Wolf-Garten, a German manufacturer of gardening equipment, has invested a seven-figure sum in internet technologies to improve communications with its 6,000 European dealers.
This privately-owned company based in Betzdorf employs about 500 people and sells most of its products, such as lawnmowers, in May and June.
Traditionally, dealers sent orders to Wolf-Garten by phone or fax. Orders were processed and products despatched but often they arrived late.
To avoid missing sales opportunities in future, Wolf-Garten employed a web developer, USWeb/CKS in Dusseldorf, to design and build a network that would allow dealers to communicate with the company electronically.
Since many of the dealers are small firms, the solution had to be affordable and easy to use. Consequently the developers decided it should be based on the internet.
The network was launched in August 1998. To access it, dealers need a PC and internet access, preferably via an ISDN line. As an incentive to join up, Wolf-Garten offered special deals on the equipment and internet access, and by March this year 30% of German dealers were on-line receiving product information, checking availability and placing and tracking orders. Orders taken in this way are automatically entered into the company’s sales order processing system.
The firm says it has had a substantial increase in revenues generated by dealers who are on-line and use the system on a regular basis.
More recently, Wolf-Garten decided to expand the use of the network to provide product training and virtual service manuals. It believes this will improve the service to the end-customer.
Three organisations were involved in the development; USWeb/CKS, Lunatic Interactive (a Berlin-based Web agency that specialises in developing 3D content for the Web), and Intel.
Bernard Ries, Intel’s programme manager for electronic business in Germany, says: `Our role was as matchmaker between USWeb/CKS and Lunatic. We also provided technical resources.’
The virtual service manual allows dealers to watch the assembly and disassembly of key parts of products such as lawn mowers in 3D and then try it for themselves on screen. It uses Blaxxun VRML (virtual reality modelling language) technology – optimised for Intel’s Pentium III processor – to convert CAD data to VRML format and display that data quickly and realistically on-screen.