30 May 2006

In 2001, I had an idea to set up a trade website. The matter was discussed with ITC in Geneva, who liked the idea. Although ITC and myself agreed on the basic contents, we did not agree on the technical form this website should have. It practically came down to the fact that my approach was not using the latest in web publishing techniques, whereas the responsible person at ITC demanded this. As it turns out he was right and the result is a superb website, Leatherline, that allows surfers to access a variety of services. Here are some statistics and some behind the stage info, that ITC gave me. Leatherline was launched at the end of 2003 and, since then, the number of users grew progressively until stabilising at about 14,000 visits per month, which is huge when you consider that we operate in a rather small industry. In 2005, there were more than 160,000 visits. On average, there are about 9,000 first-time visitors per month; which means that a substantial number of surfers, some 5,000, visit the site more than once per month. The audience is growing and the website is firmly positioning itself as an important source of information for the leather industry. Most of the users come for the moment from industrialised areas. This is acceptable since one of the purposes of Leatherline is to increase the visibility of the industry in developing countries and to facilitate the development of business (especially through the 'market place' and the 'business contacts' modules). More than 2,500 companies have registered till now in the 'business contacts' module and continue every day to register. It is hoped that users in developing countries will make more and more use of Leatherline, because the other objective is to facilitate access to information from developing countries. Giovanni Dadaglio from ITC, who heads the project says that the following breakdown of usage by areas was noted during an analysis done in mid-2005: 34% Europe, 29% North America, 20% Asia, 6.5% Middle East, 4.5% Latin America, 4% Africa, and 2% Australia and Pacific. This obviously shows that there is still a huge workload ahead to integrate the developing world into the electronic world. The part that is most in demand is the 'market place' apart from the general contact database. In fact, I posted an offer myself looking for clients and within 48 hours I had two enquiries, both from the Middle East, and one resulted in actual business with a repeat order. In short: it works! Until now, Leatherline is not highlighted by the major search engines on the top of their lists. ITC are trying to correct this with the new design, which has come on-line last January, but it is encouraging to see the audience that ITC have reached in spite of it. Giovanni gathers that most users visit the site thanks to word of mouth publicity from users who are satisfied to other possible users. Leatherline was promoted just once on Leather International with 1/4 page advertisement in spring 2004, then with a stand in Tanning Tech in October 2004 and in connection with Meet in Africa 2004 in Addis Ababa. ITC have received many attestations of appreciation, and a large number of users confirmed that they succeeded in starting new business thanks to Leatherline. Examples of messages received from users are below. Now, together with a new design, new modules will make Leatherline even more attractive and useful with some very attractive features: the African Platform, a one-stop shop for information and market intelligence on the African leather sector, with complete profiles of the industry in each country (ITC started with the ESALIA area), the Analysis Tools, eg 'Market Access Map' which provides access to market conditions, tariffs and market access barriers and 'Trade Map' that is the world's largest trade statistics database. Last but not least, the Bookshop and the Leather Guidebook, which is a vademecum for those who want to know more about the industry in general. The Guidebook takes a 360 degree view right from the living animal to the ready made leather article. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the SFF is also there! It is ITC's objective to make it the most comprehensive guide for the leather industry. The approach is that of an 'open source' and the Guidebook will be built by free collaboration of all those who want to share their knowledge. The enhanced release of the website was launched during the second week of January. Features like the Guidebook will come on-line a little bit later and towards the end of May or the beginning of June you may like to click http://www.leatherline.org and take a look yourself. Consulting Leatherline and access to the wealth of information it provides is free of charge, no registration fee. Leatherline is accessible for all, both for consulting as for posting offers or enquiries. Companies that register are highlighted on the welcome page of Leatherline and remain there until replaced by new entries. Since new companies register on a daily basis, the front page shelf life is rather short. It is in everybody's individual interest to provide Leatherline with their commercial and contact data. It is free of charge, user-friendly and it gives everybody a place in the sun. Leatherline is dedicated, in line with the ITC's mission, to encourage the growth, development and trade of leather and leather products from developing countries. As stated, the service is completely free of charge, but of course there is a cost. Leatherline relies on sponsors to ensure its maintenance, continuous enhancement and further development. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, ITC and the Leatherline staff would be pleased to provide you with more information. Please note that the Sponsors must adhere to the UN Global Contact Principles, http://www.unglobalcompact.org Sam Setter [email protected] Comments from some Leatherline users: “Permanently I have been using your nice web site and many customers contacted me after getting my address from the website” Amha Yitbarek - Yesam Trading Plc (Ethiopia) “In order to inform you about Leatherline website I must say that it is being really helpful to locate and contact new customers and suppliers thanks to your Business Contacts directory. To put it in number I have made about 30 new contacts since the website was launched” Fontela Mariano - Pantin SA (Argentina) “I am profoundly thanking the system of Leatherline website you have introduced. I have received so many contacts from various countries, and we are communicating with each other” Mohamed Shariff - Ngozi Centre (Tanzania) “We are a leather corporation from China and have posted the company info on your website … about 13 buyers contacted us via your website” Matthew Leung - Far East Leather (China)

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