While manufacturers and retailers in other industries duke it out to win their fair share of cybershoppers, HomePoint is getting players in the $US75 billion home furnishings market to play nicely together in the snake pit of online sales.
Since January, the South Carolina startup has gotten more than 200 furniture makers and dealers to buy in to its Web-based supply-chain strategy. Under this model, manufacturers, retailers and HomePoint all earn a profit from online sales executed via HomePoint's Advantage Network.
`We realised from the start that you can't be a virtual company in the home furnishings business and be successful. You have to be able to deliver the product, handle returns and have a place for customer service,' said HomePoint CEO Mike West.
To accomplish that, HomePoint recruited established furniture retailers. By ordering through HomePoint, the retailers gain access to a greater range of products than they would through a traditional regional distributor.
And manufacturers gain a fatter potential customer base because, unlike many traditional distributors, HomePoint lists multiple products from competing manufacturers.
HomePoint links partners over an extranet using technology from Interworld in New York. It's also installing electronic catalogue kiosks in retailers' stores, so shoppers can browse through what manufacturers have to offer.
`Now, customers who go to a store and don't find what they want go to another store,' West said. `This way, they can go online [at the kiosk], and the dealer can check the status of inventory and place the order immediately.'
To encourage stores to install the electronic catalogues, HomePoint will offer free Internet access, CIO Barbara Jessen-White said. That was enough to sell the idea to Marty Bass, president of Bass Wholesale Furniture LLC.
`This is going to help me get off the launching pad,' Bass said. `With HomePoint's customer base, I'll be able to immediately have customers that I wouldn't have.'
Another benefit for retailers is access to better customer information, said John Jordan, an e-commerce analyst at Ernst & Young in Massachusetts.