SELLING RETAIL PRODUCTS on the Internet is a phenomenon that even Wall Street's top analysts can't put their fingers on. Some industries, such as book retailers, have thrived on the ever-expanding information superhighway, while others, such as pet suppliers, have gone belly-up.

So what does this mean to farrier suppliers who want to make their wares readily available via the Web? Are farriers ready to consistently buy supplies through a computer?

While it's too early in the game to give cut-and-dry answers to the buying patterns of farriers worldwide, there are signs that indicate there may be a place for selling everyday farrier products online.

Infancy Stages Selling products through the Internet is in its early stages and has been an evolutionary process. Some of the most successful farrier supply companies have only been offering products online for 2 or 3 years.

Many farrier suppliers first launched Web sites as a way to gain exposure for their business as well as to give location and contact information to potential customers. But as more and more folks became computer savvy and home computers became commonplace, farrier supply companies began offering products in a whole new way.

"We've offered farrier supplies online for about 2 years. At first, it didn't prove to be very successful," says Amy Pieh, vice president of Centaur Forge in Burlington, Wis. "For one thing, there was a security firewall that we had in place that prevented Internet search engines from finding us. But since we joined the Farrier Resource Center, we've seen steady growth globally. Being a part of their site has enabled us to keep over 10,000 products available online, something that we'd never be able to do on our own.

"We had over 75,000 visitors to our online shopping site in the first 3 months."

Comfortable With Change?
Getting some farriers to try a new way of purchasing supplies isn't the easiest thing to do. Many are comfortable buying products the same way they always have and are hesitant to buy something electronically. Rick Burten, an American Farriers Association Certified Journeyman Farrier from Champaign, Ill., echoes the sentiments of many farriers when it comes to buying things online.

"While I often browse the online farrier catalogues, I have never purchased supplies online," he says. "I'm still leery of giving my credit card number out over the Internet, even though I know that secured sites are probably safe.

"Just some personal paranoia on my part."

Dale Peterson, a farrier from Bellevue, Wash., uses the Internet as a reference tool, but still prefers human contact when he spends his money.

"I'm always looking online at farrier supply sites and looking at prices," Peterson says. "But I need to see products and ask questions with a real person before I buy the goods."

Other farriers remain comfortable with the relationship that they've built over the years with their current supplier. "I've never bought supplies online. I've used my primary supplier for about 20 years and have been comfortable with their service and prices," says David Clouse, an AFA Certified Journeyman Farrier from Liberty Hill, Texas, though he readily admits to utilizing the Web as a resource. "I frequently look at other company Web sites to compare prices and get information on new products, but I've always come back to my original supplier."

"Online buying hasn't totally caught on with farriers yet," says Susan Hight, general manager of The Horseshoe Barn of Sacramento, Calif. "However, the number of farriers using e-mail continues to grow."

Burten adds that location plays a factor in his decision to purchase supplies in person. "I have the luxury of having two of the finest supply houses right in my state, one of which I go to on a regular basis on my way to one of my shoeing clients," he says.

Online Buying Advantages
Since the whole concept behind setting up farrier products online was to make purchasing products easier for the buyer, how is it working in that regard?

"I buy a lot of supplies from supply houses through Web sites," says Jim Turnage, a farrier from Palestine, Texas. "It's a great way to shop since I get home late in the evening and can sit down and search the Internet for bargains."

"The store is always open online," says Hight. "Because our entire catalog is online, the prices are continually updated, whereas our printed catalog is updated only twice a year."