Chown Hardware is the largest family-owned distributor of quality door hardware and plumbing fixtures in the USA. Chown used LANSA for the Web to develop an online product catalog. While the cost of printing a color catalog was prohibitive in the past, Chown will give customers a full color online catalog with extensive search facilities. Customers will even be able to take a 'virtual tour' of the showroom.
Fred Chown, President, explains "Saving costs was not the main objective. Better service to our customers and new sales opportunities is the real aim. LANSA let us keep development costs down by using our own in-house IT skills, our existing system and our existing data for an eCommerce extension to our core business. By doing so, although we are a relatively small family company, we are one of the first in our line of business to offer this kind of service to the public."
"I am happy that almost 10 years ago (1990) we decided to use LANSA, when nobody had heard yet of the Internet," concludes Fred. "Now we can extend our existing systems to the Internet and re-use our existing data and infrastructure. To reuse the same technology on the Internet is the only way that makes it possible for small companies like us."
"With LANSA and the AS/400 I can do it as a small company. I can even be one of the first. I could not do it any other way."
We are entering a new era of interconnection between customers, distributors and suppliers. LANSA eBusiness solutions will give us a competitive advantage in this new era
David Chown, Treasurer, explains "We used to print black and white product catalogs once every 3 years. The moment we printed a catalog it was already out of date, even though the price lists to these catalogs were updated and printed separately every 6 months."
"The cost of printing a catalog is relatively high for companies like us who distribute small to medium volumes. Black and white catalogs for our volume cost about $3 a piece and another $1 for the price lists. Posting the catalogs costs about $2 per address. These costs exclude labor. Color catalogs would cost around $7 per copy instead of $3."
"With the new Web catalog we will achieve significant savings. Initially we will continue to provide a printed catalog, but in smaller numbers. Eventually we hope to stop with the printed version completely. The average cost per order should come down as well, as online order entry will gradually be adopted by our customers."
Easier eBusiness Implementation with LANSA
John Simmons, Information Systems manager, explains how the LANSA Repository and scaleable AS/400 performance smooth the implementation. "The Chown Online Catalog features over 6000 products, this is a subset of what we have in our showroom. With these kind of quantities you need a data driven approach. If you have only 100 items, you may be able to hardcode your products on static HTML pages, but we need a dynamic data driven approach."
"Web users can view items by product category or by brand. Users can also do a text search on product attributes such as model, style and finish. Using a data driven approach, Web pages are composed ‘on the fly' when a user makes a search request. The response times are very fast with our current number of users, but once the Web site becomes more heavily used, we can simply purchase a separate or larger AS/400."
"The first version of the online catalog took only 3 weeks to develop using LANSA for the Web. A second version with several improvements and a powerful search engine developed with LANSA, took only 2 weeks to develop. The biggest task was creating the data and images for our catalog. Luckily we could re-use a lot of the data we store for our printed black and white catalog and our monthly flyers, which are also based on information extracted from our AS/400 files."
"The catalog is organized into categories of brands and products. When we you view a particular category, such as cabinet drawer knobs, you will see a list of corresponding thumbnails pictures and descriptions. You can click on an item and zoom in to see a bigger color picture with a detailed description and a table of item numbers, various sizes, selling prices and availability."
Fred comments "Through LANSA and IBM®, what we do internally can be instantly used externally as well. We don't have to maintain separate systems or database files. By maintaining our own internal database we now also automatically update the Web site. If you have close to 10,000 items, that is the only way to do it. I am doing this for my own employees as much as I am doing it for my customers. Our internal staff will use the same application as our customers. Of course our own staff will get some additional facilities."
"To keep costs low, we bought a digital camera and scanner," continues Fred. "We created and scanned most product images ourselves. We have a very good core business. We make a healthy profit. If and when we get more business via the Internet, that would be great. If we don't, that is OK too, because LANSA let us build our on-line catalog without great costs."
"It is not just the savings we hope to achieve with the online catalog, it is also the quality. We always wanted to show our products in color, but it was cost prohibitive to print a color catalog. Now we can offer color images on the Web for a very affordable cost," enthuses John.
"Our Residential Hardware Division may benefit the most by having its products on the Web. Consumers who are having a house built or renovated want to view products. Also builders and architects will be better informed to make recommendations to the home owner. Builders and designers who have a color printer can now print their own color images and discuss these with their customer."
"Another advantage of the on-line catalog is that it is always up to date and is immediately available. It can be a different catalog every day. When we have a new product, it may be included that same day. We will extend our promotion system for the Web and may offer weekly specials."
"The Internet also delivers much faster. When a customer requests a copy of our printed catalog, it may take a week before it actually arrives. The Internet lets customers access our catalog online and even take a virtual tour of the showroom." concludes John.
"At the moment we have almost 10 operators taking phone orders. Because of the large number of phone orders, our company has already the right procedures in place for picking lists and courier delivery. With the addition of the Web catalog we expect more orders to be placed and at a lower cost."
"We expect an increase in sales because of the on-line catalog. When this will happen will depend of course on the acceptance of the Internet. While I am convinced that the Internet is going to be a huge commercial medium, I don't know how long it will take. But, I also believe that the companies who get there first will do best. We are trying to be out there early to catch the early business and to be the name that people recognize."
"When we previewed this application on our Intranet at an open house for the public, it dawned on me that someday we will spend most of our time developing for our customers rather than internal staff. We are entering a new era. It is an era of interconnectivity between customers, distributors and suppliers. eBusiness and tools like LANSA for the Web enable us to gain competitive advantage in this new era of communication," says John.
"I am happy that almost 10 years ago (1990) we decided to use LANSA, when nobody had heard yet of the Internet," concludes Fred. "Now we can extend our existing systems to the Internet and re-use our existing data and infrastructure."
"To reuse the same technology on the Internet is the only way that makes it possible for small companies like us. With LANSA and the AS/400 I can do it as a small company. I can even be one of the first. I could not do it any other way."
LANSA – Productive and Flexible
"We like the flexibility of the product and the easy integration with existing files," continues John. "Developing with LANSA is about 5 times faster then developing with RPG. The re-use of repository definitions makes the tool so efficient. Not only for development, but also for maintenance."
"It took us less then a week to do our Year 2000 date conversions for LANSA developed applications. The fact that all date storage and date presentation is done a data dictionary level, made it relatively easy. It took us several months to convert our RPG applications that were not developed using LANSA."
"Moreover we get better quality applications with fewer errors. The applications also all have a consistent look and feel, which is very much appreciated by our users."
"Having already LANSA skills, it was quite easy to pick up LANSA for the Web. I followed a three day LANSA for the Web course that covered the Web extensions to LANSA and some HTML. I did not learn any CGI and indeed so far never had to write any CGI."
"We are happy LANSA's multilingual facilities. We may extend our market further to the south and offer a Spanish product catalog. We may extend further to the North and offer a French catalog to the Canadian public."
Fred comments "I wish we could go full blown eCommerce right away, but we need some more time to re-develop our internal order system as well. Putting our catalog on the Web is a good start, but we will not really see the benefits until people can actually order via the Web. We will offer Web based order facilities both to our internal staff and to the public within a few months. Users will register and get their own user identification. The pricing structure of our catalog is based on volume and our regular customers will be charged different prices than new customers."
"The next Web extension we have planned is for our architect division," explains John. "Our architectural division, who designs and tenders for large projects, for example all door fixtures for a factory, universities or hotel, are currently using a custom built LANSA application. This application features many levels of drilling down for details about a project. For example, levels can include: contractor - project - change order - doors openings and door hardware. The application summarizes the number of doors, locks and other hardware per project. This helps the project manager to plan the purchasing for the project. This application already lets us offer the best service available in this line of business."
"We plan to make this same information available on the Web to project managers and builders who may work on projects across the nation. These people are usually not our own staff. Project managers and builders can register and will get their own user code and password. They will then be able to access additional information, such as the status of their order (when shipped, in which box and pallet, etc.) on door hardware for their project."
Company and System Information
- Chown Hardware was established in 1879 and is the largest family-owned distributor of commercial door hardware and residential door and cabinet hardware and plumbing fixtures in the US.
- The company has 4 divisions: Residential Door and Cabinet Hardware and Decorative Plumbing, Commercial Hardware, Commercial Locksmith Services, Architectural Hardware
- Chown's landmark Hardware Store in Portland, Oregon covers more than 30,000 sq. ft of floor space and carries an inventory of up to $1 million or more of stock.
- Chown has over 60 employees.
- The IT department is small, with only one AS/400 developer and one PC developer.
- Chown's catalog application was trialled by Chown staff on an Intranet before going live to the public.
- An AS/400 Model 600 is currently used for both production and Web applications. Chown may buy an additional AS/400 dedicated to the online catalog, once the number of Web users justifies this purchase.
- Visit Chown Hardware at www.chown.com