With online transactions fast becoming the norm for both casual shoppers and businesses, paper catalogs look about as useful as a horse and buggy. The antiquity of paper is especially apparent when product updates have to reach customers as soon as possible. So when Holland, Ohio-based bearings and cast materials manufacturer Bunting Bearings decided to move its vast catalog onto the Internet and into the 21st century, it turned to the Navigator Platform from ThomasNet to meet its product
When Bunting Bearings LLC first began using ThomasNet, a Web-based product sourcing and supplier-discovery platform, ThomasNet.com, in 2009, the company was looking for new ways to help potential customers find its products. "The problem we had is that Bunting is like the Kleenex of the bearing industry," said Alistair Brixey, vice president of sales and marketing. "Everybody 50 and above knows Bunting really well, but the younger engineers coming through just were not that familiar with us. We needed to reinforce the brand and make our distributors more knowledgeable as well."
With all that on their plate, Brixey and his team at Bunting were faced with the daunting task of finding a technology option that would improve communication with customers and distribution partners. Brixey decided that ThomasNet could handle the task, because all the needed functionality was available in one package -- or rather, on one site, he said.
ThomasNet is an information and technology company that helps connect buyers and suppliers of industrial products and services, and provides marketing programs to help them share content online. These include design and development of websites with searchable product catalogs, downloadable 2D/3D CAD models and drawings, and e-commerce/shopping cart technology. ThomasNet has developed the Navigator Platform technology, which gives manufacturers a central resource and tools for managing and sharing product data -- which Bunting ultimately selected.
"By pooling all our information to one source, we could then get that out to our customers in the way that we wanted and could also give customers the ability to download drawings -- a really big time-saver for us and our customers," Brixey said.
Nailing product content management
Another selling point for ThomasNet was its ability to keep Bunting Bearings' product information up to date at all times, Brixey added. "One problem [with] a paper catalog [is that] when you change the tolerance on a bearing, that information [in the catalog] is suddenly out of date," he said. "With ThomasNet, we can update any specifications and it's immediately available on our website and to the people that we've syndicated the data to."
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The implementation was a smooth process, according to Brixey, mainly because it required minimal IT-related work from the team at Bunting. "Being a company that's 100 years old, all of our information was spread around everywhere," he said. "We pulled all that information together -- product descriptions and specs -- on a spreadsheet and just gave that spreadsheet to ThomasNet, and they did the rest of the work, getting the information into Navigator, producing the website, the drawings and keeping all of the data up to date."
Bunting uses ThomasNet's Navigator Platform to aggregate and maintain product data in a virtual catalog, employing every Navigator feature -- including product search and configuration, CAD drawing, and product content management -- except for the e-commerce tool. Since Bunting sells its products through a network of distributors, selling those products direct from its own website would be a contract violation, Brixey explained.
Navigator Platform helps customers find the right fit
Besides the convenience of an online, easily updated product catalog, Bunting has also found that ThomasNet improves customer satisfaction by allowing buyers to confirm that parts will fit before making a purchase, according to Brixey. "People looking for standard items [like bearings] can go to the website, download the drawings and they can also take the part drawing into their own CAD system to see if the part fits into their machine," he explained. "That saves the engineers a lot of trouble. [Access to CAD drawings] also helps our distributors come across as more knowledgeable to their own customers" because they can send along the downloaded CAD drawings directly, without having to refer their customers to a different source, he said.
Another benefit of ThomasNet's Navigator Platform is its ease of use, Brixey said. "Anybody who's never used the system before is only three or four clicks away from getting the drawing they want," he said. "And before you even get to the drawings, all of the product information is tabulated within our online catalog -- the temperature ranges, the tolerances -- everything an engineer would need is already there."
The ThomasNet platform has been warmly received by Bunting employees as well, Brixey added, as it saves them time that would otherwise be eaten up by searching across the company for CAD drawings and specifications.
One of the more surprising results of Bunting's use of ThomasNet has been new customers coming from unexpected places, such as Saudi Arabia and China, Brixey said. "The most important thing is globalization. We have the catalog, our internal salespeople and our external salespeople, and we see our website from ThomasNet as our fourth salesperson," he said. "It's a 24/7 salesperson," which has allowed Bunting to provide information and drawings to customers operating outside its regular business hours. "It's opened up export possibilities for us," Brixey said.
Bunting Bearings plans to expand its ThomasNet even further as the business continues to grow, according to Brixey. The company recently signed on for a new service from ThomasNet called Product Data Syndication. Through this service, ThomasNet takes manufacturers’ product data from Navigator, and provides it to distributors in the exact format that they require. Distributors then load this information into their ERP or other internal systems and share it as needed, such as on their own websites.
"We've already syndicated data on 8,000 of our products, as well as CAD drawings, to one of our largest distributors, and as we add more distributors, we'll be able to syndicate and share the same content," he said. Based on Bunting's success with the Navigator Platform so far, Brixey is confident that these future goals will be met.
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This was first published in May 2013