ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Technically speaking, makers of housewares are getting more sophisticated. More members of the National Housewares Manufacturers Association based here are plugging into the Internet, E-mail and the association's bulletin board. So far, about 275 companies use these services through their connection to a Value-Added Network. "We've got about 2,000 companies that are NHMA members, so we're in the 15% range in terms of our market penetration," said Thomas Conley, NHMA's executive director. He updated Brand Marketing on the association's technology initiative on the eve of its annual convention this week in Chicago. The association is now offering its members a variety of services for a monthly fee. Members can have Internet access and E-mail capabilities. They can dial into the NHMA bulletin board, from which they can download information electronically. Members sign on through CompuServe. Networks Online provides the bulletin board service. In addition, NHMA has a home page on the World Wide Web. Conley said he had hoped to sign up 300 to 400 members to the Value-Added Network last year. But he said he's pleased that there are several large companies among the 275 enrolled. He said NHMA has helped educate many other, smaller members about the benefits of the network, as well as offer technical assistance. "This industry, except for the top tier, is not as sophisticated as retailers want it to be," he said. "That ends up hurting it." So, through its technology initiative, NHMA aims to give its members "the opportunity to be as technically proficient as their retailers want." The important services, Conley said, are transmission of purchase orders, acknowledgement of purchase orders and an advance-ship notice to help retailers manage their inventory.
"That's the name of the game these days," he said. "That's what got Wal-Mart so successful. It's all electronic data interchange. The Value-Added Network is like an electronic mail box that everybody has to have."