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Monday, May 18, 2015

Web Commerce: The Great Equalizer

Since the mid-1990s, it’s been easy to see how web commerce has disrupted many traditional business models. Early on, Amazon disrupted traditional bookstores, and Netflix disrupted video stores. More recently, Uber is disrupting the taxi industry, and AirBnB is threatening the traditional hospitality industry.

But what’s not so apparent is how web commerce has become the great equalizer for small businesses. This is true in at least three ways.
  • Market presence. Traditional marketing channels, such as broadcast media, print advertising, and direct mail, required substantial budgets. Today, a small supplier with a well-designed and well-functioning e-commerce website and good natural search results can rank right up there with major brands. 
  • Global reach. Prior to the commercialization of the Internet, it took substantial investment for a supplier to grow its business internationally. But today, even the smallest manufacturer can be found by prospects in overseas markets. Using international distributors and third-party logistics, small suppliers today can more easily serve buyers around the globe.
  • Cost efficiency. Economies of scale still count in making and distributing physical products. But a well-functioning e-commerce site that is integrated with back-end systems, such as ERP, can cut costs for small suppliers. Combined with cloud systems on the back-end, small businesses can enjoy productivity gains from information systems without having to support a large IT staff.
In other words, an entrepreneur with a business concept or a fresh product design can start a business and scale it in a way that was not easily done twenty years ago.

Small Companies Acting Bigger

In NetSuite's most recent user conference, CEO Zach Nelson touched briefly on this point. He said something to the effect that, with its integrated ERP and e-commerce capabilities, NetSuite was helping small companies act bigger. (He also said that it was equally important to help large companies act smaller, but that’s a thought for another post).

I made a note of Nelson’s remarks, and didn’t think much about them until I attended a reception for press and industry analysts later that evening. There, I found myself chatting with John Baker (CEO) and Alan Blackford (COO) of Thos. Baker, a supplier of outdoor furniture. They told me that NetSuite was working on a video about their business. After the reception, Baker sent me the pre-publication video link and I found it an inspiring story.

In the video, Baker tells how he had been commuting to his tech industry job in Seattle for many years, but he aspired to do something interesting that would allow him to work close to his family on Bainbridge Island. So, he started his outdoor furniture business to combine his interest in technology with his interest in design.

Baker points out that setting up web commerce for this sort of business is quite complex. His operational strategy makes extensive use of outsourced manufacturing, with furniture frames stocked in the warehouse on Bainbridge Island, the cushions from a supplier in Alabama, the umbrellas from California, the fire pits from Tennessee. Though the supply chain is complex, but the integrated system allows the firm to appear to its customers as if it were a much large company. When we are talking to our customers, they are comparing us to companies that are somewhere between 40 to 400 times our size,” he said.

Click the image below to watch the video. It’s a promotional video for NetSuite, of course. But it’s an inspiring story nonetheless.


Just how small is Thos. Bros? I believe the firm has just five employees, and all of them appear in the video.

Related Posts

NetSuite Enhances Its Manufacturing Functionality
NetSuite Manufacturing: Right Direction, Long Road Ahead

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by Frank Scavo, 5/18/2015 04:25:00 PM | permalink | e-mail this!

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Independent analysis of issues and trends in enterprise applications software and the strengths, weaknesses, advantages, and disadvantages of the vendors that provide them.

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