A manufacturer's ability to implement e-business technology may have a profound impact on its bottom line over the next few years. Even in industries that until now have been immune to Internet fever, a comprehensive Internet strategy has become an important competitive advantage. For one Michigan-based cutting tool manufacturer, e-business wasn't just about buying and selling on the Web. It was about providing better service and convenience to its existing customers and distributors.
Quinco Tool Products (Oak Park, Michigan) was founded in 1950 as a manufacturer of HSS and premium cobalt end mills. Two hundred miles separate the company's headquarters from the manufacturing facility, and its distributors are spread throughout the country, so reliable lines of communication are extremely important to the operation of the business. "We saw a need to improve our ability to communicate both internally and externally, and the Internet seemed to be a good fit," says Charlie Warren, sales manager of Quinco Tool. "We had a Web site, but it had become outdated, so we looked at ways to improve it." In early 2000, Quinco decided to completely rebuild its Web site, as well as its overall Internet strategy, with the help of Envision, Inc. (Bingham Farms, Michigan).
Strategically, Quinco had several challenges. There was an increasing need to give its distributors easy access to up-to-date inventory, product and production information. And, in what was becoming a more competitive marketplace, the company also needed to squeeze more efficiency out of the order fulfillment process—making Quinco a faster, easier and more available alternative than its competitors. Whatever solution the company decided on would also have to seamlessly interface with its internal business system and its custom production information system at the Rose City manufacturing plant.
In planning the new Web site, it became clear that any meaningful Internet initiative would be an integral part of its business system, not just an add-on. The site needed to facilitate order entry, special quotes, real-time inventory reporting from each warehouse and distributor information, and it had to be flexible enough to add new features without requiring a major re-build.
The resulting Web site achieved those goals and more. One important feature came through the automated update component. Not only did it improve the timeliness of the data that were available on the Web site, but it also eliminated double entry and manual uploads. Now, when inventory or description information is updated in Quinco's internal production and business systems, it is automatically updated on the Web site.
The new site was completed by the Fall of 2000, and it proved to be more useful than expected. From time to time, computer-based business systems go down for maintenance or repairs. When that happens, companies can't stop answering the phone or taking orders—which can quickly escalate to a crisis situation. During a recent outage of the in-house order entry system at Quinco, the sales staff was able to switch gears and quickly access inventory and production information through the Web site even though the business system was down. "For a short-term outage, it was a real life saver. Without it, we would have been dead in the water," says Tom Spedding, vice president and general manager at Quinco.
Another unexpected use of production information was the ability of sales and production staff to access production run quantities and expected delivery dates from the road, anytime of the day or night. On a recent out-of-state sales call, sales manager Charlie Warren needed production information for a large quote. In the past, it would have meant that he had to wait until the next day to get the information he needed. But since Quinco had revamped its Web site, Mr. Warren was able to get up-to-date delivery estimates and deliver a quote that evening from the comfort of his hotel room.
Since its launch, use of the site for online ordering and product information has been steadily increasing. From the testing phase to the limited initial roll out, through the current full-scale release, feedback has been very positive. "We had an idea of what to expect, because we had been talking to our customers about it throughout development, but you never really know until they start to use it," says Mr. Warren. "So far, we've heard nothing but good things about it. We're certain that we have the most advanced e-business solution in our industry."