Strange Webfellows

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At Gates Rubber Co., the collaboration between a young IT professional and a seasoned marketer drove the 90-year-old company’s Web site strategy.

It wasn’t an easy task. Denver-based Gates is a global manufacturer of power transmission and fluid power systems for automotive and industrial markets. Like many established, decades-old manufacturers, Gates’ distribution channel includes direct sales to original equipment manufacturers and indirect sales through hundreds of distributors. But its Web strategy would involve an e-commerce initiative, and for that Gates needed a team able to bridge the gap between marketing and technology. Just as important, the team would need to tread carefully when it came time to
communicate the value of the new Web site to the direct and indirect sales channels.

But while other manufacturers with similar goals struggle, Gates has succeeded, largely through the efforts of a pair of employees whose differing talents, backgrounds and personalities mesh exceedingly well.

On one side is Rich Carvill, industrial advertising manager at Gates; on the other is Greg Vigil, Web services specialist.

Opposites attract

Carvill joined Gates in 1996 after spending 11 years at Windsor Industries, an industrial equipment manufacturer in Englewood, Colo. A solid marketing guy, Carvill has 20 years’ experience in industrial marketing, including a stint as president of the Colorado chapter of the Business Marketing Association.

When he joined Gates, the company’s Web site was strictly brochureware, produced by a programmer in the marketing communications group as a part-time job. In 1998, the programmer left and the Web site languished. And Carvill began pushing to hire a full-time Web person.

"[Marketing] understood, at that point, the emerging importance of the Internet for communications, marketing and sharing information with customers and prospects," Carvill said.

After posting the Web manager position on job boards and advertising in local newspapers, Carvill found a résumé Greg Vigil had given to a friend at Gates.

Previously a Web services manager at Comtel Computer Corp. in Denver, Vigil had a master’s degree in information systems and a bachelor’s degree in business. He was very sought after. In fact, Vigil had received a job offer—for more money than Gates initially offered—from Whittman-Hart, the systems integrator later acquired by the now-defunct interactive agency MarchFirst Inc.

"Gates presented an opportunity to work hands-on to build up the Internet strategy for an established company," Vigil said. The other offers were just for technology and didn’t involve making a change to the business."

First impressions

Vigil’s interview was conducted before a panel of six advertising managers, including Carvill.

Carvill said his first impression of Vigil, upon greeting him in Gates’ lobby was, " ‘Wow, look how young this kid is.’ But once we started the interview, Greg showed a lot of maturity," Carvill added.

Vigil’s first impression of Carvill was, " ‘Wow, this guy has a lot of energy and a lot of ideas.’ Even in the interview, he was throwing ideas right at me, outside of the normal interview process."

Once hired, Vigil got to work, learning how to communicate the marketing and sales messages of the various Gates product lines. He sat down with advertising and marketing managers in the automotive and industrial products divisions, seeking their input over a four-month period before relaunching the site in August 1999.

Carvill, who sat in an office right next to Vigil’s, acted as point person, funneling ideas from the various advertising managers to Vigil. Carvill wanted to make sure all viewpoints were represented, and that there was a consistent message across the various product lines, from coolant hoses to engine belts.

The two men quickly found a happy balance between their respective skills and personalities.

"Rich would come into my office with a bunch of crazy ideas, like a nutty professor," Vigil said. "I tended to be very skeptical and had to be convinced about a lot of ideas."

For example, almost from the beginning of the Web development effort, Carvill wanted to have games on the site.

"I realized that people like to have some fun, while they’re on the site downloading a catalog," Carvill said. "I wanted to give them a few minutes to have fun, and promote products through a game—I just didn’t know how."

The game finally saw fruition in August. On the Gates home page, users can race against other players in a game that lets them learn about Gates products.

Vigil admits the ROI on this feature will be more difficult to justify because it is intended to increase brand awareness and brand recall for the products featured in the game. But, he said, eventually results such as lead generation and purchases may be tracked because Gates will follow up with game players who opted in to receive product information.

"[The game] made a lot of sense," Vigil said. "It reinforces the brand, expands the brand and reinforces the message that Gates belts drive the most powerful machines." If that sounds more like marketing speak than techno speak, Vigil admits he’s probably had to adapt more to marketing than his marketing colleagues have had to adapt to technology.

The pair also built an online demo of PowerPro, an online procurement center launched in May for Gates distributors. With PowerPro, Gates partners can order products, check inventory levels, see product availability and check order status.

Today, users and prospects can see a comprehensive demo of the e-commerce system at That, combined with a direct mail campaign launched by Gates’ agency Brozena Schaller Menaker & Ripley Inc., Denver, has helped Gates sign up between 15% and 20% of its industrial distributors.

Fighting channel fears

Carvill and Vigil used several tactics to help alleviate concerns among distributors that sales would be cannibalized by the e-procurement system.

For starters, Gates sent a direct mailing to its industrial distributors, telling them about the new Web site and referring them to more information online. It also trained its sales force about the Web site and taught sales reps how to explain the online system’s features to their customers.

Both Vigil and Carvill say they’ve far exceeded what they expected when they first started working together two years ago. For instance, Gates now has a Web budget—its size is undisclosed—and four full-time people dedicated to the Web site, including Vigil, who was promoted to his current position a few months ago.

For Carvill, reflecting on the past two years, the greatest satisfaction has come from watching people inside Gates coming to share his view that the Internet is integral to a marketing plan.

"I’ve had more fun in the past two years than in the 20 years prior," he said.

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