There's no confusing Marshall Industries with some ultracool Web startup in Seattle or Silicon Alley. For one thing, it is an Industrial Era company that's just making the transition to the Internet Era. For another, it has built a Web site that generates real sales and profits — a claim that precious few Web startups can make.
Indeed, Marshall's online presence is a model for companies that are serious about selling on the Web. Marshall on the Internet, http://www.marshall.com , the company's umbrella site, was launched in July 1994. It now averages more than 1 million hits a week and visits from 60 countries. The site contains 170,000 part numbers, more than 100,000 pages of data sheets, and up-to-date inventory and pricing information from 150 major suppliers.
"We tell the world about new products faster than anybody else in the industry," says Kerry Young, Marshall's director of distributed computing. "We've taken everything that we do physically and converted it to the Net."
Marshall's Net conversion is making converts in the market. "Marshall's Internet site is a major weapon in our strategy for our most important product," says Kevin McGarity, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for Texas Instruments. McGarity is referring to digital signal processors (DSPs), chips that improve the performance of high-tech hardware from headphones to computer hard disks to power steering in cars. TI estimates that it will ship more than $1 billion worth of DSPs in 1997.
Why is Marshall's Web presence so critical to TI's market presence? Because it provides direct access to thousands of engineers around the world who might use the company's DSPs in their new products. The actual sales transaction, it turns out, is the least important part of what Marshall's Web site does for TI. What really matters is what happens before and after the sale.
Let's say you're an engineer designing a new piece of multimedia hardware. Could a digital signal processor from TI enhance its performance? A few years ago, you would have called Marshall, requested technical literature, reviewed it, and ordered a developer's kit. The interaction might have taken weeks.
Today you visit Marshall's Electronic Design Center, http://www.electronicdesign.com . Not only will you find the technical specs you need, but you can also simulate designs using TI chips. You download sample code, modify the code to suit the product you're building, test it on a virtual chip that's "attached" to the Net, and analyze its performance. If you like the results, Marshall can download your code, burn it into physical chips, and send you samples for designing prototypes. The interaction takes minutes.
Then it's time for volume testing. You can order shipments via MarshallNet, http://partnernet.marshall.com , the company's secure extranet connection with suppliers and customers — 1,250 of whom use it daily. Each customer sees a Web site modified to its specific needs. If you build multimedia entertainment products, you see prices and quantities for parts that are relevant to your business. After you order the chips, MarshallNet connects you to the company's proprietary database. Customers see the same shipment data that's available to Marshall salespeople over the Lotus Notes database.
Of course, new technologies require extensive after-sale training. But who wants to send yet another team of engineers to yet another meeting room in a hotel? NetSeminar, www.netseminar.com , a Web site connected to Marshall's digital studio, allows suppliers to train customers with video, audio, and real-time chat capabilities. NetSeminar organizes sessions for groups ranging from a handful of engineers to thousands of conference attendees.
The result of all these technologies is a Web presence that demonstrates the change-the-rules promise of electronic commerce.
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.