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How popular will the buying and selling of machine tools become? That's a matter of speculation for observers of the metalworking industry. Clearly, the concept gets a boost by a recent announcement from Bridgeport Machines Inc. (now handled by Hardinge).
In March 2001, the company is launching its e-commerce strategy by offering a special edition of its well-known Series 1 Standard Milling Machine on the Internet. (The Series 1 was introduced in 1938, and although it's been updated substantially over the years, it remains one of the most recognizable brands in the industry.) More important, with this launch, Bridgeport is establishing what it considers a sales channel of the future—a channel that is not only an efficient e-commerce process for its customers but also a provider for the full participation of its distributors.
It was predicted that the trend to buy machine tools on the Internet would begin with commodity, standard configuration machines, and Bridgeport's announcement seems to fulfill this prediction. The knee-type turret milling machine is about as standard a machine tool as can be imagined, and the Series 1 is the most classic of all such machines. For this builder, it seems the perfect product for launching e-commerce.
"The broad-based machine shop market is very familiar with the quality, reliability and value of our Series 1 mill," contends Dave Barber, Bridgeport marketing manager. Referring to customers, he says, "When they see it on our site they'll know what they're getting. Now we're going to make it easier to buy."
According to Mr. Barber, the company has bundled the mill with special features and a new look that will only be available over the Internet. This special edition, named the XL for "eXtreme Legend," will be finished in a distinctive black paint scheme. Specially designed decals will add to the overall look of the machine. In addition to the sleek "new economy" appearance, the total package includes many features that are normally options. The package includes chrome ways and gibs to ensure long life; a superior lubricating surface and an extremely low coefficient of friction; a Servo 150 X-axis power feed; and a Newall Topaz digital readout.
Mr. Barber adds, "In addition to the proven performance of the Series 1, a big part of our overall success has been our distributor based system of installation and service support. With full distributor inclusion in our e-commerce platform, we are giving the customer the total package. A good Internet strategy must be integrated with the best parts of a traditional sales program."
This approach to distributor involvement may be the most significant aspect of the company's evolving e-commerce model. Other models of e-commerce diminish or eliminate the distributor's role, a development greeted with mixed reactions in the metalworking community. The results of Bridgeport's approach may influence the marketing strategies of other machine tool builders as well as the buying habits of shop and plant managers.
Here's how the Bridgeport e-commerce initiative works: At www.bpt.com, the buyer clicks on the yellow button with the shopping cart icon at the top of the page. That will bring the user to the e-commerce center featuring the special edition Series 1 Standard Milling Machine with an Internet-only package. Users will be prompted to move this machine to the shopping cart. There they will be shown a "Distributor Locator" window and asked to register. Customers then enter their address with zip code, and the locator software will automatically identify the appropriate distributor and display the distributor's company listing. In future customer visits, the "Distributor Locator" will remember the user and automatically assign the distributor. The distributor will be notified that there is an order in the system. In addition, several features are built into the system to assist the distributor in dealing with the customer's ordering needs and payment options.
In bringing one of the best-known machine tools to what many consider the leading edge of sales technology, Bridgeport's e-commerce launch deserves watching. In the short and long term, it may prove to be a major factor contributing to the lasting success of the Series 1 in the face of its many competitors and copycats.—MDA