Week of January 17, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

Assetrade: A Promising Online Avenue
for Dispositions/Acquisitions

The online auction.

Clearly, it's an idea whose time has come. Exhibit A: eBay, which has rapidly amassed more than 2 million registered users and now records annual gross merchandise sales in excess of US$1 billion. As an International Data Corp. bulletin put it, "The Internet may make the cry of the auctioneer a thing of the past." It's less clear, though, exactly how the online auction business is going to shake out in the corporate real estate (CRE) industry.

Nonetheless, numerous CRE-focused sites have emerged; and one of the more promising ones in that lot looks to be www.asseTrade.com. As the asseTrade site explains, "Our mission is to develop and implement comprehensive asset/inventory recovery, disposal and management solutions for corporate clients through state-of-the-art Internet electronic business applications, including online auctions."

Yeah, right.

Hold on, though. AsseTrade is no Johnny-Come-Lately to CRE. This site comes with a wealth of real estate expertise behind it - more than 150 years, in fact. The two organizations that founded asseTrade -- Henry Butcher USA and Michael Fox International -- rank among the leaders in asset evaluation, recovery, disposal and consulting. Together, the Butcher and Fox organizations have a long list of big-name clients, ranging from AT&T, Alcon Labs and Arthur Andersen to the World Bank, Xerox and Yamaichi (the full joint list, if you're interested, is available onsite under "Our Clients").

'The First Real-time Platform For Corporate Assets'?

As you'd expect, then, this site is heavy on the real estate particulars. In fact, asseTrade's "trading center module" bills itself as "the first full-cycle, real-time platform specifically customized for the after-market management, sale, trade, purchase, exchange and auction of corporate assets."

Cyberspace, of course, is changing so rapidly that the who-did-what-first claims and issues -- such as ones that asseTrade's claims evoke -- will be years in definitively shaking out. More to the point, prospective users should be aware that this site, as it notes online, is squarely aimed at "major global 2000 companies." (In other words, no, this site won't help you unload that seedy little pool hall that your dear, departed, quite dipsomaniacal Aunt Mildred bequeathed you.)

Nonetheless, there's a lot to like here in terms of what you can accomplish online. The site's asset auction function will unquestionably command the lion's share of the pub. Nonetheless, the range of functions that can be performed onsite is much broader than that. Only a partial listing of the other asseTrade functions includes:

  • accounting;
  • acquiring fixed plant and equipment ratings;
  • asset appraisal and evaluation;
  • asset registrations and asset tracking;
  • ordering;
  • payment;
  • procurement; and
  • shipment.
For example, reflecting the Butcher/Fox team's long involvement in equipment sales, the site also has lengthy catalog listings of equipment and inventory. The listings are displayed under primary categories (e.g., "Computer Products," "Home and Leisure," etc.) in the left frame, with each having a large number of sub-categories. From our test drive, you're seldom more than three clicks away from burrowing down to the information you're after, such as product descriptions and current bid status.

Using the System: Not for the Whimsical

Given today's intense pressures for flexibility, however, not to mention the seemingly unending wave of merger mania, most CRE types will likely gravitate to the site areas focused on asset acquisitions, and, in particular, asset dispositions. Once a bid is placed on an online item, the page on which the sale is being conducted immediately updates to reflect the current winning bids. Sellers, winning bidders and "bumped bidders" are all notified by email throughout the online transaction process.

AsseTrade's Internal Communication Center also allows users to continuously interact with all registered clients throughout a transaction, communicating via e-mail, posting bulletin board messages to groups, confirming transactions, contacting vendors and making other inquiries. The Communications Center also offers "chat channels," which, the site explains, can be "useful for business or entertainment purposes." The chat rooms can also be configured with "automated attendants" for news updates, specials or other announcements. Existing chat room members can choose to give new users full or restricted access.

Overall, asseTrade grants users a considerable measure of independence in setting up their onsite presence. For example, users can customize asseTrade's electronic platform for their individual needs. That enables users to securely catalog, list, track and document their asset- and inventory-related transactions within a community of users that they select.

If this all sounds formidably complex, well, you're accurately getting the "Global 2000" drift. This site was created for dead-serious users, not whimiscal surfers.

A "virtual tour" may help you decide if this site can be of use to your company. You'll need to register to do that, but it's a relatively brief, painless process. In addition, asseTrade offers an online tutorial and a built-in help section. You can also get help the old-fashioned way: by calling the site's "offline support" office, which is available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m (U.S. Eastern Time).

Smooth Navigation, Lean Design

As for the site's layout and ease of use, form definitely follows function here. Befitting a site on which speed is imperative, the site navigates easily, with rapid loads. Layout is also very lean-'n-clean. You won't find any fabulous bells and whistles here; if you're using this site, though, that's almost certainly the last thing you're looking for.

Each online page lists a master menu across the top, with the left column listing the corresponding sub-sections for the topic that's currently active. The site's formidable technology is also helpfully separated into six "master modules": Login, Registration, Search Functions, Transaction Center, Communication Center and the Help System.

The site is also set up so it won't be inundated with users who really aren't there as bona fide players. (Exhibit B: those damnably nosy Web site reviewers!)

Before they can actively participate, bidders must register, entering credit card, personal and shipping information, a process that the site says "takes only a few minutes." The approval process for new bidders, which is done by email notification, can, the site explains, "be instant or after a credit check has been processed."

Kids, Don't Try This at Home, And Do Know What You Own

A few major caveats are obviously in order here. You clearly don't want Junior or Little Maggie pinching your company credit card and hopping onto this site. And, as any veteran cybernaut knows, Internet usage can be addictive. (In fact, in only the latest of cyberspace's supreme ironies, Internet Users Anonymous is now an official and rapidly expanding body. So where does it place its 12-step plan for those with an acute cyber jones? Why, on the Internet!)

Before you bid here, you also need to be well aware of exactly what your company actually owns in terms of real estate assets. A lot of companies - major, well-respected names - still don't know. Real estate is expensive, so you don't want to be buying something that you don't need and that duplicates what your company already has.

Case in point: Albeit it may be an urban real estate folk tale, one story making the rounds in the industry has it that a nationally recognized bank with more than 600 branches simply lost track of 30 million sq. ft. (2.7 million sq. m.) of corporate real estate. In fact, one of the bank's branches, sitting only two blocks from corporate headquarters, sat vacant for 18 months with the facility's lights, HVAC and other systems turned on at full blast.

We don't know whether that story is true. We do know, from talking frankly with some major corporate real estate players, that if it's true, it's certainly nowhere near the first time such a thing has happened.

Regardless of that story's veracity, you get the picture. This site is strictly for the big boys (and girls). And you better know what you're doing - and what you have - before you sit down and get dealt in on the action.

Will asseTrade become a force in the rapidly budding world of online CRE? The pitiless pace of cyberspace evolution will determine that. And that's a tough, Darwinian road to hoe. At first glance, though, asseTrade seems to have more than enough potential to be a major player.



©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.