Volume 11, Issue 5 - September/October 2007

Open 24/7 
Web Development Advice and Five Dealer Sites
by
Drew Vass

If you’re a window film dealer who doesn’t have a website, you’re missing out on business. The good news is, as with most things—it’s never too late. 

A well-developed website can help your business draw in customers and generate sales. But a good site won’t do you any good if it can’t be found easily. And after paying for web design, creation and hosting, additional services like search engine optimization aren’t always in the budget. Well, there’s more good news—consumers shopping for service-oriented products, especially those requiring professional installation, are likely to use a directory service that’s based on locale, like www.anywho.com or www.yellowpages.com. No matter how primitive your initial site is, if you’re in the phone book and you have a link to post alongside your number—you’re in the game.

“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,” he adds.

A website is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, including holidays. Unless you’re willing to answer the phone at all hours of the night, it’s safe to say, your business isn’t. Before planning a new site, it’s important for window film dealers to determine what action your site will (hopefully) produce at all hours of the day and night.

Design with Purpose
“Ask yourself what the objective of your website is, relative to your enterprise,” David Sachs and Henry Stair suggest in their book, “The 7 Keys to Effective Websites.

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, not about keeping up with the Joneses. “Often, businesses decide to slap up a website because everyone seems to have one,” Heartfield warns. This can lead to sloppy design choices.

If you’re concerned about having a primitive look or lacking content, then you should know—experts say simple is good. Starting with the main page, Heartfield says, “Many business owners make the mistake of thinking it’s necessary to put every fact on a homepage.” He goes on to explain that, “People who surf the web are used to hyperlinked material.” So there’s no need to inundate visitors with information upfront. You don’t have to give it to them all at once. You just need to assure them the information they’re seeking lies within.

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.”

He also warns, “Often, the reason for this quick exit is that the information is presented in a disorganized or confusing way,” and explains that, “less is more.”

Those first two to four seconds are presumably spent on a site’s homepage. A homepage, therefore, could be thought of as a front window, meant to lure window shoppers further into your website. Just as a store doesn’t want to have a cluttered appearance by shoving all of its merchandise into a front window, you don’t want to cram too much into your homepage.

One way to promise relevant information up front, but avoid scaring off customers in those initial seconds, is by using explicit, concise links. In fact, according to Lyons, links cover what he sees as the most important issue: user orientation. According to him, at any point, visitors must be able to answer four questions:

  • Where am I;
  • Where can I go;
  • How can I get there; and
  • How can I get back?

In some ways, links serve as a visitor’s escort during his visit—always providing a way to the next information and a way back to the start.

Don’t Get Carried Away
There are plenty of interesting multimedia components out there begging to spice up your site, but beware of overuse. According to the experts, these elements should be used in moderation, because, while your intention may be to impress visitors, you could end up driving them away.

“Success is not being a cool site or a most visited site,” Sachs and Stair warn. “These are nice side benefits, of course, but they should not be goals in themselves.” Lyons concurs, writing, “Sometimes, we are tempted to put bells and whistles into a webpage that are not relevant to the tasks the user is performing.”

Heartfield warns specifically against using any sound that cannot be completely controlled by visitors. In his book, he states, “A general rule: Don’t play sound without visitors’ consent. Sound is risky because unwanted or unpleasing sound drives visitors away.” We’ve all had one of those uncomfortable moments, while innocently visiting a website during work hours to (perhaps) shop for a mattress, or some other merchandise. Suddenly, without consent, the voice of a cartoon mattress figure is screaming for all our coworkers to hear. Web browsing is predominantly a silent experience, so Heartfield’s advice is— don’t jump out at shoppers, potentially making them uncomfortable and scaring them away in those precious moments.

On to the Websites
A good website is only a good website if it can be found. That said, the five websites on this list all came up using just the words "window film dealer."

www.sunrayfilms.com
Sunray Window Films LLC’s site provides many of the advised elements exactly as prescribed by the experts. The left side of the company’s home page provides a list of simple, but explicit links. Additionally, it provides an immediate “face” to the business, by providing a brief background, including the company’s strong points.

While we now know inundating visitors with information is a no-no, there’s certainly nothing wrong with sneaking in an important tidbit up front. This company, you will notice, included an icon, inviting visitors to “click here” for additional information on potential window film tax credits. (See related story in the May-June 2007 issue of Window Film, page 30.) 

Last, but not least, this site has two options on its homepage—one for an online quote and another for referral information with the option of earning extra income. The phone hasn’t even rang and this Independence, Ohio-based company can collect leads around the clock.

www.accentbymasters.com
This site provides an instant testimonial by dropping the company’s important numbers upfront, boasting: “… over 15,000 satisfied residential and commercial window tinting clients in the state of Arizona for the last 27 years.” Accent Window Films LLC in Phoenix also offers simple navigational links upfront, with category selections labeled: residential, commercial and decorative. Customers who are seeking information on automotive films aren’t going to jump ship in those first few seconds, because the promise of information is there—up front.

“Another thing that websites present is an opportunity for printable coupons, or a monthly special,” Bollegar explains. “You don’t have to mail out anything; you just post it on your site and that creates an instant incentive. This company’s site closely mirrors that advice, by offering a web special upfront, with a large $50 icon and a link for immediately requesting an online quote.

Expanding on its initial boasting of “15,000 satisfied,” the site offers a “Customer Feedback” link where visitors are provided with a few brief quotes from happy customers, each linking to further details and even an online rating service showing the number of stars each granted their experience.

Experts agree on this move and Bollegar says, “A good dealer website has got to have a testimonial section.” 

www.jandjinc.org
J & J Inc. in Greenview, Ill., demonstrates both the experts’ dos and don’ts with its website. The main page has links posted clearly across the top with categories for film products and a means of returning to the company’s homepage at any point (do); but it also has chosen to place an animated figure in the center of the page that immediately begins speaking when visitors arrive (don’t—according to the experts). 

Additional dos include a link labeled “Our Clients,” which takes visitors to a list of the company’s commercial projects and mentions the fact that it has had more than 100 residential customers.

www.samstinting.com
Sam’s Window Tinting’s site also utilizes multimedia, but offers visitors the option of experiencing these features or not. A link in the center of its homepage offers to play the company’s latest television commercial and also offers an “interactive film viewer,” but neither begins without visitors’ permission. 

The company announces its locations in Nanuet, N.Y., and Ramsey, N.J., upfront and establishes its offerings in automotive, commercial and residential with three clearly defined links. Clicking on “Automotive” links to a $20-off offering “this month on two-door Accords.”

Clicking on the “Contact” link brings up pictures of both of this company’s locations, providing a “business face” for visitors.

www.windowfilmdepot.com
Window Film Depot Inc., based in Atlanta, is a good example of just the right amount of information combined with easy navigation. The company chose to place a brief overview of window film benefits front and center, but kept it short and sweet. Along the left side are large, clearly defined links—both demonstrating the types of film available (promising the information is present) and providing a quick and easy method for customers to navigate right to their areas of interest.

A “commercial” link on this page provides some serious name dropping, including: CNN, Office Depot, Wachovia, IBM and others.

“When someone visits your website and sees that you’ve done business for maybe a local hotel, or perhaps you just have pictures of smiling people with their cars that you’ve tinted, it provides shoppers with a fuzzy feeling,” Bollegar explains. 

Expert Tips
The seven keys to effective website design, as published and according to David Sachs and Henry Stair, authors of: “The 7 Keys to Effective Websites.” A site must:

  1. Be visually appealing.
  2. Be valuable, useful or fun.
  3. Be current or timely.
  4. Be easy to find and use.
  5. Have intuitive on-page navigation.
  6. Involve the visitor.
  7. Be responsive to its users.

You’re Not Alone
If developing your own information sounds like a daunting task, launching your own website doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. Many film manufacturers provide resources to dealers including artwork, a frequently asked questions list and complimentary links.

Charles Scales, sales support graphic specialist for CPFilms Inc. says his company is prepared to help. “[We] assist with images and graphics used to build websites for our dealers. We also have a webmaster on-site to assist with establishing links between corporate and dealer sites,” he says. 

While many of these sites draw on manufacturers’ resources, each incorporates them in a unique way. As a result, visitors may be seeing similar, or even the same images on various sites, but that doesn’t mean they have to look the same.

“The Dealer’s Corner of our website offers dealers images, press release templates, pre-designed advertisements, event information and more, to incorporate into their own marketing and communication materials—either print or web-based,” says Kathryn Giblin, director of marketing for Bekaert Specialty Films. 

Drew Vass is the editor of Window Film magazine.


WINDOW FILM
© Copyright 2007 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.