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This article by Barbara Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 23, 1999.
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K&L Labs’ New Sales Vision
The sales representative for an eyeglass manufacturer
is making her once-a-month sales call to an optician. She lugs two
big hard-sided cases into his shop, parks them in the corner, and
returns to her car for another two cases before she starts her 45-minute
pitch. Sales reps have used this method for selling eyeglasses for
The new vision for selling eyewear, says Lawrence Fridkis, is to load
your laptop computer’s hard drive with an Electronic Sample Bag (ESB),
which contains 1,500 digital images of 300 to 500 styles. Then spin
through the styles and colors that the optician might want, simultaneously
selecting, ordering, and upgrading inventory reports. Do all this
in one-fourth or one-half the usual time.
"We are changing the paradigm of the way people sell," says
Fridkis, 43-year-old founder of K&L Labs, which expanded from Princeton-Hightstown
Road to Research Park last month. "We are springboarding this
into other industries — showing companies that they can sell using
a laptop that integrates into their mainframe computers."
Laptops for sales reps? Sales automation? Surely that’s not new. Yes,
says Fridkis, but other reps aren’t using a huge catalog of high quality
digital images that connects directly with the manufacturer’s inventory.
"Plenty of people are making presentations with PowerPoint, but
we tie this thing together to make an ordering process, upgraded as
often as a rep calls an order in."
Marc Goodman, vice president for sales, tells how it works: After
only a couple of days’ training, a sales rep is ready to shed her
suitcases. As the rep is showing the Electronic Sample Bag to her
customer, she can go from the main screen to the order pad and preview
the order. Low inventory is flagged. The order is batched and transmitted
— all electronically. The ESB has an archive of previous orders,
which becomes an inventory management tool. The rep can compare her
record of what is on the shelf and build an order from what is missing.
When the rep leaves, she gives the retailer a companion piece to the
ESB, a CD-ROM called InSpect, which contains the image library. The
eyewear seller can see the same images that he just looked at, and
he can show the frames to customers with the prices toggled off.
InSpect can be updated via the Internet, and the inventory listings
on the Electronic Sample Bag can be updated from the manufacturer’s
mainframe each time an order is placed. But the ESB is not available
on the Internet, says Fridkin, because the Internet is much too slow
for ESB’s images. Visual Basic and C++ are among the languages used
for ESB. A third party plug-in program provides E-Mail and data base
links to the one of the frequently used servers, AS/400. "The
success of the program is the very high quality images that you can’t
get on the Internet," says Fridkis, "and the program is much
K&L’s biggest client is the Parsippany-based Safilo Group, the largest
eyewear manufacturer in the world; it supplies large and small eyeglass
dispensaries. Among its first clients were Britalia, a small Poughkeepsie-based
company that did field testing, and Charmant, based in Japan, was
the first major user.
Fridkis had the perfect background to produce a digital eyewear catalog.
He grew up in Springfield, where at one point his entrepreneurial
father sold eyeglasses, and he remembers his mother’s imprecations,
"Get those bags out of my house!" His oldest brother, Alan,
was an optician who learned to program. Meanwhile Fridkis went into
the printing and photography business, specializing in catalogs for
eyewear, and prepress work. So when photography went digital, Fridkis
was poised to do digital catalogs. "I spent a lot of years integrating
photography and computers," says Fridkis, "trying to make
possible the program that we have now."
At least one mega company has tried to sell digital catalog software,
but they failed, Fridkis believes, because they were working from
the programmer’s point of view. "Images are foreign to programmers,"
he says. "Images require a different mindset. I am almost inviting
people to copy it. Nobody has come up with anything that comes close."
What K&L has is a good digital photographer (Sam Stia) and a proprietary
way to compress and present high quality images that can be animated
— rotated 360 degrees and stopped at any point — and that
are painstakingly color-matched to the actual product. Making this
electronic catalog is labor intensive, and it has most appeal to a
small cluster of manufacturers with a large volume of high-end products,
such as watchmakers, giftware manufacturers, shoe makers, and apparel
Late in May the firm moved from Princeton Windsor Office Park to Research
Park. "We felt our Princeton location would be more beneficial
to our core customers, so we moved to Research Park to join our high
tech counterparts," says Fridkis. He has no plans to take the
firm public at this point. "We are excited to get this out to
Anytime anyone tries to do something completely new, to change the
paradigm, they run the risk of attracting competitors who will take
their idea and do it better. K&L says its program is not suitable
for the Internet, but theoretically a competitor could take the idea
and adapt it to be webcentric.
Another peril for front runners is that few will jump on their bandwagon,
and this company has indeed encountered some resistance. "I a
can tell a company that they have $X millions on the street in samples.
I can say I will take a good percentage of that off the street and
possibly move the business up," says Fridkis. "But sometimes
company pushes back and says `we have been doing business like that
for 60 years,’ and not want to stick its neck out."
Sticking a neck out could also involve a lot of work. Before K&L can
launch its Electronic Sample Bag, the manufacturer must be sure its
internal server is efficiently updating inventory and is ready to
automate its sales process. Many big companies are not geared to get
inventory or any other information out to the field to its sales reps.
"You would not believe the number of Fortune 500 companies that
cannot do that," says Goodman.
In spite of high tech changes, the business of selling is still the
same. "Even though you can perform better in a shorter time, we
still believe you have to go out and shake hands with people,"
says Fridkis. "You have built up good will, and you have to keep
that relationship going." You still have to press the flesh.
— Barbara Fox
Fridkis, founder. 609-924-6880; fax, 609-924-6890. Home page: http://www.kllabs.com.
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