electrical, plumbing and HVAC contractor in Sioux Falls, SD.