Hope Katz Gibbs

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Three Steps to Improved Business Operations [Verizon / Smart Business UPDATE]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Verizon UPDATE
Cover story
Photo by Greg Pease

IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT TECHNOLOGICAL advancements are permeating the world, from V-chips in TVs, smart cards at the supermarket checkout, and bits of silicon in hotel room keys.

Companies are incorporating new technology into their business practices to save time and money, Large companies have long used Internet technology to integrate front office operations with back office processes.

Dell Computer Corp,, which has been selling its products via the Internet since 1996, earns an estimated $40 million in daily sales and generates 43 percent of its revenue online.

Fortunately, high-tech offerings are not just for large businesses. Smaller companies are increasingly creating intranets, a) extranets, (D and supply-chain management systems to make front and back office operations more efficient and effective.

Has the time come for your company to leap into the world of the technologically advanced? If so, then consider what some other Verizon customers have done, and take it one step at a time.

Step 1: Research Your Options

Tony Mazlish wants to improve logistics at his seven-year-old company, The HealthyBack Store. With 24 stores around the country, his company has a central computer system in McLean, VA. Each night, it electronically polls the stores, tracking sales and inventory of ergonomically correct Herman Miller chairs and NASA-designed Temper-pedic mattresses, among his other products.

The company also has two Web sites, which pulled in about 15 percent of the company’s $9.5 million in sales last year: www.SIT4LESS.com and www.HealthyBack.com.

But Mazlish knows there is more technology available that will enable him to serve his customers better. He has already taken the first step toward integrating new processes: He has identified what he wants. “If a customer calls to find out when their bed will be delivered, I want our salespeople to be able to go to the computer and find out exactly where that bed is, “ he says. “ I also want my staff to be able to access valuable marketing information that currently is buried deep in our computer’s database—something we can’t do with our present system. “

Mazlish is considering integrating a supply-chain management system so he can order merchandise electronically from vendors. He also plans to install a company intranet so employees from all his stores can access policy manuals and communicate with each other more easily. “I have taken my time to learn about the technology out there,” he says. “I am confident that by 2001, I’ll have upgraded my back office systems. I’m motivated to do it because I know better systems will help us improve customer service. That’s the best reason in the world.’

STEP 2: Listen to Your Customers

Mounir Murad wanted to be more responsive to his customers. Since founding his printing company, Imaging Zone, he has heard the same request from the artists and designers who use his services.

They wanted to use the Internet to electronically send artwork and specifications for brochures, letterhead, and business cards, instead of trekking to his office. Murad and his marketing vice-president, Mario Chakkour, realized the benefits of working online and responded to the request.

Now customers can log onto his Website, www.imagingzone.com, to place an order. They fill out a job jacket online and, with the Macintosh program Stuffit or the PC program PKZIP, compress the components of the job such as fonts, linked images, and application files. Then, with a simple click of the mouse they send all the elements as attachments. Murad prints a proof of the job and couriers the finished product to the client. No one travels; no one loses time. And Murad can hold onto the digital artwork if the client wants to reprint the job in the future.

Murad sees high-tech advancement as the future of his industry.

“Almost all of my 300 customers use the new technology,” he says. “This process saves time, and therefore money, for my customers. In turn, that benefits me because when you make it easier for people to use your services, they will use your services.”

STEP 3: Expand Your Business

hi 1998, Jane Westerbeck banked on creating an e-commerce company that could sustain itself solely with high-tech offerings. She founded LifeTrends International and began selling the herbal supplement Metabolife 356 on her first Web Site, www.herbaltrends.com. Within months, she sold thousands of bottles and earned more than $250,000—enough seed money to launch two other Web-based companies in 1999: www.LTItoys.com, and www.JavaTrends.com.

The company has exceeded Westerbed’s expectations, running with only eight full-time employees who oversee the high-tech Internet applications that take orders online, process credit cards, ship merchandise, and track customers and corporate expenses.

LifeTrends recently upgraded its technology when it electronically connects to a dozen of its vendors. The upgrade is likely to boost the bottom line again this year, says Westerbeck, who expects revenue to jump from the $2 million she earned in 1999 to a projected $10 million in 2000. “It’s a manageable goal because the technology is already in place” she says. “Our high-tech systems enable us to continue to grow at a rapid pace. I truly believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”

*****
Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in Alexandria, VA, who specializes in writing business articles for corporations, newspapers (The Washington Post and USA Today), and a variety of business magazines. She can be reached at hope@hopegibbs.com.

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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