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Welcome To The World Of Tomorrow

Welcome To The World Of Tomorrow

Posted by Maxwell T. Manatee on Mar 9th 2020

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." ~ Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome the Marine Parts and Accessory Manufacturers and wholesale distributors to the 21st Century.

It's okay. C'mon in.... Please.

Let's get up to speed with a little history. Before the advent of the Internet, manufacturers spent tons of money having paper catalogs printed. Some were monolithic, 5 pound monsters with thousands of pages filled with 100s of products each. Their format was designed to get the most information possible in the least amount of space and hope that by some twist of fate, it was also decipherable to their potential customers. Fortunately, the customer of that era was usually Bob's Boats, Moe's Motors, Orville's Outboards... et al. Moe knew his sales rep and was intimately familiar with the grease stained pages of his suppliers' catalogs. Moe didn't have one o' them computer things.

That was about 40 years ago.

Bob retired back in 1989. He sold Bob's Boats to some young whippersnapper with some crazy new ideas.

Moe passed away in 2002 leaving Moe's Motors to his sons. They were computer programmers who didn't care to continue Moe's Motors. It was liquidated and I believe a fancy seafood place is there now.

Orville's still at it. He don't do no work on them newfangled EFI four stroke whatcha callums, though.

Somewhere between 1980 and today, most manufacturers realized that they needed to get on board with this Internet thing if they were to remain viable entities. Fortunately, the marketing manager for Paul's Props had a nephew with a TRS80 who had just completed six months of programming basic through DeVry. He looked at the situation and said, "You already have the information you need. You just need to get it on a web site." So, they tore all the pages from this year's catalog, scanned 'em into a PDF file... and VIOLA!

Now, here we are 20 years into the 21st Century, and things haven't changed much at all. In fact, a lot, dare I say, a majority of marine manufacturers' web sites are practically useless. Have your neighbor over for a few Dark and Stormies and ask him to find the dimensions for the 1852993. For that matter, have him try to find the 1852993. I don't know who' supposed to be setting up your sites, but step one is to test your search bar. Most don't recognize part numbers. The few that do will not take you directly to a page about that part. Some will take you to some incomprehensible list of 100s of similar parts. Some, won't even take you to an internal page on your site. They'll take you back to Which is where your potential customer just was where he found your site. Next, if he's still there, he'll try to find your "Contact Us" link. Hopefully, it's in an obvious place and takes him to where he can find helpful e-mail addresses for technical information, phone numbers, physical address and maybe even a chat window operated by a knowledgeable employee and not a call center in Bangladesh.

Most of your customers don't buy directly from you. They buy from folks like Manatee Max, who buys from a warehouse distributor, who buys from you. The Information places like Manatee Max has available come from his own research, (y'all don't make that easy.) or, the warehouse who got their information from you.

If you want to see one of the worst website disasters, check out Isn't that lightning pretty? They manufacture some pretty high tech gizmos. You'd think their website would be state of the art. Pfffft.

The Internet is a network. You site should be, too. Your potential customers shouldn't have to play the search game. Simple, logical layouts without a lot of bells and whistles work best.  In the modern world, if your potential customer has to click through a half dozen places to find the information he seeks, or if he has to squint to see the columns of fine print on a PDF page, you've probably lost him to your competitors. That probability increases exponentially the more time and effort it takes.

If you're still with me, it means you care, and you and I will move on to the subject of accurate and complete product data.

Let's go back to your search field. Your customer should be able to enter some pertinent information regarding the item in which he's (monetarily) interested and that should take him directly to options for products which match his search. Those options should be in the form of a clickable, brief image and title (part number) which takes him to a page about that item and that item only. His search should now be at an end. If it took him to a page with lists of other products and tiny print spreadsheets of those items, you've failed.

I know it sounds like a huge pain, but each and every individual part number should have its very own page. Variations between similar items should have their very own part number and page. The elongated hooferdingle in blue should have a unique part number and page from the elongated hooferdingle in aquamarine or teal. It's stupid, but colors are very important to our customers. A customer who needs to replace the blue and red bilge pump he bought three years ago is looking for a picture of a blue and red bilge pump. If you change the dye in the plastic you're going to throw him off. You have to specify that this is the exact same pump. Changing your products, even ever so slightly, should lead to changes in part numbers, descriptions, dimensions and applications  Max has in his possession an old style Jabsco 43002-0988, which is not at all like the new style Jabsco 43002-0988. But, Jabsco didn't think it was important to change the part number when they made what is a different part.

What information should be included on each part's page? It might be easier to ask what shouldn't be included. 

Accurate information is an absolute must. If your information cannot be correct, you're better off not putting anything. Incorrect information leads to product returns and disgruntled customers.

Images: MUST be of the exact product, not one similar. There is no such thing as too many images. All six planes and an oblique are a minimum. One image should show the data plate clearly enough to be read.

Dimensions: all of them possible. If it can be measured, measure it and add it do the description. Overall height, length and width, What's the ID and OD  of the outlet port? What size are the threads? What gauge and how long is the power cord? Does that flange come out at a 42 degree angle? Does this item fit a particular model or year of something else? This is a good place for a link to other parts that are specific to other models etc.  If your customer's looking at the 4235 which says it fits a 1998 - 2003, but he has a 2005, he should be able to find that part from right there with one click.

 If it's impossible to be accurate in some circumstances then give a nominal, max and minimum range. Does the item move liquids? what's the pressure and flow rate? Does it back flow? Does it have vapor lock protection? Which viscosity range is it good for..... what type of pump is it? Manual,electric, 12v, 24v, AC, DC, rotary, reciprocating, what materials are the part made of? ('Cause I bought me one o' them with the aluminum rotator flanges and I don't want another one o' them.") If there's something you can say about the product, say it. There is no such thing as too much product detail.

Still can't part with your grandfather's old PDF files? Dimensional drawings with measurements, and installation instructions are the perfect place to show off your love of for nostalgia.

Manatee Max spends a good portion of his day fielding customer questions. If Max can't find the answers, he resorts to contacting your tech support guys whose time is valuable. Sometimes, Max never receives an answer. That's what we in the industry call piss poor customer service. 

I'm sorry you had to hear this from me, but you did have to hear it. The 21st Century is 1/5 of the way over. Whether you're a manufacturer, wholesale distributor or retailer like Manatee Max, It's time to catch up or get left behind.

Max is open to dialogue on this subject. We benefit from helping you create more and better product information.

I'll leave you now. You probably have a lot of catching up to do.

Maxwell T. Manatee