As any postal worker can tell you, we are a country of catalog junkies. From Dell Computer to Land's End, we buy direct to save time and money. But can catalog sales work in the industrial marketplace? Are industrial customers willing to bypass salespeople and distributors to buy direct?One of the early pioneers to test this concept is Omega Engineering, headquartered in Stamford, Conn.
As any postal worker can tell you, we are a country of catalog junkies. From Dell Computer to Land's End, we buy direct to save time and money. But can catalog sales work in the industrial marketplace? Are industrial customers willing to bypass salespeople and distributors to buy direct?
One of the early pioneers to test this concept is Omega Engineering, headquartered in Stamford, Conn. With catalogs that include over 40,000 products, from portable instruments to data acquisition systems, Omega has been hugely successful in selling direct to industry. Founded in 1962, the company developed its business model by studying retail and apparel catalog houses such as L.L. Bean. In the past three decades, it has leveraged the model to become a real force in the process control industry.
More recently, other suppliers have entered the direct market for industrial controls. In 1994, Tim Hohmann founded PLC Direct (Cumming, Ga.) as "the world's smallest PLC company." Boasting "twice the features…half the price," the company has grown from its humble roots, adding employees, facilities, and about 100 new products per year to its catalog, for a 1998 total of over 600 products.
National Instruments (Austin, Tex.) expanded its successful Instrumentation catalog, well-known in the test and measurement market, to include an extensive section on industrial automation products. And last month, AVG (Carol Stream, Ill.) launched OI Dir>ct to sell operator interface panels direct to customers. Shalli Kumar, AVG chairman and ceo, notes, "Forty cents on the dollar are spent on sales and distribution costs for industrial products. Selling direct eliminates these expenses."
What's in it for me?
As a potential direct buyer, you want to know, "What do I get from buying direct?" You expect to save time and money, but what about service and support? The companies discussed above stress excellent service as key to their success. "Exceeding your expectations" is Omega's tag line. "Easy" is repeated five times on the cover of AVG's catalog.
Mr. Hohmann offers his own set of tips on what customers should look for in a direct supplier. "Successful companies pay attention to details and execute the basics correctly every day ."
Pick up the phone when your customer calls. This sounds pretty basic, yet you would be surprised at how many catalog companies let calls go into voice mail.
Ship your customers what they ordered. A lot of companies, and even distributors, have trouble with this one. With bar code technology, PLC Direct tracks a shipping accuracy of 99.9%.
Have product in stock. A good direct company can ship virtually any product, anywhere within 24 hours.
Train your employees to be able to answer all customer questions. Whether its sales, service, purchasing, tracking, or technical information, customers should have their questions answered with a minimum of call transfers.
Provide excellent documentation. If you sell direct, your catalogs and manuals must provide most of your customer training and support.
Are you a direct customer? If you are a current automation user, have in-house application expertise, and love a great deal, then buying direct could be right for you.
Jane S. Gerold, Editorial Director firstname.lastname@example.org