State of the Industry - 1996
"The connection was so fast that people didn't mind spending another $10 a month, so they jumped ship. We ended up selling out, got out alive and kept some of the Web service," Williams said. "We were actually trying to get DSL from Verizon and be the distributor in the area, but they kept holding us off. The next thing we knew, they were selling it direct, so they kind of went around us."
The Internet also changed the amount of control companies have over their clients. To test its
Internet capabilities, in 1995 TopForm Software introduced an Internet application so its customers could enter support requests online and view additional requests. This often poses a challenge for automation. For instance, distributors may have a certain system in place for handling multiple orders for end-users. Distributors lose some of their control when their customers can perform this on the Web. Said McBride, "We see customers struggle with that because it's a very sales-driven organization most of the time. They'll do whatever they need to do to get the sale, and they may have a lot of special procedures in place that aren't always easily automated."
The Here and Now
So, how does the industry look today? Promotional products are big for TopForm Software. The company recently developed EC Promo, an online tool for ordering promotional products such as shirts and hats.
Office products are another popular niche. "We've had some very good success stories about people who implemented the module, and in the first month showed a profit on their return on investment," McBride related.
With the increasing popularity of electronic forms, Victor Printing is finding traditional paper-based forms becoming its own niche market. "Last year, our forms sales were flat. We didn't gain, but we didn't lose, so we consider that a victory," Williams stated.