Thirty sales, marketing, information technology and senior management representatives from 17 plumbing manufacturers attended PMI's second IT forum May 14-15 in Rosemont, Ill.

The forum focused on the vision and strategy of e-commerce initiatives from several viewpoints, including marketplace exchanges, construction industry retail, and software integration. The forum sought to answer four questions:

  • What are the visions and Internet strategies of marketplace exchanges, retailers and software integrators?
  • What does it take to thrive and survive in the proliferating "B2B" world? And what do companies need from plumbing manufacturers?
  • How can the plumbing manufacturing industry meet those needs and exist in a mutually beneficial relationship?
  • How are other industries using e-commerce to their benefit?

    To help PMI members answer these questions, representatives of Home Depot, ChanneLinx, U.S. Build, BuildNet, Hanley-Wood LLC, and Merillat shared their companies' strategies and different uses of the internet.

    One of the most interesting presentations was that of Randy Altmann, Plumbing Merchant for Home Depot. Altmann called for a realistic perception of the Internet and the ways in which the Internet will aid e-commerce.

    One of the interesting points of his presentation centered on streamlining Web sites with the rest of the company. This means, for one, not having the Web site compete directly with your business. Altmann implied businesses should think of how the site can aid customers in their current buying habits at the business and not try to "revolutionize" the method of shopping that customers use. He pointed out how customers of Home Depot "wanted to use the site to plan their shopping and pick up their orders at the store."

    Altmann also suggested streamlining the Web site within the company. He asked, "Who has your data? Sales is usually in charge, but the technology people usually load it. Who owns the process? Marketing? IS? Sales? Those Web people?" Altmann says that many companies need to figure out the best way for them to incorporate their e-commerce strategy into their own business model.

    However, another challenge Altmann identified is the lack of industry standards for updating and distributing information. He pointed out that via simple links, traffic from Home Depot's site is very capable of over-running a manufacturer's Web site because they are unable to handle the volume of visitors that Home Depot's site sends. Altmann suggested one possible option for coping with a lack of industry standards is increasing the number of co-hosted Web sites.

    PMI will continue to offer industry forums such as this and other issues as necessary. For more information, call 847/884-9PMI or visit its Web site