Dot.coms for grounds care

Many green-industry professionals are finding the value of business-to-business e-commerce invaluable, but how exactly is it changing the way they do business?

No need for phone calls, faxes or meetings. Gone are the days of standing in line and loading up the truck, or running a phone bill sky-high and waiting on hold just to place an order. Got a computer? Getting online has never been more convenient these days, especially for business.

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Most Americans have heard of the Dow Jones industrial average and the NASDAQ index, but surprisingly few have heard or read about "the new economy," according to a recent survey by Scudder Kemper Investments.

Among people who said they knew what the phrase "new economy" meant, only 28 percent cited the "high-tech economy" or "high-tech stocks." A majority (61 percent) said that they found talk of dot-com companies to be confusing. The crankiest ones (38 percent) reported being fed up with hearing about technology and internet companies.

But a survey recently published by Forrester Research predicts that a vast majority of U.S. corporations will turn more to e-commerce in the next 2 years. They will be drawn by emerging "e-marketplaces" where goods are sold through auctions, bid systems and exchanges. In addition, the GartnerGroup predicts that these "e-market makers" will represent 37 percent of the overall business-to-business (B2B) market and 2.6 percent of worldwide sales transactions. They will be using the e-marketplace as a way to connect with a wider universe of buyers and sellers, explains Steven J. Kafka, e-business trade research analyst for Forrester.

The president and CEO of e-Greenbiz.com, Inc., John Cochran, says, "Like many industries, this industry is ready to benefit from the efficiencies that online trading and commerce offer."

Cochran explains that the technology necessary to begin using online options is minimal and inexpensive. "You need a computer with a standard modem and an e-mail address, and you're ready to get started."

One-stop shopping Forrester Research expects online sales to vault from $4.8 billion in '98 to $17 billion in 2001. Surprisingly, only 20 percent of wired adults and only 5 percent of North Americans have made even one online purchase, according to Forrester.

Cochran notes that one of the greatest advantages of doing business online is the opportunity for one-stop-shopping. "Instead of looking through 10, 20 or 30 catalogs or websites, you can now type in a product name such as `fertilizer' and instantly compare product features, availability, locale and pricing of the many fertilizer manufacturers that are registered with the site," he says. But, poor product selection, difficult site navigation and slow connections can all keep shoppers offline.

The stumbling block cited most often by merchants and consumers is fear, according to Forrester. They report that 52 percent of Americans using the Internet do not buy online due to fear of stolen credit-card information and the distribution of personal information. Rapidly improving technology is quickly reducing risks. Hopefully, buyers' fears will drop as well.

The future of e-commerce AMR Research, Inc.'s Business-to-Business Report, 1999-2000, states that B2B e-commerce will be adopted at a more accelerated rate than many companies realize and reach $5.7 trillion by 2004. The firm estimates that industry leaders will move 60 to 100 percent of their transactions to the internet over the next 2 years. Furthermore, the report states that companies that do not take an aggressive approach to B2B e-commerce and prepare for digital marketplaces will lose customers and ultimately fail.

AMR Research reveals that the projection is based on the U.S. Department of Commerce's measurement capturing the value of all shipments of companies doing business in the United States. The firm also states that beyond mere participation in digital marketplaces, companies must also implement technology and processes to benefit from B2B commerce.

Charlie Pick, vice president of Garden-ville, Inc. and a member of the e-Greenbiz.com board of advisors explains, "Green-industry folks by nature are more down-to-earth than other business people, but they are no less serious about business." He adds, "Taking advantage of e-commerce solutions is leveling the playing field between larger and smaller companies. The global reach of the internet is enabling smaller businesses to compete with large-scale corporations. They are able to take advantage of opportunities that were previously available only to the bigger players who have the benefit of buying departments, national sales distribution and agents."

In fact, e-commerce is becoming so popular that some insist green-industry professionals can no longer afford to consider it optional. John O'Malley, president of Legacy Landscape Management, Inc. says that the long-term benefit of e-commerce is enormous. "It's time for folks to get out of old habits that we've established for years and years. The norm of how we conduct business is changing. E-commerce is a platform to share information that will make us more efficient. We can totally change the way we do things and make a lot more money."

One of the benefits that O'Malley attributes to e-commerce is the ability to interact with suppliers nationwide just as efficiently. "We have a new supplier that we've never used before that we've been able to establish a relationship with by utilizing e-commerce."

O'Malley, who also conducts a gardening program on NBC Sunday mornings, says that there are misconceptions towards e-commerce that may be preventing it from becoming as large as it could be. One fear is that high technology may reduce the number of "people" jobs. This is because interpersonal relationships within business are changing. Although these relationships may now be done on a computer screen instead of at the local hamburger joint, it's only giving people another role within the business, O'Malley says. "This can be considered a tweak on how you do business." Another misconception he states is that some people think e-commerce can only benefit large corporations, although it can really benefit any size company. "If you go on the Internet expecting a miracle, it's not going to happen," he warns. "We still have a long way to go."

Web-savvy professionals are beginning to embrace the concept of purchasing goods online. Business-to-business (B2B) websites are providing suppliers with the ability to reach new prospects through auction features and liquidate surplus inventory or perishable goods. The buyer is gaining the buying opportunity of thousands and thousands of vendors and the ability to establish new relationships with sellers all over the country. Here are a few of the B2B sites green-industry professionals are taking advantage of:

- e-Greenbiz.com. Buyers search by botanical or common name, complete and submit a single request for bid (RFB) form. The system then searches its internal database and automatically sends a RFB to all growers of the specified green goods. It also includes an online auction for excess and seasonal inventory.

- Egarden.com. This B2B website was created solely to facilitate the bringing together of buyers and sellers of lawn and garden merchandise. The company intends to tighten the relationship between supplier and consumer by promoting price discovery and drive the inefficiency out of buying and selling. Auctions are also being conducted on this site with manufacturers placing inventory overages and closeouts on the block. The company acquired findplants.com in April, an online plant catalog and locator service for B2B growers and wholesalers.

- Professional Golf Commerce (pgcgolf.com). Professional Golf Commerce offers golf-course maintenance specific equipment and supplies for the golf industry. Buyers pay an annual membership fee in order to access the exclusive PGC golf market Buyer-Vendor Community and e-commerce services.

- Greentrac.com. This site offers virtually anything to do with turf installation and management. It offers two primary services that feed the entire green-industry purchasing life cycle. An electronic Request for Purchase (RFP) component provides a unified marketplace where purchasers can easily locate and buy new equipment, services and supplies, and vendors can access new customers and markets. The RFP component quickly provides users with multiple bids.

- Growzone (growzone.com). Growzone allows qualified buyers to view, compare and purchase products through an online catalog, and provides ecommerce capabilities to growers and allied suppliers wishing to sell their products and services online to garden centers, distributors and landscapers.

- I-com Industry (I-comindustry.com). I-Com Industry is an online auction site designed for high-value capital machinery and property. It gives buyers time to find, inspect, evaluate, test and arrange financing prior to the bid opening date.

- GolfSat (golfsat.com). This is a golf-course management "portal" for industry news, weather, technical information, research, communications and transactions.

- Golf Course Supplies.com (golfcoursesupplies.com). This is an online directory of suppliers for fertilizer, chemicals, employee amenities, probes, samplers, turf, seed, topdress mixes and more. In addition, the site can direct users to facility supplies and management services.

- Green2go. (green2go.com). This business-to-business online marketplace for nurseries, lawn and garden centers and landscape-related professionals is new and not yet completely functional, but it is online and accepting user registrations.

Bulletin boards are also sparking more interest with professionals who want to communicate and network with others without the hassles of running up a phone bill or dealing with snail mail. General sites filled with green-industry information can be found on search-engine home pages such as yahoo.com, aol.com, excite.com and more.

However, professionals are using several sites focused on the professional side of turf and landscaping:

- Turfnet.com. This site offers news, employment postings, used equipment, library, equipment ratings, turf links, events and a discussion forum.

- Lawn Site (lawnsite.com). This active bulletin board site features discussion forums covering a variety of green-industry-related topics.

- Green Industry Consulting Inc. (greenindconsulting.com). This site features a variety of sections offering information related primarily to contracting, including discussion forums, classifieds and educational topics.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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