B2B seems to be the latest buzzword in the Internet industry. While we are inundated by stories of how pure-play dot.coms and e-tailers are faltering, we´re also hearing how Business To Business companies are finding a solid and profitable place online.
Central Distributors, out of Des Moines, Iowa, is a case in point. This family-owned wholesaler of floor coverings has carved out its niche on the Internet, using it not only for selling, but for sourcing and research as well.
Scott Hendricks, president of Central Distributors, is the 2nd generation to head up the company, which was started his parents in 1956. The family operates two stores in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids area.
Scott has been involved in the family business for over 20 years. He spent his youth working in the stores and learning the products. Although he earned a degree in engineering, he decided to return to the family business because he enjoyed working closely with his family.
Most business owners are so focused on their business that they hardly notice their kids growing up. Returning to work for the company as an adult gave Scott the opportunity to develop a close relationship with his father. Scott, who now has two children of his own, feels that working with his father was one of the greatest rewards of staying with the family business. Although his dad has since passed away, his mother still works half days, and stays actively involved.
Scott decided to take the business online as a way to save his customers—flooring retailers—time and money. Although the site is still in its infancy, he has found that is has already had a positive impact on his business, and will only continue to benefit customer and company alike.
"We started on the web in January 2001 with 5 pages of information. From that, it has expanded tremendously, in direct response to what our customers are requesting. I see us taking it from being information only to having both information and online ordering capability."
The key challenge so far has been training their customers to use the web site to find answers to common questions or to do basic research. Scott hopes that as customers learn to make the website their first stop, his sales team will be freed up to use its time more effectively taking care of the customers orders - rather than being tied up on the phone, fielding the same questions over and over again.