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Internet Potential Tantalizing For Forest Industry Players

How is the Internet playing out as a marketing/information tool for forest companies, suppliers and government agencies?

By Robert Forrest
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

It is impossible to determine with any certainty just how many companies are doing business on the Internet, or, for those who are, how effective it is as a business marketing/information tool.

What is certain is that interest in the Net is growing rapidly -- some would say exploding. Already there are at least three well established service providers catering specifically to the forest industry. All three provide computer capacity for companies to store their Web sites or pages. All can create a site and maintain it for their clients.

Martin Desmond, president of LSJ affiliate ForestNet, says, ``What people want to do on the Internet is gather information. That's why the ForestNet has forestry magazines on it. What it does is attract people. In July and August, we had over 6,000 visitors. In the first nine days of September, we had 2,000 visitors and 42,000 hits.'' (A visitor is defined as someone who visits your site to seek and/or retrieve information while a hit is someone who lands on your site and moves on.)

Desmond estimates that 86% of the forest industry is not represented on the Internet. ``We're in the initial stages of the forest industry beginning to comprehend what is going to be available to them in the next couple of years.''

Among the group which has embraced the Web most actively is the supplier segment. Not all have had positive results. One sawmill equipment supplier told LSJ, ``We tried it for a number of months but we haven't had much response. I haven't come across a reason for us to use it. It sounds great. Certainly, it is cheap enough but if you don't get a response, what point is there?'' In contrast, Steve Dahl at Chimo Industries Inc. of Kamloops, B.C., sees the Web as an effective method for global marketing. ``We've had responses from all over the world, people asking for information. From Asia, South and Central America, Europe. I think it's a success.

``We've had the site for about ten months. It was off for a while when we were making our move. (The company recently moved from Delta, B.C., to Kamloops.) I had some changes to make. Basically, it is a marketing tool for us,'' Dahl says.

To help qualify prospects, Dahl has installed a set of forms that visitors to his site can fill out to request information. ``People fill out the e-mail form and send it to me,'' he says. ``That helps to qualify them as a prospect. We pass those forms on to our sales people. And they follow up.'' Another supplier who has found the Web a positive experience is Finning Ltd. of Vancouver, a Caterpillar dealer with franchises in B.C., Alberta, Chile and the UK. Laura Zerebeski, marketing coordinator for international sales, handles the Finning Web site which was launched in July 1995.

``We set it up because it seemed like a good way to offer information,'' Zerebeski says. ``There weren't that many dealers on the Web at the time and I didn't think it would be that good a marketing medium. We wanted to see if it would work.

``We generated some interest and have sold a couple of machines,'' she continues. ``Pretty soon, other companies were calling. Caterpillar phoned us to see how it was going. We were on the Web before Caterpillar. There was only one other dealer that I could find before we went on line.''

Success was a pleasant surprise, according to Zerebeski. ``Most sales to this point have involved used parts. We have had a number of people say they found us through our Web site.'' Zerebeski indicates that the Finning site can direct e-mail to the right person and that everyone in the company answers their own e-mail.

Visitors to the Finning site have logged in from Japan, Sweden, Malaysia and at least one competitor.

A non-supplier with an interesting approach to the Internet is TimberWest Forest Ltd., also of Vancouver. Unlike other Web users, TimberWest has two separate Web sites. One provides financial information such as quarterly and annual financial figures. The other is a marketing site. Although they were thinking about a Web site a year ago, the TimberWest sites are only three months old.

``One of the main reasons this site was created was for investor relations,'' says Jay Dent, manager of corporate reporting. ``TimberWest has a second site on what might be called a logging and lumber shopping mall. Our site is for customers, as well, but we don't try to sell through the TimberWest home page.

`It's too early to tell if it is working,'' Dent says. ``I've had a few calls from analysts who like it. A lot of analysts aren't up there yet, but it won't be long until they are.''

TimberWest is updating this site internally but uses outside service providers for the actual sites.

Dent indicates that the company is a big user of e-mail, both internally and externally. ``We're starting to use the Internet technology within the company,'' he says. ``We have what we call our TimberWeb which is an intranet which all the regions can access.'' Mike Holmes, a log trader at TimberWest was involved in setting up the company's second site.

``Ours is for the marketing side of things, logs and lumber,'' he says. ``We are planning to link our two sites but they aren't connected yet. We've had a number of responses from all over the world. On the log side, I've had a number of inquiries but no sales yet.'' Holmes feels it is too soon to expect any measurable results from the Web site.

Special interest groups are using the Web to get their message out to the public, as well. One such group is the Forest Alliance of British Columbia. Headed by former IWA-Canada president, Jack Munro, the Alliance has become effective in promoting a positive image for the forest industry on the West Coast. One of the Alliance's effective tools has been its Web site.

Andrea Fiore, an administrative assistant at the Alliance, says, ``It's the information highway. It is a cost effective way for us to get our message out to a lot of people. We've been on the net for about a year. We're constantly adding to it, changing things, fine tuning things. We keep adding to it a lot. It is an incredible tool for us.''

One of the ways in which the Alliance has created an effective communications system is to list all staff members (except Munro) so that the public can send them e-mail at any time. ll of the companies we talked to who had Web sites also used service providers. Most had at least some outside assistance in setting up their Web pages. They all felt the investment was reasonable. Prices to set up on the Web ranged from a low of $300 to just over $1,000. With the exception of Finning and The Forest Alliance, where they are firmly committed to the Web, the others indicated that the ``jury was still out,'' but none of them indicated they planned to discontinue their Web site any time soon.

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