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Manufacturers’ programs and pricing had been built around the idea that dealers got the best price when they bought a full truckload of appliances and were offered the best payment arrangements if they adhered to the manufacturer’s floor plan. Companies that push the boundaries of one value discipline while meeting industry standards in the other two gain such a lead that competitors find it hard to catch up. This is largely because the leaders have aligned their entire operating model—that is, the company’s culture, business processes, management systems, and computer platforms—to serve one value discipline.

Independent stores could hardly afford to carry a large stock of appliances, especially when faced with competition from multibrand chains. Moreover, the chains could put price pressure on manufacturers, causing makers’ margins to shrink. Historically the appliance industry had endorsed the theory that a loaded dealer is a loyal dealer. If a dealer’s warehouse were full of a manufacturer’s product, went the argument, the dealer would be committed to that company’s product line because there was no room for goods from anyone else.

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of sales and to open their books for review; and to pay GE through electronic fund transfer on the 25th of the month after purchase. Realizing that it had to supply high-quality products at competitive prices with little hassle, General Electric abandoned the loaded-dealer concept and reinvented its operating model—the way it made, sold, and distributed appliances.

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They have reengineered the process that begins with order entry and ends with product or service delivery in a way that emphasizes efficiency and reliability. Specifically, they have adopted automated inventory replenishment and invoiceless payments and have integrated formerly disparate logistics systems. Companies that have adopted a strategy of operational excellence also have built their operations around information systems that emphasize integration and low-cost transaction processing. Under the Direct Connect system, dealers have had to give up some float time in payables, the comfort of having their own back-room inventory, and some independence from the supplier. In return, they get GE’s best price while eliminating the hassle and cost of maintaining inventory and assembling full truckload orders—and their profit margins on GE products have soared.

In either case, the customer’s file appears on the rep’s screen before the phone is answered. Other businesses that vigorously pursue a strategy of operational excellence have reinvented their companies in similar fashion.

Under the company’s new Direct Connect system, retailers no longer maintain their own inventories of major appliances. They rely instead on General Electric’s “virtual inventory,” a computer-based logistics system that allows stores to operate as though they had hundreds of ranges and refrigerators in the back room when in fact they have none at all. But changes in the retail end of the industry caused GE to question that assumption. For one, the loaded-dealer concept was costly for independent appliance dealers, whose very existence was being threatened by the growing clout of low-price, multibrand chains like Circuit City.

The company’s profitability, then, depends in part on its maintaining a system that can differentiate quickly and accurately among customers based on both the degree of service they require and the revenues their patronage is likely to generate. The company recently installed a telephone-computer system capable The full details. Both 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Firefox available to download here. of recognizing individual clients by their telephone numbers when they call. The system routes investors with large accounts and frequent transactions to their own senior account representative. Other customers—those who typically place only an occasional buy or sell order, for instance—may be routed to a trainee, junior rep, or whoever is available.

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