This is the last of three consecutive columns about distributors and e-commerce. The last two installments covered: Grainger, Rexel and Sonepar; and WESCO, Vanguard Distribution and “NetPricer” from ElectricSmarts.com, respectively.

GE Supply

Jim Burke, e-business leader here, responded to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR’s questions in writing. Highlights follow:

“By listening to the customer, we are aware that some may not be ready to use the Internet to place orders. However, everyone that we have spoken to is very interested in finding ways to increase their productivity, especially in today’s economy, and they realize that other features on gesupply.com can deliver that value.

“Overall, we are working with our customers to tailor features.” Here’s a list that Burke provided of programs aimed at electrical contractors:

• My Account gives electrical contractor customers immediate access to all of their financial account information

• User Authorization Levels allows a manager to define which areas of gesupply.com employees can access—ordering, pricing, quotes and so on.

• SupplyScan helps customers manage their inventory more efficiently by allowing remote ordering via a hand-held [personal digital assistant] PDA with customized catalogs and bar-coded scanners.

• QuickPix (a patent pending matrix) provides an easy solution to purchasing commodity-type items.

What comes next? “We are developing capabilities and services outside of the traditional purchasing process,” Burke responded. “Our focus is not to force electrical contractors to order online. It is to get them thinking about how they can use electronic tools and integrate our Web offerings to improve their processes and reshape their business model.”

Graybar

Deb Weis, Graybar’s e-commerce director, has often said her company is going to make it easy for any electrical contractor customer of any size to do business with it “electronically”—in every way. She said recently, “Looking at 2002, we’re putting together a more specific e-business program for electrical contractors. Two years ago, there was a lot of hoopla with dot-coms. But now there are growing numbers of contractors using electrical estimating packages that will have an e-commerce capability.”

According to Weis, the estimating software providers “have now begun to create solutions—and we are looking at how we can better integrate with those.”

Graybar, of course, is famed for working closely with contractors. Weis claimed that this may possibly lead the company down new paths. “Contractors are looking at ways to improve their processes,” she said. “For example, the quoting process. As of now, we do not have a method for online quoting with Graybar. We’re figuring out right now how to serve that need.”

Broadly, Graybar’s electronic focus will be to “separate and segregate contractors as well as other markets,” Weis added. “We are going to have a more granular focus on the electrical contractor.”

SupplyForce

SupplyForce is a company founded as what most of us would call a dot-com, during the heyday of such insanity. But the company was much more, including:

• A Web operation spun off from Affiliated Distributors, the largest buying group of independent (regional and big local) electrical distributors in North America.

• An effort to sell “national accounts” (big buyers) on behalf of its distributor network.

• Folded into all of this, SupplyForce had a plan to create Web sales machinery that would work “in the background” for member distributors.

In August 2000, I wrote a column on SupplyForce, calling it “undotcommon.” You can still find it here (www.tedmag.com/JS_archives/sweet_spot.htm).

What’s changed? First, the company issues few press releases and keeps a low profile. Second, its plan to provide member electrical distributors with a Web front-end—has been scrapped. Third, Affiliated’s main competitor (IMARK Group) lost its Web association when SourceAlliance.com went out of business.

Additionally, Jim Piraino, last heard from as the CEO of BuildPoint (a failed dot-com effort), was hired as president last summer by SupplyForce. “Public marketplaces [i.e., “e-marketplaces”] do not solve the problem for the distributor or the customer. SupplyForce became very focused on national accounts,” Piraino noted.

“The vast majority of our business right now is with the industrial customer (as opposed to the national electrical contractor). We do have one very large roll-up contractor—we do a lot of business with them.

“Contractors don’t want to sit and go to three Web sites. Think of how a contractor buys: He’s going to typically line up with two or three supply houses to get his electrical materials. He’s not going to go to three Web pages and input data.” EC

SALIMANDO is a Vienna, Va.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. He can be reached at jsali@cris.com.