Ryan Svilar is general manager of PanelShop.com, Monroeville, Pa.
The traditional business model of a local panel shop is going the way of many other industries before it, and creating new opportunities in an online world.
Understanding the instant gratification many markets now demand not only requires connecting with your customer base, but also truly comprehending root causes of problems, and forming solid strategy to help overcome these issues. In many instances, the online adaptation of a product or service can deliver the "instant," but being very calculated in how a product or service is available and customizable determines the "gratification."
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Standard purchasing policies have been widely implemented to help guard an organization's bottom line, but can present challenges in acquiring goods and services where logistical hurdles exist. Sources are not always nearby, and the ones that aren't can lose bids just from added shipping expenses. Not only do machine builders need their electrical control panels yesterday, but they need them without astronomical costs associated with physically receiving them in a timely manner. This is where having pre-engineered products can help absorb added logistical costs, and keep a non-local panel shop competitive in the multiple-bid game.
Another part of multiple-bid policies in purchasing that can create problems for end users is the time it takes to produce a quote. It can prove costly just waiting for a single quote, let alone three. Panel builders need to check for parts availability, cross-reference existing production schedules, ensure capabilities and any special build requirements, among other tasks, before a quote can even get to the real meat of price and leadtime. Timing can be everything, and sometimes trumps price. When a panel shop can properly save a machine builder or end user time, even just in the quoting process, those time savings can benefit all parties involved.
With e-commerce all but dissolving the geographical boundaries to conducting business, many organizations are finding increasing global diversity among their customer base. In the electrical world, this can present new opportunities for panel builders, or completely eliminate them from a potential job, depending on how they address the needs or requirements of varying international codes. Diversifying panel building skills with the ability to adhere to a wide range of electrical specifications or certifications can attract a more global customer base, and also add instant legitimacy and increase perceived core competencies. For example, UL is standard in the U.S. for testing and certifying, while Canada typically follows CSA requirements, and many overseas organizations follow IEC and CE regulations. Not embracing the varying electrical codes and certifications is certain to stagnate a customer base, and stunt growth possibilities.
One of the best ways to lower these hurdles is to stay consumer-centric, while adopting and developing the digital business model. Organizations that embrace online panel configurators can succeed only by ensuring that it's a positive user experience. We've found a positive user experience is a formula that can be simple in theory, but requires more thought in execution. Beyond just the panel shop industry, most people value instant gratification when shopping online. Achieving this is a combination of consumers easily finding exactly what they want, having the ability to customize it if necessary, and purchase it with confidence when they find it. From custom sneakers to designing your dream home, the demand is the same: give me what I want, let me easily find it, let me customize it to exactly what I need, and get it to me ASAP. The Internet has made answering those demands possible.
Our experience in addressing these customer needs has led us down the path of developing online panel configurators. This tool has played a vital role in time savings for quoting, speeding up the purchasing process, and delivering solutions to a diverse range of industries. Online configurators add standardization to traditional types of control panels, driving down costs, and mitigating risk in the process.
It is hard to think of a product, service or industry that hasn't found new opportunities in the online world. Try to come up with one. Whether it is uncovering a new market, streamlining logistics, or completely advancing an entire industry, the Internet has played an integral role. Panel building is no different.
The move to an online format for panel building can be summed up in three familiar yet simple words: faster, better, stronger.