Three's company

Usually, companies launch e-business initiatives to differentiate themselves from the competition. But what if you could better service your customer by partnering with your rivals?
Three years ago, The Timken Co. debuted “Timken Direct,” an internally maintained extranet that offered pricing, availability and online order capabilities to the manufacturer’s bearing and steel customers. While the extranet provided accurate information at the click of a mouse — compared to thumbing through catalogs and telephoning for more specific information — Timken wanted to offer its customers more options, says Jeff Guritza, senior marketing and communications analyst for Timken’s e-business initiatives.
Those options entailed partnering with three of Timken’s brawniest competitors — Rockwell Automation of Greenville, S.C., SKF Group of Gteborg, Sweden and INA Holding Schaeffler KG of Herzogenaurach, Germany — to form CoLinx LLC, the independent limited liability company that in January 2001 began powering a more potent endeavor.
Through (short for pass through place as an online portal for customer interaction), Timken and its competitors share Web-based services and integrated logistics for their products and services. As an online shopping mall for North American authorized distributors and original equipment manufacturers, offers a convenient electronic shopping site for industrial products.
“First we had our own house at Timken Direct, then we built a new house with Rockwell, SKF and INI,” says Guritza. “While each store in this virtual marketplace is actually a Timken competitor, joining forces to create this e-business initiative has enhanced Timken’s customer service.”
Describing the response to the new site as “fantastic,” Guritza says users especially appreciate the user tutorial, FAQ and help sections, online catalogs for each store (complete with product images and descriptions) and functions for pricing, availability, order and shipment status. Among other features, a purchasing list provides several customized sets of the user’s common purchases of vendor part numbers, and a search tool locates authorized distributors based on ZIP code.
“We continue to improve the site, adding new content and functionality, and we’re always looking for ways to speed up the process in a way that saves time and money for our distributors and our own customer service representatives,” Guritza says.
Gradually, says Guritza, will bring on other partner stores, providing even more customer options.
“It’s an exciting concept,” he says, “and we’re excited to be on the cutting edge of this innovative e-business initiative.”
How to reach: Timken e-Business initiatives (877) 384-6536 or [email protected]

Some things never change
While many have embraced e-business as the most efficient method of doing business, some people still prefer the old-fashioned way of using sales catalogs and the telephone.
That’s why a company must communicate the value of its e-business initiative to its intended audience, says Jeff Guritza, senior marketing and communications analyst for Timken’s e-business initiative.
Accordingly, Timken’s includes tutorials that walk users through the e-business process, from how to register and log on to how order online and beyond.
“Always consider your audience and their skill set, whether they’re internal salespeople or external distributors and customers,” says Guritza. “And remember that if your e-business initiative is to succeed, a culture change must occur first.”