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Manufacturer moves catalog online to generate new leads

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Objective: Industrial Specialties Manufacturing, a manufacturer and distributor of miniature pneumatic, vacuum and fluid circuitry components, wanted to shift to an online business model and move its product catalog online. Strategy: Working with ThomasNet, ISM moved its product catalog to its Web site (www.industrialspec.com) and optimized that content so it could be found easily by search engines. It also established a presence at ThomasNet.com. Results: ISM had a 25-fold increase in conversion actions from 2007 to 2008. The number of links to the catalog from other Web sites grew 864%, and the number of user sessions doubled. Search engine referrals increased by about 12%. Overall, sales grew 15%.

Industrial Specialties Manufacturing (ISM), Englewood, Colo., is a manufacturer and distributor of miniature pneumatic, vacuum and fluid circuitry components. The company, which has 15 full-time employees, sells its products to purchasing agents and specifying engineers at companies in a variety of industries, including academic research; automotive; industrial; maintenance and repair; marine; medical/pharmaceutical; and technology. The company was founded in 1982 and acquired in 2006 by James Davis, a former technology executive.

Since its founding, ISM had relied on a 300-page print catalog, which listed the company's 150,000 products in 12 product lines, to sell to its customers. Though the catalog had been effective, it was costly and almost always outdated because the company's portfolio of products changed often.

So when Davis, ISM's president, took over the company three years ago, he set out to build a new, Web-based lead generation model. “I felt that we needed to migrate to an online business model and be able to take advantage of the various search engines and online marketing techniques, in addition to the more traditional channels of direct mail and paper catalog,” Davis said.

ISM began working with ThomasNet, a division of Thomas Publishing Co., to move its product catalog online. ThomasNet helped ISM update its Web site (at www.industrial spec.com), adding the entire product catalog and optimizing the site for search engines. It also added the product catalog to ThomasNet.com, an online destination that lists the products and services of 607,000 industrial companies and has 1 million visitors a month.

ThomasNet organized and uploaded ISM's full product line with new SKU and custom part numbers, item photos and diagrams. Visitors to ISM's site can search for items in 12 product categories and drill down to specify material composition, size, shape or function; they can also search by keyword or stock number. Users can compare items side by side, then request more information or quotes.

After moving its catalog online, ISM had a 25-fold increase in conversion actions—such as requesting a quote or information; registering for e-mails; or making a purchase—from 2007 to 2008. The number of links to the catalog from other Web sites grew 864%, to 4,532 in 2008 from 470 in 2007, and the number of user sessions doubled, to 10,676 from 4,870. Search engine referrals increased by about 12%.

Overall, sales grew 15% in 2008, and the catalog was the single largest contributor, Davis said.

Because the catalog is easily accessible and searchable, it has helped ISM attract new customers, Davis said. It also has helped the company sell new products to existing customers, he said. “I think it's very difficult over the past two years for any business to be recession-proof,” he said. “But we have been recession-resistant because of our online activities, with the catalog being the center point.”

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