More than 70 percent of Hispanic Business 500 companies have Internet sites.
By Vaughn Hagerty
June 2000 - Can you recall life without the Internet? What did you do before e-mail? From business communications to the stock market, it is hard to point to a technology that has changed commerce so fundamentally, so quickly, as the Internet.
The rapid emergence of the Net – including e-mail, data transfer, and, of course, the ubiquitous Web – is reflected in the business practices of the HISPANIC BUSINESS 500, our exclusive list of the largest Hispanic-owned companies in the United States.
More than 70 percent of companies on the 2000 list reported having a company Web site. That percentage has increased steadily, from 13.2 percent in 1996.
Many of the companies' Web sites are little more than billboards in cyberspace – online brochures with company information, listings of services, and telephone numbers and "snail mail" addresses. This represents the first of four milestones in the digital evolution of a company, as outlined by Ralph Armijo, CEO of Navidec Inc., which provides e-commerce and other Web-based services and recently launched a sophisticated auto-buying site at www.driveoff.com ("InterActive," April and May 2000).
Some, however, already are making moves into the third and fourth stages, where the rules of business change and the Internet is integrated into and, often, guides strategy. "It's an absolutely new world for us," says Adrian O. Cohen, managing principal of Widom Wien Cohen O'Leary Terasawa, a full-service architectural and interior design firm in Santa Monica, California. WWCOT is number 368 on the HISPANIC BUSINESS 500.
"We're just starting," Mr. Cohen explains. "We have been farming work out to other countries. Through the Internet, we're getting some of our drawings done in Russia. It's an interesting opportunity, in terms of cost savings. There's a lot of talent in the world that you can use that's less expensive than the United States, and it's instantaneous. We're just scratching the surface. I think that there are immense opportunities. The whole world can be my office. I can access talent anywhere."
WWCOT is leveraging efficiencies from the Internet in myriad ways. Mr. Cohen says the interconnectivity allows instant collaboration between architects and engineers, a process that used to be somewhat cumbersome. "We set up Web sites for each project. We post all of our drawings on that site. The engineers can pick up those drawings and use them to create their drawings and documents.
"It's saving an incredible amount of time," says Mr. Cohen. "They can always check our site to check the status of our drawings. It's a very cooperative process. It's also saving a lot in terms of misunderstandings. Before, we would meet in my office once a week or every other week and exchange drawings.
So for a week, engineers would be working on obsolete plans."
The company's Web site, at www.wwcot.com, also serves as an interactive brochure for the firm. "We don't use pre-printed brochures," says Mr. Cohen. "We tell clients to go access our Web site."
While WWCOT is streamlining its traditional business practices, others are completely rewriting the rules of the game. Z-Spanish Media Corp. in Sacramento, California, number 91 on the HISPANIC BUSINESS 500, has had a Web site since 1995, promoting its radio stations and, in the last couple of years, offering streaming music for listeners to download. Last October the company launched CasaDeMusica.com, an online record store where the company sells the music it features on its main Web sites and on the radio.
"Before the Internet, I could sell you radio advertising in your local area," says Joe Espinata, vice-president, e-commerce development, at Z-Spanish. "When we first started the Web site [at www.zspanish.com] it was just a public-relations site. At one time, we decided, why not sell some mugs, little watches. It wasn't that successful. We were handling the sales ourselves."
CasaDeMusica.com represents a new paradigm for Z-Spanish, says Mr. Espinata. He would not discuss how much revenue the site has generated since its launch, but said it was "very encouraging."
"Streaming music has been the key to music sales and to the radio station. I even had a response from China," Mr. Espinata explains. "It's not going to replace radio – it's in conjunction with radio. I don't know if [the revenue] is going to rival what we're getting from radio advertising sales, but it will increase, no doubt."
The promise of CasaDeMusica.com and the potential for e-commerce revenues have led Z-Spanish CEO Amador S. Bustos to expand his online goals beyond his traditional market of radio, music, and advertising, says Mr. Espinata. "[Mr. Bustos], seeing all the publicity of dot-coms and Amazon making a lot of sales, said, 'Let's go out and become the Spanish Amazon.'
"We got a supplier to design pages and set up the shopping cart feature. We're expanding it now. We were just offering CDs, cassettes, videos, and accessories. For May [when the site launches], we're going to have a much larger offering for the public."
That offering, at www.elmercadogrande.com, will include products ranging from health and beauty to travel and concert tickets, says Mr. Espinata. Z-Spanish will not be incurring the overhead of stocking and supplying the items, but will instead work with partners already in those businesses to facilitate the fulfillment of sales made on elmercadogrande.com.
From radio station owner and operator to shopping mall, Z-Spanish is transforming itself in the new global marketplace, exploring possible revenue streams that it likely would never have considered before the Internet. The same forces that have changed Z-Spanish, WWCOT, and the rest of the companies on this year's list show no signs of abating, regardless of whatever gyrations the financial markets may be undergoing this week.
"I was talking to one of my partners recently and we were saying that 10 years ago, we didn't know what 'Internet' meant," says Mr. Cohen. "It was like the Stone Age. I cannot even imagine what it's going to be 10 years from now. It's an exciting world to live in."
HB 500 Companies with Web Sites
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