Small business application services provider Peakhour's launch yesterday into the $3.8 billion stationery market marks its next step in making the small business sector more net-savvy.
Partnering with Australian stationery dealer Corporate Express, which will also handle fulfilment and delivery, Peakhour said prices on its online business supplies store, Smartoffice.com.au, would be up to 30 per cent cheaper than its retail competitors. About 5000 products are initially being offered, with next-day delivery to 85 per cent of Australia's some 480,000-strong small-business sector in the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane metropolitan areas, and a 72-hour delivery time for the remaining 15 per cent located in all other areas.
Peakhour chief operating officer Dale Cottrell agreed there'd be lots of competition in the highly lucrative stationery market, but remained upbeat about his company's offering. "Smartoffice lets small business buy like big business, and with small business contributing $1.6 billion to Australia's $3.8 billion stationery industry, Smartoffice.com.au is well positioned to meet the office supply needs of this market," he said.
Cottrell also said that Peakhour had done its homework on this largely ignored, but fundamental sector of the economy. According to a recent report by research firm BIS Shrapnel, small businesses with less than 20 employees make up 52 per cent of the commercial business sector, and are showing the greatest growth rate.
"It's all about gaining their trust and making the internet accessible in a way that is comfortable to them," he said. "Since launching last February, we have been providing small and medium businesses with applications that have helped them to get online. It's exciting to now be offering the first of many products and services that will enable them to buy, and then eventually sell, over the internet.
"Providing office supplies online -- small transaction amount items requiring simple business decisions and regarded as a tedious chore -- is strategically important for Peakhour as it allows customers to build their trust and confidence in transacting over the net," said Cottrell. "This will accelerate the rate at which small businesses start to use other e-commerce and business applications."
While Peakhour is looking at other similar offerings in the next few months, it's not about to jump the gun. Cottrell said small businesses needed to have positive experiences with this latest offering first, before they would move to the next phase and spread the word among themselves.
Yellow Pages Small Business Report 2000 findings bear that out. Although small and medium businesses are starting to embrace the net, there's still a way to go before they catch up with their bigger counterparts.
According to the report, while the number of small and medium businesses connected to the internet increased by more than 10 per cent in the past 12 months -- some 60 per cent of small businesses and 89 per cent of medium businesses are now connected only 28 per cent placed orders online and only 19 per cent paid for them online.
Companies are, however, finally realising that the new economy is not only about big business, as the many new small business initiatives coming onto the market indicate.