An open letter to all PHCP manufacturers and wholesalers from Jack Hester, president of F.W. Webb.

We need the help of every manufacturer in the plumbing, HVAC and industrial-piping industries in what I feel is an important issue: an industry-wide database called Source ASA+. The electrical industry has spent millions of dollars of manufacturers' money setting up a similar database. We can do it for a fraction of the cost.

In 1998 the American Supply Association funded the Center for Advancing Technology and hired Kevin Price as its director. Since then the center has established industry-wide EDI standards called "EDI Express" and it has also convinced the ASA board that, with the technology advances of today, an industry-wide database is necessary.

ASA took over the Source ASA project when Sterling Software Co. decided to get out of the business. Sterling's exorbitant fee structure caused 40 of 110 manufacturers to terminate their relationship with Sterling. Structural changes have been made since then, and the fees have been reduced to $3,000 to put 500 pages of catalog and price information onto Source ASA+ -- certainly not an unrealistic amount to ask manufacturers to help establish an industry database.

An ASA task force has been formed to target 150 major suppliers to the industry. The group is working toward an eventual goal of at least 300 to 400 suppliers. It appears that manufacturers are afraid to participate for two reasons. One is the "chicken and egg syndrome" -- they say not enough wholesalers are using the system, while wholesalers say the problem is not enough manufacturers are on the system to make the system useful. So, the ASA task force is asking manufacturers to give ASA+ a two-year test at $3,000 per year.

Manufacturers' second rea- son for not participating is, "We have our own Web site." But inside salespeople or contractors often find it impractical to log onto a Web site while entering orders or checking for information. It takes too much time. And they usually need information from more than one manufacturer, so they have to go to yet another site. That's why a single database is so important. Users can get all the information they need on one site.

No more excuses

What are the advantages of a single database? Besides making the ordering process as easy as possible for our customers, there are several others: 1. UPC codes. A standard for manufacturers and a cross-reference number for each part for wholesaler utilization for bar coding, price updates and EDI; 2. Price updates. Some manufacturers presently use CD-ROMs for updates, and wholesalers need to format for each. Source ASA+ provides one industry standard; 3. EDI. An instant winner for manufacturers who take advantage of EDI Express standards. Adding one wholesaler to EDI will recoup a manufacturer's entire investment in Source ASA+; 4. Catalog information. A necessity for wholesalers' inside and outside sales personnel, as well as for customer use on Internet order-entry systems.

Why are catalog information and a single database so important? Please read Bob Miodonski's editorial in the September Supply House Times (page 112) regarding customers demanding use of the Internet. Also read the article on Coburn Supply's e-commerce initiative, and you will believe the Internet is going to be a factor in your business.

Coburn's Marketing Director Jim Fuller has done an outstanding job putting together a great Internet system, which is built on the Source ASA+ catalog. However, Coburn's results have been limited because not enough of their suppliers are on Source ASA+. My hat is off to Coburn Supply President Don Maloney and his employees for taking on such a project.

Eclipse, NxTrend, Prophet 21 and other software suppliers are making their systems Internet-ready. They have approached CAT about incorporating Source ASA+ into their systems; that's the direction their customers want to go. And many of the dot-com companies -- MRO.com, PurchasingCenter.com, supplyFORCE.com and others -- are calling wholesalers for catalog content for their B2B systems. These companies are betting their very existence on the Internet. Why are so many others dragging their feet? What are they waiting for, especially with Source ASA+ ready to go?

We at F.W. Webb Company feel strongly about this initiative. We will ask all suppliers to our distribution center and other major suppliers to our branches to participate in Source ASA+. In return we will pledge to go onto EDI with these suppliers as long as the Source ASA+ data file is complete. I find it hard to believe that more suppliers aren't jumping on the EDI Express bandwagon. It's a real winner.

The ASA task force is trying to convince the industry -- wholesalers and manufacturers -- how much time and money Source ASA+ will save and make for them. A central database with UPC codes, price and catalog information would be the best thing to happen to this industry since the fax machine.

You have nothing to gain by waiting, but everything to lose. I ask that interested manufacturers and wholesalers send an e-mail to Rosemarie Caponi, director of Source ASA+, at info@sourceasa.com for more information. Or send an e-mail to me at jack@fwwebb. I will respond immediately.

It's time for the industry to take action. Let's do it!