Setting Your Sights on the Web
By Jocelyn Chu
With new communication lines to new forms of commerce, is it a forgone conclusion that you should have a web site?It depends on your objectivesNow a permanent business fixture, the Internet's World Wi...
With new communication lines to new forms of commerce, is it a forgone conclusion that you should have a web site?
It depends on your objectives
Now a permanent business fixture, the Internet’s World Wide Web is the single, least expensive way of disseminating information. Theoretically, it extends your ability to trumpet your trade planetwide. Most sizable plastics companies already have a web site, or soon will. But if they expect a web site to be an electronic salesman, they may be disappointed.
A web site is effective for straightforward selling of commodities such as resins when the only issue is price. But for pellets, parts and finished products, the web site is really still a marketing support tool, not an online order form. For example, Louis Boulerice, marketing director at Mac Closures Inc. of Waterloo, PQ recorded only $25,000 in web-generated orders last year but his site fulfilled more than 500 e-mail catalogue requests. David Wolf, marketing manager at AT Plastics Inc. of Brampton, Ont., says their site is not intended to generate immediate sales. “In our industry, there is always a learning curve – about the company, about its products – that precedes any sale.” A company can maximize web benefits by micro-marketing: targeting the site’s functions to tightly focused objectives. A web site will never replace an educated sales team, and it won’t make the whole world your market.
Chris Singleton, sales manager at Conestogo Plastics of Waterloo, Ont. says, “If someone in Texas sees your web site and calls you up, it won’t be economical to conduct business with them unless what you make is small enough to be shipped in an envelope. And the order has to be large enough to justify servicing the account.” He adds, “There are likely dozens of vendors already in the caller’s neighbourhood. And big players already have their own brokers.” Furthermore, he notes, prospectors who land on your Internet doorstep are often individuals with an idea for a plastic widget.
Sales vs. Marketing
For Ed Baker, marketing manager at Chester Plastics Ltd. of Chester, NS, the web is a medium of the curious masses and his company “doesn’t deal with the public.” He adds, “Selling is people: word of mouth, publications and trade shows where people handle the product. Decision-makers deal with known companies. Our salespeople do best with more focused, portable, product CD ROMs. E-mail, the Web and CD-ROM work together as a continuum.”
“Buyers don’t surf; but R & D people and foreign manufacturers do,” says Boulerice. Even extremely specialized suppliers of rawstuffs, operating in a market where everybody knows everybody, benefit from hanging their shingle on the Web.
As new formulations are created, unwieldy data binders become obsolete. “My company’s site is excellent for educating salespeople and existing customers,” says Baker. The latest product releases are available at telepathic speed.
Layfield Plastics of Edmonton, Alta. makes geomem- branes, fabricates sheets, and welds them into place. “As applications specialists, we tutor civil engineers,” says Andrew Mills, the company’s product manager. “The Web is necessary for demonstrating applications.”
Mold-Masters of Georgetown, Ont. boasts a web site with an online design guide that generates hot runner solutions by allowing users to key in their specifications. At the end of the design process, the user clicks on “submit” to send them to a project engineer for evaluation.
Carl Paziuk, Director of Engineering Services at Melet Plastics Inc. of Winnipeg, MB, advocates a multi-functional website, but considers on-line visitor surveys to be an impediment to easy information access.
Setting Your Sites
Don’t underestimate the wisdom of hiring a web designer with a solid sense of graphics, marketing and content quality, as opposed to a cut-rate computer geek. The typical, first generation web site is basic, with unsophisticated graphics. The best ones are designed in a way that builds user confidence in the value of the information presented.
It is critical that the home page, which paints your business image, materialize quickly. Avoid the clutter of graphical and animation overload which slows transmission. In an industry reliant upon shuttling CAD files, Singleton recommends a hidden asset — an ultra user-friendly, secure FTP site or virtual inbox that is accessible from the home page. New files can be deposited and retrieved at any time.
Web hosting companies are not all the same. Look for good technical support as well as pricing. The hosting service should be asked to submit your site to the major search engines so that it can be discovered by web surfers by name or by your products listed.
Plastics companies are already using web sites for image promotion, customer communication, education, and direct sales. But, says Baker enthusiastically, “We can’t even dream of what new uses there will be for the Web in five years time.”