New Coke. Supermodel-themed restaurants, B2Ball things that sounded great in theory but in practice hit the mat harder than David Spade wrestling Steve Austin. The big difference is that, unlike the first two, B2B has a world of potential. The realization of that potential has a lot to do with how well brick-and-mortars can enable other brick-and-mortars using technology unavailable anywhere but cyberspace. In light of the reality shock that recently hit the e-commerce world in general (anybody still high on Pets.com or drkoop.com?), implementation of this enabling might turn out to be an electronic acid test for companies everywhere.
This Won't Hurt a Bit
At first glance, Pacific Bearing, a Rockford, Illinois-based manufacturer of self-lubricated, linear-motion bearings, might not seem like the prototypical enabler. Thrust and sleeve bearings, die set bushings, square bearings and the like might make the Home Improvement crowd salivate, but they lack the plug-and-play simplicity of some B2B niches. It's one thing to place an order for 10,000 batteries online; it's quite another to specify a new hydraulic cylinder that lets Caterpillar throughput more bulldozers. But this 17-year-old company is a good case study of seamlessly moving from theory to practice.
When Bob Schroeder, CEO and founder of Pacific Bearing, decided to launch an e-business site in November 1999, he chose Atlanta-based NetVendor as provider of most of the technologies. NetVendor brought with it a major commitment to helping companies such as Schroeder's enable the enablers. According to Stuart Smith, manager of public relations for NetVendor, We always say that we help our customer by really helping our customer's customers. We do that by making it easy for them to order the products that they require. And all the benefits of trading through the Internet certainly allow manufacturers and distributors to improve existing sales, service and distribution channels; to access worldwide customers 24 hours 7 days a week; to increase acquisition and retention of current and new customers; [and] to collaborate with these customers online.
NetVendor's expertise and Pacific Bearing's commitment made for a potent combination that was necessary to overcome a lot of obstacles. Schroeder says, When we decided to launch this site, there was a lot of talk about disintermediation, and in the realities of manufacturing businesses, disintermediation is really not a viable alternative. We make product in relatively large quantities, and we do not have fulfillment capabilities to unit quantity of one. That's not our core competency. So we have to have distribution companies that can distribute to unit quantity of one. And the question that we had was, How can we launch an e-commerce site and embrace our distributors and allow orders to come into our site and then be ultimately fulfilled by the distributors?' That was the first component of it. We were very aware that the distributors were very concerned about the trend of, or let's say the media hype, that the distribution companies were obsolete.
To overcome any potential reluctance on the part of its business partners, Schroeder's company took pains to stress that this step in business evolution was more than just technology, it's a business relationship. In addition, the fact that his site could serve as a painless experiment for e-commerce newbies was a big selling point, according to Schroeder. We realized that we were one of the first sites to go live. And when we approached a company, we said, Why not use us as a beta site and as a model of what you would expect of e-commerce sites in the future?' So as other people come to you and state, We want to create these links, we want to have e-commerce,' you can say, Yes, here's our business set of rules. This is what works for us.'