PLC Direct, the firm which made its mark selling programmable logic controllers out of a catalog, has changed its name to Automationdirect.com and now operates what it calls the first cyberspace “factory outlet mall” for electrical and electronic automation parts.

For the past five years, PLC Direct has sold price-discounted programmable logic controllers through its catalog. In this time, the company has grown into one of the largest PLC companies in North America in units sold. Now the firm is expanding beyond PLCs and adding a full range of automation products including sensors, switches, pilot lights, I/O devices, industrial computers, control software, motor drives, and contactors. There are now more than 1,000 products available for purchase via the on-line superstore.

The company offers what it is calling “almost-free” prices on name brand automation products delivered as early as 11:00 a.m. the day after an order is placed.

“We offer products from the best manufacturers in the world,” says Tim Hohmann, founder and CEO of the company. “They are private and brand-name products that offer best-in-class specifications.”

Automationdirect.com prices are typically 50% below those of traditional distributors, says Hohmann. There is a 30-day money back guarantee, even on the software. Noting the success of e-commerce business models such as Amazon.com and Dell.com, Automationdirect.com is now offering industrial controls customers the same advantages of convenience and ease of ordering on-line.

“In contrast to the traditional buying process, the customer just types in www.automationdirect.com to see prices, specifications, and manuals. You click to order, and products can be delivered the next morning,” explains Hohmann.

Ordering on-line, according to Hohmann, eliminates the process whereby the customer calls a local salesman or distributor, has a meeting with a representative or specialist, and then makes numerous phone calls until the “right person who knows” is located. “This person then stops by with documentation and price quotations,” says Hohmann. “The buying process can take two weeks, and then more time is taken for delivery.” In one example, a cabinet that would have required $30,000 worth of components costed-out on-line at $10,000 says Hohmann.

The Automationdirect.com on-line superstore provides service 24 hr a day, seven days a week. The firm claims several features make its store unique to the automation industry:

• The customer can access all the store’s features without registering or logging in until the time of purchase.
• Prices are always immediately available to the user and can be printed or downloaded.
• Shoppers can create a customized “Favorite Items” list for most frequently purchased products.
• The store automatically inputs the order into the internal business system, where it is processed without human intervention to the point of picking and packing the shipment.

At the detailed-item level, shoppers can click for manuals or specifications, as well as view a list of related items which may be required. The product manuals and data sheets are available at no cost. Shoppers who want glossy literature can obtain it as well.

Once customers complete item selection, they can place the order by proceeding to the checkout screen. Credit cards and purchase orders are accepted as payment, protected by 128-bit encryption. If the order is placed by 4:00 p.m. ET, it can ship the same day and, if requested, can be delivered as early as 11:00 a.m. the next day. Shipping costs are extra and handled by UPS and other major carriers.

“Minutes after you place the order, you’ll get e-mail confirmation. Another e-mail is sent to let you know when the order leaves the warehouse,” explains Hohmann. “If you want to track the order, you can do this by typing in your order number and clicking on the track button. If the order has been delivered, you can find out who signed for it.” Registered customers can also view their on-line ordering history and check the status of those orders.

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.