West coast ASP adds local clients

The Vancouver Board of Trade has chosen a hometown company to provide its new e-commerce solution. Following a one-year search by the VBOT for a cost-effective proposal, the six-month-old Meridex Network Corporation recently scored the contract to create a booking and supply chain solution.

“Most solutions required a fairly large initial investment in hardware and software beyond the capabilities of small business,” explains VBOT managing director Darcy Rezac. As an application service provider, Meridex was able to offer the VBOT a low monthly charge with no start-up costs.

The VBOT is comprised of 4,400 members, most of which are small- and medium-sized businesses, says Rezac. He adds that only a quarter of the members have their own Web sites, and a very small percentage have e-commerce capability.

“We’re looking forward, as we develop this capability, to having our members connect with the world for the first time in a direct way,” Rezac said. “Part of the early criteria for the solution is to ensure our members can do business across borders.”

Rezac said the VBOT is currently beta testing Meridex’s solution, which will be used to handle the booking for the board’s 120 annual events on its www.boardoftrade.com portal. If successful, it plans to offer its members the option of joining an automated business exchange on its domain.

“Our members are pretty happy with the notion of us testing the solution before them,” Rezac said.

The VBOT contract represents the third major outsourcing agreement Meridex has landed with a Canadian company this year. A deal with Canada Post to handle its electronic supply chain was followed by another recent agreement with Cebra Inc. – a subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal – to create a business exchange for the 35,000 users of MERX, a national electronic tendering service for public sector procurement.

Bill Swansborough, Meridex’s director of sales and business development, claims that Crown groups such as hospitals, universities, and municipalities have also expressed an interest in the company.

“Supply chain is Meridex’s bread and butter,” he says, noting that the company offers a fully automated buy-and-sell process, from sourcing goods and soliciting quotes to managing purchase orders, invoices, credit approvals and shipping. “We really build our solutions around supply chain. We can drive the costs out of the business immediately. Then the B2B and B2C are sort of the nice-to-haves.”

Swansborough says that Meridex plans to expand to major distribution hubs in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as well as Seattle by the end of this year. The company hopes to open offices in Europe and Asia by the second quarter of 2001.

So far, Meridex has signed up 440 clients. However, its focus on creating business exchanges for other portals has left its own minor exchange on the Meridex portal without the critical mass to be completely useful. For example, a search to buy alternative music reveals only one Web site – a piano store.

Swansborough explains that his company’s push right now is to design exchanges for communities of small- and medium-sized businesses.

“It’s those disturbing statistics that we all know about,” he says, describing Meridex’s value proposition. “Canada is number two in Internet usage, but somewhere behind Zimbabwe in e-commerce.

“We kind of consider ourselves the WalMart solution of commerce – the solution for the masses.”

Cutline: “We’re looking forward to having our members connect with the world for the first time in a direct way,” says Darcy Rezac, managing director of the Vancouver Board of Trade.