If you need a handy online reference tool that can quickly link you to information on the electrical industry, check out Electricsmarts.com. Unlike some other Web sites with grand visions of revolutionizing how the electrical market does business, this site has a comparatively simple mission - to offer distributors, contractors, reps, manufacturers and other electrical industry professionals a comprehensive online resource.

Keith Peck, president of the Glastonbury, Conn.-based Electricsmarts said users like the site because it gets them to information on the electrical industry much faster than if they relied on general search engines, which pull up too much unrelated information. He said the company does not intend to offer online purchasing and is by design an informational site.

Electricsmarts, launched in February 2000, provides users with a buyers guide; electrical industry events calendar; new product information; and links to the Web sites of electrical distributors, manufacturers, industry associations and publications and other sources for technical information.

With the recent launch of its "Contractor View" option, Electricsmarts is now live with the first of the several distinct "views" that it plans to offer for the different segments of its electrical audience. When users hit the home page, by clicking on "contractor," "distributor," "MRO" or "engineer," they will only see the aspects of the site that will interest them most. Contractor View launched in late November and is a view of the electrical world configured specifically for electrical contractors; Distributor View will go live in early 2001.

"Contractor View is intelligently structured to `think' just like an electrical contractor," he said. "It anticipates a contractor's needs and provides easy, direct access to exactly the right resources a contractor requires to do the job."

The features of Contractor View include new product information, links to the home page of the National Electrical Safety Foundation for safety information and links to EC&M magazine for information on the National Electrical Code. The site also has hot links to computer estimating packages.

In the future, Contractor View will help electrical contractors find sources of rental equipment; update them on the latest hazardous waste disposal regulations; and provide travel directions to job sites.

Electricsmarts.com also allows manufacturers, distributors, industry associations, advertising agencies and others to develop their own "service centers" resident on the Electricsmarts.com site so users can find information on new products, request literature, conduct e-commerce and learn about training opportunities. These service centers, intended to be "snapshots" of the companies' Web sites, also include background information on the company or organization, as well as hot links to the company or organization Web site, online catalogs and related resources.

Peck said Electricsmarts.com was developed with input from industry professionals and built to be "an Internet Smart Site," which means it anticipates the information and services that users need, and then organizes it into logical, easy-to-access sections.

"There's an amazing amount of valuable information on the Internet - if you can find it," Peck said. "Electrical industry professionals can't waste time searching the vast World Wide Web to find the resources they need. They need accurate information now. That's why we founded Electricsmarts.com and brought together all the industry information resources you will need in a single Smart Site."

By the end of 2001, Peck plans to have a more robust "parametric" search engine operational that will allow users to find products by entering a wide range of parameters and provide them with links to electrical distributors that supply these products. He also plans to offer users access to Web-based procurement sites.

Distributor offers online deals to electrical professionals E-commerce could be a winning deal for electrical distributors, said the president of Livonia, Mich.-based Allen Electric Supply Co.

Norman Horowitz, who launched ElectricalDeals.com in October, said online buyers fill out forms and pay in advance, which lessens work for distributors and cuts costs for customers.

"We're going to put out cost-saving deals and have the stuff in stock," Horowitz said. "In return for those low prices, there's certain things you're giving us. You're going to buy sometimes in standard carton quantities, pay freight and pay in advance with your charge card or electronic check."

Four years ago, Allen Electric became one of the few distributors with an online presence. Horowitz said ElectricalDeals.com is a new independent, e-commerce venture for his company.

"We're looking at it from a different vantage point," he said. "Most of the sites we've seen that are run by electrical distributors are designed to service their existing customers. We're going to go after customers who aren't looking at Allen Electric. In fact, we're not even presenting ourselves as Allen Electric. We're presenting ourselves as ElectricalDeals.com."

Allen Electric opted to launch ElectricalDeals.com rather than simply adding an online store to its existing corporate site in order to pursue a new market.

"Our objective is to tap a market of electrical professionals who are Internet savvy or inclined to buy certain items online," he said. "We look at that as a new market niche."

Horowitz said ElectricalDeals.com isn't intended to take the place of traditional distribution.

"It's a difficult balancing act to figure out which way you want to go," Horowitz said. "By nature, we are committed to traditional distribution. We do a good job of servicing our customers locally. We don't believe that any Web site can replace all of the benefits that we offer our customers. On the other hand, e-commerce does have the promise of substantially reducing the cost of doing business."

Despite the cost savings in e-commerce, electrical professionals will continue to use distributors for much of their daily supply needs, Horowitz said.

"I think if we went to our traditional customer base and said, `We have an electrical Web site where you can buy electrical materials online', I think they would say, `Are you nuts? That takes too much time. We want to either fax you a requisition or purchase order or we want to pick up the phone to verify what you have and that you can ship it tomorrow.' They're not going to want to do business by typing information into a computer."

Although electrical professionals may not buy everything they need online, some will venture out on the Web to buy specific items, he said.

"I don't think it's possible to service an electrical contractor's daily needs, but as we go along, we believe that there are people who will identify certain products that they can buy remotely," Horowitz said. "If they can get a good price and reasonable availability and have a pleasant shopping experience shopping on our Web site, they'll use it. That's what we're trying to do."

Allen Electric hired an outside consultant to design the logo and look of the site to differentiate ElectricalDeals.com from other distributor Web sites, which often use the same e-commerce packages to build their online stores.

"Everybody looks alike," Horowitz said. "You have the same user interface that your competition does, which is a problem in the electrical distribution industry. We have a lot of difficulty differentiating ourselves from one another."

E-commerce will allow distributors, such as Allen Electric Supply, to compete in the open marketplace, he said.

"We've been in an environment for a number of years now where we have to offer our customers more service, a better product and increased reliability," he said. "But our customers are not willing to pay any more - they only want to pay less. I don't think we could ignore the use of electronic commerce. ElectricalDeals.com is one way to go into that area."