Fortunately, wholesalers and their contractor customers can now put together up-to-date, professional-looking submittal booklets through Source ASA+, a product of the American Supply Association's Center for Advancing Technology, headed by Director Kevin Price.
"A contractor can use these submittals to sell a job," says Mike Cardinale, systems analyst at Davis & Warshow of Maspeth, N.Y. "Not only can he include a detailed product description and correct pricing information, but also spec sheets, wiring diagrams and OSHA requirements from a large database of manufacturers."
Source ASA+ is an electronic catalog database for the plumbing, heating, cooling and piping industry. It includes current, manufacturer-certified product information, such as UPC codes, product descriptions, pricing, photos and specifications. Subscribers can access the database from CD-ROM or the Internet.
"What the Source ASA+ system does is give wholesalers and contractors up-to-date content from a potentially huge selection of vendors on compact disc where they can assemble a submittal based on the latest data," explains Anthony Lopresti, technical services manager at IMPAC Technology, an Exton, Pa., e-commerce and Web provider. "They get the information right from the vendor; all the money and expertise that the vendor is using for its catalog is passed down to the end user. It gives a more professional image for the whole industry.
"I believe what Kevin and CAT are doing is a business need for the PHCP industry. The center is driving business solutions using technology. Wholesalers know how they made their businesses successful up to this point. Now they're looking to Kevin and his group to take the next step."
MetamorphosisThe current version of the product is developed at two locations: The coding is done by a firm in Silicon Valley; the production work is done in Paoli, Pa., and is headed up by Rosemarie Caponi, director of the Source ASA+ project. Caponi's staff includes Viola Madej, technical support; Paula Reese, content administrator; and Lisa Ceschan, lead production associate.
Caponi has been with Source ASA since its inception. She was working at ACS, which pioneered the concept of electronic catalogs for associations, in 1996 when Source ASA was created, and continued on after Sterling Software bought the company in 1997. In mid-1998, Sterling shut down all of the electronic catalog projects. ASA took up the reins, created the Center for Advancing Technology and hired Kevin Price. Caponi joined Price and together they made major improvements to the program, including a more efficient way for manufacturers to transmit data for the catalog.
Because of the diverse and proprietary programs manufacturers use to transmit their catalog information, Sterling's staff spent many man-hours converting the material into a useable format that would function with Sterling's applications. "The turnaround time for most submissions at Sterling was about two months," Caponi says. Price and Caponi rebuilt Source ASA+ into an easier program to work with: Manufacturers submit their product data in a PDF document, which is compatible with the Source ASA+ catalog. The Adobe Acrobat software can be downloaded free from the Internet. Now Caponi and her staff can turn a 100-page submission around in three business days, reducing the Sterling two- to three-month lead time to 30 days.
"It has made a dramatic difference not having to reformat everything," she says. "We ran into so many problems with the ACS/Sterling format. We had to do a lot of reformatting that required additional costs the manufacturers didn't want to pay. The Acrobat PDF format eliminates those costs." Manufacturers pay $3,000 per year for 500 pages of product information, less than a third of the original expense to participate during the ACS/Sterling years.
The other major improvement made to Source ASA+ was making it Internet-compatible. Subscribers with Internet connections can access the database from Source ASA's Web site (www.sourceasa.com) with a user name and password provided by CAT. The site is updated monthly, as is the CD version. A subscribing company receives six CD-ROMs or Web site passwords for $1,250 per year. An additional six CDs can be purchased for $600; Web site passwords are sold individually for $100. Network versions with an unlimited amount of users cost $2,200 each; these subscribers may purchase Web log-ins for $25 each. Interested parties can visit CAT's Web site at www.asa.net/tech to find more information on Source ASA+, such as pricing options and a feature list, as well as a free evaluation password to the Web site catalog.
An extension of the Internet version is access to the catalog through a wholesaler's Web site. The Source ASA+ catalog displays the wholesaler's name and logo. Price notes that the original idea came from Alan Dickson Jr. of Dickson Supply Co. (Brielle, N.J.), a Source ASA+ CD subscriber. While Dickson Supply did not initially go ahead with the Internet project, Price did. He worked with CAT's technical partner IMPAC Technology to develop the electronic coding needed to put the catalog on distributors' sites. "About two weeks after the coding was done, we had three sites sold, and Dickson soon made it four," Price says.
The center has eight subscribers who have integrated the Source ASA+ catalog into their Web sites and is in negotiation and development phases with another half dozen.
The set-up package includes a one-time set-up fee of $500 and 10 log-ins at $40 each/per year. "Some customers have ordered up to 300 log-ins, so you know they're serious about getting the information out there," Price says.
Wholesalers can either sell a log-in to a contractor or provide it for free. The log-in information includes a user name and a password to access the catalog. Once a contractor logs in to the catalog through his distributor's Web site, he is immediately transferred to the Source ASA+ site. However, each distributor can "brand" or customize the catalog pages with its own logo and address so the customer never knows he has left the distributor's site. The next version of Source ASA+ will include online ordering capabilities designed by IMPAC Technology, Price says.
Streamlining the business processA two-location plumbing and heating wholesaler based in Farmingdale, N.Y., Joseph A. Hendel Inc. had been using Source ASA+ internally for several years.
"Our sales staff uses Source ASA+ daily for information, research, submittals and pricing," says Rob Caruso, branch manager at Joseph A. Hendel Inc. "We find the database to be very helpful, informative and easy to use. It's so much faster than looking the information up in a printed catalog or vendor disc."
"Joseph A. Hendel has been one of our best success stories," Price notes. "We found that our product lines on the CD matched almost 100% of the lines that Hendel sells. That isn't always the case; usually we get our best matches on the big product lines such as Kohler, American Standard and Eljer."
Hendel wanted to be able to pass this information down to its contractor customers. Source ASA+'s database was such an important tool for the company's salespeople that it was thought the firm's customers would also benefit from access to such product knowledge.
"Our original Web site was introduced over four years ago to better serve the customer," Caruso explains. "The idea was to give the customers access to our products 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Source ASA+ allows us to expand upon that initial idea."
Through the electronic coding work done by IMPAC, Price and the Source ASA+ staff were able to incorporate the e-catalog into Hendel's Web site. The project started in late 1999 and the official introduction was Feb. 10 of this year. A green button now appears on the Joseph A. Hendel Web site (www.hendel.com) linking contractors to the Source ASA+ database.
One of the best benefits of Source ASA+ for Joseph A. Hendel is the ability to access a vast amount of information in one place. "It's a real time saver to us; we can now find job submittals and information much faster and easier, not to mention having a more professional look since the submittals are coming out of our printer and not a copy machine," Caruso explains.
The firm has received excellent feedback on the program from its customers, he says; they seem to be very comfortable using Source ASA+. "We average about 30 to 50 customers per day accessing the program. I have provided passwords to homeowners, architects, engineers, contractors, plumbers, oil companies and various other tradesmen. I've also received calls from out of state requesting passwords."
Hendel intends to use Source's online order capabilities when they become available and is discussing with the Source ASA+ staff the development of a new e-commerce Web site for the company.
While the promise of a Web catalog set-up for less than $1,000 has certainly aroused the interest of a few wholesalers in the industry, price should not be the deciding factor when considering an investment in the Internet or any other kind of electronic technology.
"You can't look at today's technology or a Web site as an expense," says James Young, regional sales manager at IMPAC Technology. "You need to look at it as a capital improvement and how it's going to streamline your business. People tend to have that attitude of 'What's it going to cost me?' That's the wrong way to think about e-business or e-commerce. E-commerce is using technology to streamline the business process."
Wanted: ManufacturersSource ASA+ is only as good as the number of vendors participating in the program. The catalog database contains product information from 74 manufacturers but has the potential to include as many as 300 vendors.
A familiar refrain from manufacturers is that wholesalers aren't using the product, but more than 400 CD-ROMs are distributed to wholesalers each month. Several firms also use the unlimited-user network and the Internet log-in version.
"Many of the manufacturers are reluctant to join," says Jack Hester, president of F.W Webb (Burlington, Mass.) and a member of ASA's executive committee."They say that they have their own Web sites or that not enough wholesalers are participating. It's the old chicken-and-egg question. I believe that half of these manufacturers don't understand what we're trying to do with Source ASA+."
A task force of six ASA wholesaler members and three staff members was formed in fall 1999 to work on getting more manufacturers signed up on Source ASA+.
"The Action 2003 report challenged associations such as ASA to take a leadership role in technology," Hester explains."I believe the challenge has been met through the Center for Advancing Technology with the work Kevin and his people have done with EDI Express and Source ASA+. Now the manufacturers need to make a commitment and do something for the industry."
Hester and his fellow task force members have conducted a letter-writing and phone-calling campaign with their major vendors asking them to support ASA in its efforts to make Source ASA+ as comprehensive as possible. "We have a targeted list of 75 manufacturers we're working on now," he says. "Our goal is to get 40 vendors signed up by the end of the year. To date we are on target with commitments from another 13 manufacturers."
Hester says nearly 150 associate-manufacturer members of ASA are being targeted. "We want to know why they aren't supporting the association with Source ASA+." The task force is also talking to the 30 vendors that were part of Source ASA in the beginning but had difficulties with Sterling and dropped out, as well as vendors participating in buying groups.
Software provider Eclipse Inc. recently agreed to incorporate the Source ASA+ database into its e*Business Suite. Hester says that the task force can use this information as leverage when talking to manufacturers since NxTrend Technology, Mincron and Prophet 21 are sure to follow.
Hester says task force members are frustrated but positive about signing up more vendors. He acknowledges, however, that more wholesalers need to subscribe to the program. "Some wholesalers don't yet see the benefit. We need more of the progressive companies to get on board."
Other wholesalers are also doing their part to get vendors in the program.
"We are currently encouraging numerous vendors to join the Source ASA+ family," Caruso says. "It seems to be working because we notice new vendors are added almost every month to the program."
The explosion of business-to-business e-commerce on the Internet may have "motivated" some manufacturers into signing on with Source ASA+, Hester explains.
"The tide may now be turning. Lately there has been a lot of discussion on the value of ASA membership. The association has done its part through the development of the Tech Center and Source ASA+; now the challenge to manufacturers and wholesalers is to participate and take advantage of this industry-wide resource."