GF creates Web ‘cornerstone’

Sunday, August 31, 2008

ATLANTA--After Graham-Field (GF) doubled its online revenues to $10 million and increased its hits per month from 15,000 to-get ready for this-900,000 over the past year, Microsoft had something to crow about.

Why Microsoft? Because GF deployed the software giant’s e-commerce products to link the front- and back-ends of its online system and to streamline the customer service representative interface.

Those changes have simultaneously boosted orders and reduced calls and faxes to GF’s customer service department.

“More and more people are using the Web site as their primary contact (for information) with the company,” said Larry de la Haba, GF’s senior vice president of marketing “One thing is for certain, the Graham-Field Web site is one of the cornerstones of our company today.”

Microsoft was so impressed by what was happening in GF’s cyberspace that the software company saw fit to trumpet the news as a case study on its Web site. Not many companies can lay claim to a phenomenal 6,000% growth in Web traffic. (By comparison, SeQual says its Web site attracts 10,000 hits per month, a fourfold increase over last year’s traffic.) But the Web is a priority and an increasingly remunerative opportunity for most manufacturers of HME equipment.

Once, the Web was a calling card and an accessory. Today, manufacturers admit they can’t grow without it.
“From an e-commerce perspective our Web site order volume has grown over 20% per year for the last 3 years,” said Dave Rolston, vice president of e-business at Mundelein, Ill.-based Medline Industries. “That is outpacing our sales, so that means it isn’t just new customers but existing customers making use of the site as their order channel.”

At GF, as with many manufacturers, the Web is incredibly attractive as a resource for catalog shoppers and as a proxy for printing. The savings in printing and mailing are obvious. Where GF was printing 50,000 catalogs per year, they’re now down to half as many.

“I take pride in being a ‘paper guy’ but the Web site has really made that obsolete,” said de la Haba. “With the speed of change that takes place every day, we can update the Web site at 9 a.m. and by 9:01, everyone in the world has the change at their finger tips.”

At SeQual, it’s the same deal.

“We are encouraging customers to download PDF files containing operator manuals and literature whenever possible,” said CEO Ron Richard. “It gets them information quicker while saving us money in terms of shipping costs and printing.”

Likewise, Medline believes its greatest online asset is that catalog. But the catalog has its challenges.

“While catalog searches are up significantly year over year, making it easier for our customers to find what they are looking for is an ongoing mission,” said Rolston.