News flash: The next frontier of Internet purchases will be in tooling and equipment.
Two emerging Web sites — Chicago-based Protomarket.com for tooling, and Los Angeles-based The Dock for equipment — marketed their wares at the National Design Engineering Show, held March 5-8 in Chicago.
They join several other, more-established dot-coms that have moved down similar paths, albeit on a less-refined basis. Omnexus, an Atlanta-based resin consortium, just announced plans to link with BigMachines Inc. to sell equipment.
And reverse-auction site FreeMarkets Inc. and others offer tooling as part of their bidding packages for injection molding services.
In the case of Protomarket, tooling will be its primary modus operandi. The site launched in June, offering a quick means to find rapid-prototyping services.
Since December, the company has turned attention to tooling, too, said Brad Lewis, Protomarket's vice president of sales and marketing.
"The Internet is going to be huge for toolmakers," Lewis said. "Those that are proactive about its use are going to sell a lot of product there."
On the site, molders or original equipment manufacturers submit quote requests, and the site helps marry them to the right tool shop.
The company has signed 17 tool shops on its site and 300 OEM's, Lewis said. But he expects many more.
However, several toolmakers who asked not to be named sounded uneasy about providing Internet quotes. They said tooling should not be treated as a commodity item that goes to the lowest bidder.
But Lewis countered that the site finds more work for toolmakers and doesn't take away margins. Companies can look at OEMs' design drawings and then make a reasonable bid that does not eat profits, Lewis said.
"It gives the little shops a bigger marketing push," he said.
The Dock has not faced the same controversy. The company's president and co-founder is Michael Hackman, a former auctioneer, and it is backed by about $20 million in financing from Lehman Bros. and other investors.
Starting in March, the site began selling used processing machinery and both industrial equipment and services for a variety of industries. Assets are sold through classified listings, auctions, sealed bids and want ads, and members sign up on a subscription basis.
"We want to be the Switzerland of services," Peter Bylsma, vice president of marketing communications, said about the neutral site.