It wasn't that long ago that remodelers and home improvement contractors were considered the low-tech Luddites of the construction industry, but today many actually are pushing the envelope. Ten years ago, a "mobile office" (aka a pickup truck or van built out to resemble a space shuttle) was required to do the things that today can be accomplished with a smartphone. It did not take much persuading to get a remodeler or pro handyman to make more use of technology once they could carry it around in their shirt pocket.
My company works with home builders and remodelers from across the country on operational issues, and technology is almost always one of the tools we use to assist in becoming more efficient and profitable. So what do our remodeler and home improvement contractors have to say about your use of technology—or lack thereof? There's plenty you could be doing better to gain (or keep) their business.
Get with Their Program
More and more remodelers are using cloud-based project management systems. BuilderTREND and Co-Construct are two of the most popular. These systems make project communication, documents, estimates, photos, to-do lists, and schedules available to the entire project team via the Internet. But there's a catch: They work best for the remodeler if their entire team is using them consistently, and that includes you. If you refuse, it means someone on their end has to update the delivery schedule you were unwilling to update, or type and code manual invoices because you were unwilling to use the PO they issued.
There are probably a couple dozen of these systems in use, but they're all similar in the way they operate and vendor log-in accounts are generally free or inexpensive, so assign someone in your organization to be the "Cloud Guru" for your remodelers and get with their program.
Get Your Site Together
Our clients tell us that even though they'd prefer to deal with independently-owned material dealers, they are forced to buy more and more building materials from Amazon and "BigBox.com." Why? Because the product information and available inventory is accurate, their customers can log on to see (and approve) the products, and delivery is predictable. We consistently hear that independent dealers’ websites are not cutting it.
Make sure contractors are seeing an accurate picture of your inventory in near-real time, and that you’re supporting that inventory with accurate photos and product cut sheets. You should also make it easy to download rough-in dimensions and safety data information.
Remodelers need to be able to assign their online purchases to a specific job and/or PO number. Make sure your ordering system allows both. They need to be able to process their entire order online. If your website allows them to buy the framing and shingles online but then forces a trip to the “contractor sales” counter to order the windows, you've just lost a customer.
The good news is that it is no longer necessary for you to reinvent the wheel to have a user-friendly e-commerce site. Look into one of many pre-built frameworks available. Builderwire is one aimed at lumber yards and building materials retailers.
Time is Money
Opening at 7 a.m. and then forcing your remodelers to stand in line at a sales counter might have worked in 1980, but no more. By 7 a.m., the highways already are gridlocked in many metro areas.
Remodelers need to know exactly when to expect your delivery. Use a GPS fleet management system to track your delivery vehicles, and make that information available online and to your own call-takers. Accutracking is an inexpensive alternative that utilizes your drivers' cell phones or an installed tracking device.
For local pick-up, our clients want to order online the night before and have that order assembled (with forklift at-the-ready if necessary) before 6 a.m. so they can swing in on the way to the job.
And always document what you dropped off: Allan Edwards, a high-end builder-remodeler in Houston, Texas, has his vendors email or text photos of every delivery—with the packing slip—to himself and his project managers so they can see in real time what they have to work with. Likewise, many remodelers report that their lumberyards are emailing or uploading invoices the second the truck leaves the yard, allowing them to update their job costs in near-real time.
Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. Joe can be reached at email@example.com
You can find this article in ProSales magazine