Growing Out of eBay

IBM and eOneGroup help online sellers set up their own shops with real-time data access
Sandhills Powersports is in high gear with revenue increasing 100 percent to about $300,000 in the past two months now that its new IBM/eOneGroup site is in full throttle.

The Nebraska-based online motorcycle parts and accessories business began in 2003 as a part-time, three-person company, selling on eBay. As it became more successful, Ben Anthony, the 28-year-old president and CIO, decided to create his own dedicated Web site in conjunction with the eBay business. He figured he could reach serious motorsports enthusiasts willing to spend more through a dedicated e-commerce site.

The online storefront that eOneGroup created for Sandhills on the WebSphere Application Server Community Edition initially was integrated with its eBay business. It reflected sales and inventory changes from both locations so Sandhills employees could track daily progress seamlessly. Now, however, Anthony is focusing primarily on his own site.

Blossoming Beyond eBay
"Now that we're up and running we decided to ditch eBay because it makes more sense to focus our time on adding new products to our Web site," says Anthony. "I'm a big fan of eBay, it's a great place to start off, but it's not necessarily where you want to finish once you grow your business."

Anthony chose eOneGroup's package because it's easy to customize and he wanted his site to reflect the unique buying habits of his customers. For example, Powersports buyers are typically very loyal to one specific brand, and therefore want to sort merchandise by brand first, and then bike type. The site needed to take this characteristic into account, as well as the company's desire to improve upon the customer service practices of its competitors by making the site easy to navigate.

Another reason the eOneGroup solution works for Sandhills is that it supports a real-time inventory business model. "If we only sold what we had in our store, we'd have to keep a huge amount of inventory," says Anthony. "We've integrated our items so that we only display and sell what's available in the warehouses, so it's tied to real-time inventory. It gets to us and we ship it out. That way a customer knows it's coming and we can even tell them if something is in California, it might take an extra few days, so to expect a delay, but I'd rather do that than have a huge back-order problem and unhappy customers."

Plays Nice With Others
Based in Omaha, Neb., eOneGroup specializes in establishing real-time Internet access to the many "back-end" processes and data structures that companies need to use sell online. The eOneCommerce engine and complimentary products were developed with the open architecture of the Java platform. This allows eOneGroup to use their applications and technology with any existing system and to perform real-time data access with almost any combination of operating, hardware and database systems.

IBM delivers the middleware foundation, technical training and support needed to build e-commerce solutions, while eOneGroup provides expertise in creating Web sites designed to help companies grow their business, providing a suite of applications that help with tasks such as billing and credit card authorization.

Dan Watson, co-founder of eOneGroup, says his company caters to many small businesses like Sandhills that start out on eBay or Yahoo! and want to migrate to a more flexible, customizable system they can manage themselves. The packages vary from business to business, but will generally cost between $2,000 and $5,000 a month.

Leap And The 'Net Will Appear
"If you have a lot eBay content," says Watson, "we'll take all that product information and move it over to our database and set up the site for you so you can manage it."

From there, he says, one key thing the database allows you to do is optimize content on pages so items appear naturally in Google searches. "Everyone talks about search engine optimization, but it's another thing to make it work. We have meta data as part of our solution so when a spider comes through it will index your site properly and you get a higher ranking."

Though eOneGroup is not a hosted solution, they do have a working relationship with "favorites" in the industry, Watson says, and can help smaller business owners partner with them.

And while eOneGroup has an impressive roster of clients that include Tommy Hilfiger's business-to-business site and Omaha Steaks, it is now positioned to help smaller operations, says Watson.

"When we started out seven years ago, we couldn't afford to bill people on a monthly basis, so we went after the bigger companies," says Watson. "But now we have subscription pricing so the up-front cost is less painful. It's a good way for the smaller businesses to get up and running, but sometimes they seeTommy Hilfiger is a client and think, golly, it'll cost too much money for a little guy like me, but now I think we're starting to change that perception."

Michelle Megna is managing editor of ECommerce-Guide.com.

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