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Fellow Underfooters,

It has come to my attention that for several quarters now, our archrival, Unfettered Stompings, Inc., has presumably been ahead of us in the use of this web thing. And some are telling me that while we have a web site that is a wonderful approximation of our highly regarded full-color brochure, (though I’m still troubled by the web site’s inadequate reproduction of the exact paper stock that I chose for our highly regarded full-color brochure) we may be missing out on some of the nuances of this web thing.

Well, show me one single deal that has ever been closed by the web, and I will take these concerns seriously. As you all know, I have never even used the web. And no one in my immediate circle has, either. And more importantly, our customers aren’t using the web.

In fact, just the other day, I called one of our best customers, Reese Loobank of Loobank Partials and Spares in Thrallkinder, Illinois. As many of you know, Reese has been a customer of Sullen-Underfoot for some 67 years. I asked Reese about the web and he snorted, “Now, Bucky, I wouldn’t be worrying about that. Stick to the fundamentals. A handshake. An earnest gaze. One of those glow-in-the-dark beer steins. And, as you know, you’ll have our firm’s business until they carry me out of here feet first.”

(Our hearts and prayers go out to Reese, his lovely wife, Benita and their two highly personable daughters, Perdinia and Mistyrae, as Reese, who will be 104 in June, recovers from his most recent round of various maladies and surgeries and hayfever.)

Our webmaster, Tommy Lipinski, who is a really good, eager kid and all, just forwarded me a report from a New York research firm that indicates some 14 percent of our market is, in fact, using the web to make purchase decisions. 14 percent. Not a very impressive number. ( I should have just let that report sit in my in-box, but Normena kept insisting that I give it a once-over. She who must be served.) I predict that 14 percent number will remain static or even decline, going forward. What the report doesn’t say is more important than what it says. It doesn’t tell us whether that 14 percent is actually buying anything or just kicking the tires. And it doesn’t tell us how many purchasing dollars these folks control. I’m guessing not many.

So a few junior purchasing folks are using the web during office hours, mind you — and answering surveys from New York research organizations. Is this something we should be concerned about? Not me.

Admittedly, Unfettered Stompings, Inc., has been beating the living tar out of us lately, landing several large deals. There has been some loose talk about an “extra-net” helping them get more out of existing business. Plus something about a “knowledge management” thing and being able to enter a customer’s order on a portable computer. But, I can assure you, their web experiments have nothing to do with their recent success and will, over time, prove to be costly distractions.

Right now, we’re just flat-out getting beat on fundamentals. Our sales people are doing a piss-poor job of communicating Sullen-Underfoot’s clear superiority. And, as you and I know, everything comes right back to a motivated and aggressive sales force. With the recent hiring of our new VP of Worldwide Sales, Lon Casterblank, who is known to be stronger than a garlic milkshake, I expect a rapid turn around in our fortunes.

When I asked Lon about the web, well, you can just imagine what he said. Here’s the cleaned-up version: “Bucky, the web is just another gimmick like these glow-in-the-dark beer steins we send our best customers. Except the beer steins actually stick in the mind like peanut butter. Good gimmicks stick. The web doesn’t stick at all. And can you call the web and ask it a question? Or can you chew it out when it screws up and loses your order because Connie in Customer Service, God bless her and nothing personal, misplaces a manila folder? And when a handful of Possumer-Funk’s drivers are polishing off some Tall Boys at a rest stop on I-90 instead of hightailing it to our loading dock with that rush order, how’s the web gonna change that? And does the web have a strong handshake and some hockey tickets? And will the web ever send you a glow-in-the-dark beer stein when your daughter has her first baby? Or your Momma dies? Hell, no.”

In closing, I just want to remind us all that there is — and will be — no substitute for aggressive selling, personal contact, good service, attention to detail, and the well-established Sullen-Underfoot portfolio of quality products. And I am pleased to report that phone requests for our 7,000-page annual catalog have never been higher.

Keep the faith,

Bucky Sullen


This Business article was written by Chris Maher on 3/18/2005