Repping wont be killed off by the internet, says Crabtree MD Julian Pointon, but only those reps who can sell will thrive. Order-taking reps will be supplanted by B2B websites that IBDs can order from at any time day or night.

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According to Biro, a frequent IBD poster to the BikeBiz bulletin board, the highlight of the Cycle & Leisure Show was the Crabtree business-to-business (B2B) website.

"By the end of the week Crabtree will have 90 percent of our biz," said Biro.

Heartening words indeed for Crabtree MD Julian Pointon, although he recognises a few early adoptors dont a website success story make.

There are an increasing amount of shops with web access but an awful lot of them only have access at home. The Crabtree site is partly getting a foothold as one of the first business to business bike trade websites but its not a demonstration project, I think the site will be successful quite quickly. Itll probably take three years before 50 percent of our IBD customers are online but the ones who come on first will be the best ones anyway. has been the most exciting thing Pointon has worked on whilst hes been at Crabtrees:

Its taken up a lot of my time but Im pleased with the way it has turned out. I dont consider myself a web surfer, I go on for spec ific information only. And thats how IBDs will use the Crabtree website, as a mine of information and a time saving way of ordering. Why would people want to waste time giving an order to a rep when they can do it far more effectively themselves?

Such DIY ordering wont be a pain, says Pointon, itll be a pleasure:

I dont think IBDs will come to resent having to do their own form filling. They know what they want and if they can get it quickly from our website that will be seen as a boon not a chore. In the future people will be more conscientious with their time and ordering via a rep will be seen as spending precious time during peak times when you could be ordering online at a slack time.

The Crabtree site, far from making staff redundant, will protect jobs (and benefit IBDs too):

By putting our reps and telesales staff on to duties other than plain and simple order taking we can start to help our dealers in a way weve never been able to before. The reps will become merchandisers, helping out instore. They will also do more promoting of products, and actually selling. Those reps who can genuinely sell have nothing to fear from the internet, those who are little more than order takers have a lot more cause to worry.

The Crabtree site was first mooted nearly two years ago as an information-only site but Pointon was urged by webbies to go B2B. He conducted a survey. Out of 1200 accounts only 25 had websites. Pointon concluded it was too early for a fully-fledged trade ecommerce site.

In a survey conducted mid last year, the number of online IBDs had mushroomed and an out-of-house web development company was charged with creating a B2B site. will be live by 3rd April. It was only started in November 1999 so it has taken just four months to go from the idea stage to launch (put 9 months, it might put people off copying us, joked Pointon) and is completley bespoke, as secure as can be and is information-rich. It will also soon have a consumer mirror-site, with retail prices, IBD listings and a sexier front-end.

The hype surrounding instant millionaires, six month old web start-ups worth more than 115 year multinationals and venture capital being doled out like theres no tomorrow, may soon go pop, but the internet wont go away, says Pointon.

Im firmly of the opinion that its the way forward. A website is relatively cheap yet gives us an edge to get information and special offers out to dealers very quickly. Its the future.

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Pic shows Arthur Lamy of Boudin Cycles, Jersey (left) and Alan Strong, a Crabtree rep (and winner of the Arthur Lamy lookalike competition).

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