MIDLAND, MICH. - Dow Plastics plans to cut the number of its regional sales offices by more than half by the end of 1996, by putting its sales staff online. The company declined to say how many jobs might be cut.Dow had 27 regional offices as recently as three years ago, and today has 23. When the streamlining is finished, the firm will have 10 smaller offices.
The new offices will be smaller, ``hotel-type'' sites used by sales personnel as needed. Rather than having a work station dedicated to each person, the offices will have common work areas, according to Richard Sosville, vice president for sales and marketing.
The new offices will tend to be in large cities where extra meeting spaces and hotel rooms are available when all the region's salespeople are called together.
The virtual office concept is being introduced at the same time Dow is altering the concept of its sales efforts. Dow is putting corporate account executives in charge of large global accounts and second-tier account executives in charge of accounts that the company defines as strategically important.
The third tier comprises accounts Dow sees as important, but smaller in size and scope. Those accounts will be served through more traditional sales and distribution efforts, Sosville said in a recent interview at Dow corporate headquarters in Midland.
Dow Plastics has contracted with EDS Inc., the computer communications company Ross Perot founded and later sold to General Motors Co., to establish and manage a complete data collection and communications system to tie Dow's customers and sales force together in a single, massive network.
Dow's contract with EDS was signed in September 1994.
EDS is building a data management system for Dow that will collect and interpret information from customers.
EDS now is handling Dow's customer communications, said Mike Butcher, marketing communications director for Dow North America.
Dow is aiming to provide its salespeople with an unprecedented amount of information about their customers and the marketplace.
The computerization also will reduce costs and paperwork drastically.
The Dow Customer Information Group has been given ISO 9002 certification, and Dow's efforts have changed the look of its sales force.
That sales force is moving out of traditional, regional offices to virtual offices located, for the most part, in sales personnel's homes.
The Dow sales force soon will be connected to headquarters via the Internet computer network, facsimile machines, cellular telephones, laptop computers and cellular laptop computer connections.
Regional offices will survive only as by-stations for sales personnel to use when they have meetings, not as offices to which they must report each day.
``The plan is put together, the networks and linkages are in place, and the software is being rolled out. In fact, we already are upgrading the software in many cases,'' Sosville said.
While he would not supply an exact investment figure, Sosville said Dow has spent millions of dollars on establishing the electronic system for its sales force. However, he noted, Dow expects to recoup its investment within five years of putting the system into place.
Already, he said, ``our costs have dropped immensely.''