Volume 47, Issue 3 - April 2008

SHELTER Special Section: Technology 

Web olution
Are You Missing Out?
by Drew Vass assistant editor of Shelter magazine.

Any lumber and building materials dealer that doesn’t already have a website is, at best, late in the game. Because the bulk of most dealers’ business comes from local area builders, it may not be as important to have a shop and check-out service online, but simply having a presence can make quite the difference.

“Consumers are smarter today and they use the web to do research and make their shopping decisions,” says Mark Bollegar, president of Market Pro Direct, a small-business marketing provider. “If they go to the online yellow pages and there are two dealers, one with a website and one with only a phone number, in a lot of cases that’s the end of the deal for the one without a website.” 

The idea, according to Bollegar, isn’t to have your website conduct business for you. There’s a fine line between providing too much information and not enough. If there is too much information, then your customers won’t feel inclined to pick up the phone and call your professional sales staff, who can then reel them in. Not enough information and they will simply move on to the next dealer site for immediate gratification.

In “Essential Design for Web Professionals,” Charles J. Lyons warns, “Users will leave a website in about two to four seconds if they do not see something useful at the outset.”

Those first two to four seconds are presumably spent on a site’s homepage. In today’s world, a company’s homepage is no different than its yellow page ad or even its curb appeal. The Internet traffics users by your site the same way a builder traffics his clients through your showroom.

When a builder sits down to search for a certain product or service, he is likely to use one of two things—a localized listing service, like www.bigyellow.com or www.anywho.com (essentially online yellow pages) or a basic search engine, such as Google™ or Yahoo!®. When a potential customer conducts a search using a search engine, ensuring that your site comes up means competing with dealers nationwide (or worldwide, for that matter). Appearing on the returned list, in this case, most likely requires investing in search engine optimization (SEO) services. 

These services can be beneficial, but costly. For a localized dealer, they also may not be absolutely necessary.

A builder who operates in Des Moines, Iowa, for instance, who wants to locate a new lumber and millwork dealer, most likely isn’t going to sit down and type “lumber dealer” into Google. That would return hundreds, thousands and possibly millions of websites for lumber dealers worldwide. A builder seeking a new supplier is more likely to use a localized listing service that allows them to dictate a geographical area or city. That way, he’s only provided with a list of dealers in his specific area. 

When he is provided with a list of Des Moines area dealers, for example, it will contain company names, addresses, phone numbers and … website links. Des Moines area dealers with a website can get immediate “click throughs.” But dealers without a website will have to hope that, by the time that potential customer has clicked through to half a dozen competitors, he hasn’t found what he’s looking for and will pick up the phone to call his company.

Make Yourself Known
John Heartfield, author of “Make Your Small Business Website Work, Easy Answers to Content, Navigation and Design,” explains that website development should be about creating a presence. Manny Hondroulis, marketing manager for Energy Products Distribution in Baltimore, Md., has helped a number of small businesses do just that. Hondroulis says having an Internet site is as much about presence and branding as anything else.

“Your company’s website is another component of its brand,” Hondroulis explains. “It’s not just an intangible item that you’re creating for the sake of jumping on the Internet-bandwagon.”

Just as you would have your company’s name and logo applied to every sales document, every delivery vehicle and signage, so it should be with your website.

“Coca-Cola® enjoys the highest brand recognition in the world,” Hondroulis says. “That scripted white logo on a red background is worth billions and most everyone across the globe recognizes it. The company’s website is no exception to this brand rule.”

Building material dealers may not have one particular product brand to promote, like the famous Coca-Cola bottle, but Hondroulis says a company is its brand. He also says your company’s niche and strong points should become a clear part of that brand.

Get in the Game
The odds of a builder doing a physical drive-by in order to get a feel for your company aren’t good. The odds of a contractor picking up the local yellow pages and flipping through to the “building materials” section are still pretty good. 

But the odds of a builder, contractor, a do-it-yourselfer and any other potential customer logging onto the Internet and conducting a search for “building materials in Des Moines, Iowa” are pretty good in this day and age. The question is—are you in the results? 

Blue Ox Lumber Co. in Torrance, Calif., employs a distinctive company logo. Its logo is placed in the top left corner of the company’s home page, just as a sign would be placed in front of its commercial location.

Just below, and part of its logo, reads: “A division of Harry T. Williams Lumber Co. est. 1909,” establishing the company’s long-standing history upfront.

Part of Mid-State Lumber Corp (MSL)’s niche, or brand, is offering dealers the option of buying smaller shipment amounts than manufacturers typically allow, so the company, headquartered in Branchburg, N.J., states this clearly on its website:

“Mid-State Lumber Corp. has earned a market-wide reputation as a source of wood products for the independent retail lumber dealer. 

The company was designed to provide the retail dealer the option of buying less than full manufacturer shipments, via distribution services.”

If you were to sit down an conduct a search of your own for a new lumber provider in the New Jersey area, chances are MSL will come up in your search. If you clicked through to the company’s site and were looking specifically for a provider that allows for smaller shipment amounts, you would have found the “brand” for which you were looking.

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