Website Simplifies Gear Sales
FOUND MONEY. Business over the transom. Pennies from heaven. These and other expressions describe the pleasant surprise of receiving an order nobody had to ask for ? a sale that didn't have to be ?sold.?
FOUND MONEY. Business over the transom. Pennies from heaven. These and other expressions describe the pleasant surprise of receiving an order nobody had to ask for — a sale that didn't have to be “sold.”
A growing number of AV dealers hope the Internet can be a means of generating these valuable new revenues, and several hundred have signed on to a new web e-commerce portal called AV Highway (www.avhighway.com).
The site is paying off for some dealers, but could be much more valuable if dealers took greater advantage of it by doing some basic promotion, its manager says.
“We started the site about two years ago, but we've only really begun to work on it in the last few months,” says Shelly Goldstein, president of AVAS-VIP, a division of New Jersey-based VCOM International Multimedia Corp. AVAS-VIP bills itself as “the AV Dealer Superstore,” offering wholesale pricing on a wide range of AV products. The company launched AV Highway to give hundreds of AV dealers a true e-commerce presence on the web.
As Goldstein describes it, AV Highway offers a shortcut to full-fledged e-commerce for AV dealers who may have websites, but haven't been able to add more ambitious functions like order and credit card processing. “Traditional AV dealers often don't have sophisticated web-sites with e-commerce capabilities,” Goldstein says. “AV Highway gives them that.”
When an AV dealer enrolls in AV Highway, the company receives a code number it can pass on to its customers. The customer then navigates to AVHighway.com and enters the dealer's code number. The website opens an online display of products that dealer offers. “A lot of people are using AV Highway as a place to direct people in lieu of mailing a catalog,” Goldstein says.
Placing an order is easy, but instead of going directly to the dealer, the order goes to AVAS-VIP. The dealer gets an automated email notification of the order and the opportunity to decide whether to require a credit card number or accommodate the customer with an open account.
Goldstein notes that some dealers may have long-term customers shopping through the website and are more than happy to extend credit, while requiring the card numbers of new customers.
AVAS-VIP also takes responsibility for drop-shipping the product to the customer. “For any orders that come in over AV Highway, we act as a distributor,” Goldstein says, adding that this role is the source of AVAS-VIP's revenue from the service. Dealers don't pay any fees to participate.
For Joe Chip, owner of Audio Visual Solutions in West Berlin, NJ, these features have been particularly valuable in serving the company's large clientele among school districts.
“About 95 percent of our business is with schools,” Chip says. Although large purchases are usually handled through a competitive bidding process administered by the local school board, each school or individual department usually has the authority to make smaller buys on its own, Chip notes.
“I couldn't possibly put paper catalogs in everyone's hands,” Chip says. “It has been much easier just to put my catalog on the Internet.”
Teachers, librarians, and other buyers now have a chance to peruse product offerings without having to deal directly with a salesperson. They can make their decisions on their own, and quickly and easily acquire the products they want. “Schools can just go on AV Highway and place their small orders,” Chip adds.
Chip says he's already seen a concrete impact on his bottom line. “This has probably increased my sales by 10 or 15 percent already, and it's growing,” he says.
In addition to the added revenue, one of the major appeals of AV Highway is, of course, the prospect of receiving equipment orders nobody had to go out and chase. Even at a relatively small volume, these effortless orders can produce a very welcome profit each month for participating AV dealers.
“A dealer may have a small brochure or a catalog,” Goldstein says. “If they put the AV Highway URL on every brochure, every piece of mail, and do all the simple marketing things, they'll be getting orders for things they aren't even promoting.”
Too many dealers, though, aren't doing the basic marketing and as a result, they aren't getting the full benefit from AV Highway, Goldstein adds. He says the website has about 300 dealers signed up as members, but only about 75 have ever received an order through the site.
AVAS-VIP and the member dealers share a responsibility to change this situation, Goldstein says. “Most people aren't doing anything to drive traffic to their own websites,” he says. Still less expend the effort needed to generate customer flow at AV Highway. “We provide support, but most of them really don't know how to do it,” Goldstein says.
AV Highway is also stepping up its own promotion, he adds, planning online advertising through such sites as Google. “We'll get the end-users to the site and match them up with dealers,” he says.
In the last six months, Goldstein adds, AV Highway has also broadened its appeal, reaching out to school supply companies and other firms he describes as “affiliate types.” The presence and promotion of these firms will also boost the attractiveness of AV Highway among school buyers.
Chip says his firm's target audience in elementary education is becoming more valuable and active online. “In the beginning, teachers weren't so Internet-savvy,” he says.
That's changing, he adds, and a growing number of education buyers are finding tools like AV Highway an ideal way to make many of their routine purchases. “This has definitely been an asset for me,” Chip says.
John McKeon is an independent consultant and writer based in the Washington D.C. area. He can be reached at email@example.com.