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Posted By S. C. Harrell Consulting Services, LLC. on 07/09/2017

The Digital-Aging of Jan/San

The Digital-Aging of Jan/San

The Digital-Aging of Jan/San - A Personal Experience -

During the mid to late 1990s, the term “DOTCOM” was fast becoming the newest wave overtaking the global enterprise landscape. In virtually every industry businesses sought to take advantage of what they perceived adding a DOTCOM to their operations would do for their bottom-line. This phenomenon was driven by in large by the great success that many early starters were experiencing, causing their stock values to sour ten to hundreds-of-times their actual value. Then, without notice, like a rushing tsunami title wave, just as the DOTCOMs began hitting its stride; in 2001 they BOMBED.

Now, it’s true that many of the early-starters reaped great benefited financially. How so? They got in at the right time; peak, and sold their operations. However, most of the late-starters lost substantially. When the “Bubble Bursts” the world was able to understand with greater clarity that just adding a DOTCOM to one’s operation would not, in and of itself, transform that business into something it wasn’t. DOTCOMS are nothing more than another tool in your toolbox. Let’s face it; if your company doesn’t already offer goods and services that consumers want no amount of clever window dressing via the Internet of social media will make a difference.

How do I know this? As one of those early starters in the DOTDOM world, in 1999, we developed and launched FlxNet.com, an e-commerce solution offering janitorial supply access to customers of local suppliers through an online catalog that showcased the products of wholesale distributors and product manufacturers. Anyone who was around the Jan/San industry in those days might remember FlxNet.com as we were positioning ourselves on becoming a real presence at ISSA and other industry tradeshows.

You see, in the years prior to FlxNet.com I owned and operated Flx-i-Clean, Inc., a building maintenance company headquartered in Colorado Springs Colorado. Responding to my systems engineering background in aerospace and defense industry in years past, when the Internet got started I saw an opportunity to blend all that it offered to the building maintenance industry. So, with a focus on building a system that would “Level the Playing Field” for local suppliers we built FlxNet.com, a system that enabled wholesale distributors with the ability display and sell the products that were available at local suppliers. Having negotiated with one the nation's largest wholesale distributors I sold Flx-i-Clean in 1999 and committed myself full time to FlxNet.com. At that time, FlxNet.com was positioned well to become one of the Jan/San industries major e-commerce solutions.

The great thing about the FlxNet.com business model was that unlike most of our competitors at that time, we offered local suppliers an online catalog that was personalized and branded to their company without them having to invest in the development and staff to support the technology. While the other models only served to add a financial burden to their bottom-line, FlxNet.com list all of the products in a subscribers’ warehouse for their customers to access, review and purchase; paying FlxNet.com a small transaction fee, without adding unnecessary cost to the companies’ bottom-line.

Didn’t the model work, you might ask? Simply stated, it did! Just look around and you will find this model being applied in virtually every online catalog-based e-commerce and other solutions today. Having said that, because of the massive failure of this new technology companies became skeptical about whether it was wise to continue to pursue business with a DOTCOM offering. “Fear of the unknown”, you might say.

What’s the difference today? Again, simply stated, there have been many lessons learned. Some of those who pioneered the field at that time stayed with it. We have tried our hand at other applications that used Internet-based technology, including online learning. With us, it was just as in the aftermath of an unanticipated tsunami. There were those of us who saw the promise of the worldwide web (www) and what it had to offer overall. We came to realize that focusing solely on how much money one could make as a DOTCOM was a bit like building a house made of wood on a sandy beach without a firm foundation because you like the view. As soon as the first strong wind came along it would wash away all of that hard work, leaving things in ruin. We are the ones that returned to the same location to rebuild with better more durable materials.

The Birth of Digital-Age in the Jan/San Industry!

It has been nearly sixteen years now since I dialed back my activities in the Jan/San industry. During that time I have consulted with a number of companies in various fields, including building maintenance and property management where I have applied my experience as a business developer among other things. As I have applied my collective skills to these activities I have been an eyewitness to the introduction of newer “Smart” technologies (iPhone, iPad, etc.), which have almost seamlessly been integrated with the Internet technology enabling businesses to maintain greater control. “Text” messaging has even been added to emailing as a way of communicating, replacing other forms of communication (e.g., paging).

Let’s not forget Social Media and the massive audience of prospective buyers that subscribe to them. As of January 2014, 74% of online adults use social networking sites. 71% of all adults use Facebook and 28% using LinkedIn, the more professional media site where businesses typically promote their goods and services.

As these new technologies have begun to make the way into the forefront of acceptability every business has had to develop an insight into what it means to do business on the Internet, including social media. In essence, it means businesses must develop a willingness to yield to its demands to empower if their businesses are going to grow beyond their previously limited market share and, perhaps, attract buyers on a global scale.

An example of this can be found in a review of the growth of the Jan/San industry over the last decade and a half. When I launched FlxNet.com in 2000, it was estimated that the industry’s revenue was in excess of $78 billion, with a prediction that between 50% and 95% of the sales in an industry would be conducted through e-commerce by 2003. Today, according to ReportLinker.com, revenues for contract (non-proprietary) building maintenance services are forecast to grow 4.3 percent per year through 2017 to $176.5 billion. Without a doubt, much of this 226% growth can be attributed to the inclusion of these new digital-aged technologies in industrial operations.

In other words, while it is important that companies continue to offer goods and services, they must also recognize and accept where buyers go to find what they want – online. Consumers use the Internet to research for goods and services. Consequently, unless companies add Internet marketing to their existing approaches to connect with consumers they will grow at a much slower rate, if at all. Like in the days of the brick and mortar, advertising is still visual in this Digital age. Companies must learn how to use the Internet to appeal to the visual senses of their target audience first, while also appealing to their overall needs. As with any promotional campaign, doing business over the Internet requires strategic thinking and an understanding of how it works in order to benefit from its offerings. This will also require that they invest the time and effort to master its application in their businesses. This is truly the essence of the Digital-Age!

All in all, although I wasn’t able to capitalize off of FlxNet.com, as did some others during those early days, I am pleased to be one of the early starters. The experience has shown me that anything is possible, with God’s help. Knowledge and experience have its own worth!

What’s next for me? Reflecting on all that has occurred since the 1990s, my partners and I are again leveraging Internet technology to bring buyers and seller together to do business.  This time, through FacilityAXS.net, we are focused on both sides of the buyer/seller equation by including them in an online environment that “Levels Playing Field”.  Now the Little Guys can to compete more often with the Big Guys for a larger share of the market.

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