By Joseph Ursitti
from P&M MagazineOctober 1997
Today's culture dictates a right now mentality. Customers continually seek customer-service-oriented businesses to fit their needs. The kind of service that was delivered years ago from local mom and pop shops.
The Internet is giving local contractors the chance to service to a more diverse clientele. Translation: more money.
Paul Pollets, of Northwest Mechanical, says his web site will pull in over $100,000 worth of sales in its first year. And it's not even completed.
" We get about 30-50 hits per month on our site," says Pollets, senior project manager of the Seattle- based company. "I consider about 10 of those hits hot leads."
Pollets has a great situation being located in the Pacific Northwest. About 7 percent of his client base works for software giant Microsoft. Another 3 percent work for other software companies.
"We designed our web page to address the technological and sophisticated people in our area, says Pollets, who maintains the site since it went up on the Internet this February. "These people know what they want and can pay for it. Eighty percent of our clients are owners. The owners are stepping over the builder. The Internet provides a great resource."
The key to Northwest Mechanical's web site is the information found on it.
Pollets set up the page to give potential customers a brief introduction to the company.
"We are the only radiant heating contractor in the Northwest with a full-time, licensed professional staff," reads Northwest Mechanical's web page. "After a thorough, room-by- room analysis, our engineer will thoroughly design and engineer your heating system based on your unique needs."
It's marketing the way it was invented to be.
"It's teaser copy that helps us establish a relationship," explains Pollets. "I find it harder to close a sale when we go to them. Let them come to us - then they can feel the radiant heat in our showroom."
But you don't need to be in the radiant business in the Pacific Northwest to be successful.
Bob Allen, owner of Allen Plumbing in Houston, TX, has generated business off of his site. His site consistently takes over 4,000 hits per month, and has racked up 42,000 hits this year.
"I had a contractor who called me in to do an estimate on some work, says Allen, whose page has been posted since 1996. "I left our estimate on our letterhead on the counter for her to review. It had our web address on it."
Allen says she wrote and told him she found out about him on the Internet, and that she wanted to do business with him. They ended up taking care of the entire job over the Internet, and charged the job on the credit card.
"I didn't meet her until the job was done," explains Allen, who runs his business with his wife and one other employee. "The Internet is a great way to personalize business. It lets our customers know we're not cold or shallow. It lets them know we're human beings. n
It is easy for Allen's customers to find out how human he is - he posts pictures of himself, his wife, cats and dog. A customer can connect to Allen's personal page from allenplumbing.com, which allows them to his favorite sites.
"This is a great marketing resource," Allen says. "You can't change your trucks every week, but you can change the background on your web site. "
Hill Daughtry, webmaster of theplumber.com, takes a different approach with his web site. Already featured in PM in 1995, Daughtry is the owner of Hill's Plumbing, which is located on Vashon Island, WA.
Daughtry has been answering an average of 30 plumbing-related e-mails a day since March 1995, when the site went up. He spends an average of two hours a day maintaining the site.
"I get a kick out of helping people without the money thing involved," says Daughtry, who also maintains his own business web site (theplumber.com/hillplb.html)."There are no strings attached. If they want to take your advice, they take it. If they want to ignore it, they ignore it."
Daughtry admits that his situation is unique. His business has been catering exclusively to the island for the past ten years. Like Northwest Mechanical, Hill's Plumbing has a large Microsoft client base.
I live in a cornered market , on a small island," he says. "It's mostly a retirement community or a place for a second home. I don't need any more business."
Like Allen, Daughtry personalizes his page, with pictures of his wife and daughter. His site even links to a picture drawn by his daughter. How many plumbers do you know that would show potential customers their daughter's artwork?
But does posting personal information like pictures and children's artwork help sell plumbing?
Daughtry believes so. "We're like a mom and pop business," says Daughtry. "Everything except the work and billing is now done by e-mail."
That is a mom and pop business - on the Internet.
E-Marketing Your Business
Marketing your web site takes more than just posting it. There's effort involved in keeping customers coming back to your site. And on the Internet a stagnant page is the kiss of death.
"You have to sell and promote your page like any other product or service," says Ray
Jutkins, a marketing consultant for Power Direct Marketing. "You have to
keep doing it so people don't forget your site."
Here is a general guideline Jutkins offers to help market your web site:
Keep It Simple
Large graphics take too long to load. And with less than 50 percent of all modems 28.8 bps or less, it's a safe bet not too many people will hang around to check out your site.
"It's a younger, brighter, quicker, less patient crowd out there," says Jutkins, who gives presentations on Internet marketing. "The kind of things you do in other mediums, you can't do here."
Jutkins believes the Internet will grow rapidly from the "read" medium to become a mix of audio, video, text and motion. "If you rely on graphics here, you'll die. This is not a graphic media."
Paul Pollets, senior project manager of Northwest Mechanical, agrees: "Graphics have everything to do with what the page is. You need to control the download time."
Keep 'em There
"I want them to look at my page and my page only," says Pollets. "There's always room for improvement."
Jutkins says the way to keep customers on your page is to keep updating the information.
"Updated things give people reasons to come back," Jutkins says. "My site changes six times a month. There's something new every week. You need to give people reasons to come back."
"You want something of advertising value," says Bob Allen, owner of Allen Plumbing. "Time is money - you want to get the information out there so they can explore it. It's an inexpensive way to get information out."
Provide The Info
Almost all the people visiting your site will have found it looking for information about a product or service you offer. And knowing there is a chance for a sale, why not take advantage of it? You need to niche market.
Your web site symbolizes your knowledge - not only about the service you offer - but also about the industry you serve. You can't hide anything about your company. You need to tell it all - and in an organized, efficient way.
If you ask for feedback, you'll often get it. The trick is to promptly respond to requests for information. It'll drive the sale.
"The ideal goal is communicate through e-mail," Pollets says. "It takes high sales techniques. What you do after the call is what matters."
Know Your Limits
"Situations vary with different needs and time available," Allen says. "You need to decide what you want to do."
Pollets agrees: "It cost our company $2,000 to have the page design and put up. When we get ready to do it again, we'll hire a professional to design a more dynamic display. You get what you pay for."
Hill Daughtry, webmaster of theplumber.com, likes to deal with design and graphics. He designed his pages himself. "If you want to design your own page, you need to look at web site you like. You can look at the document source, and get an idea of how to do that design," says Daughtry
Daughtry says he took a four-hour class to learn the basics of Internet design.
- by Joseph Ursitti (Senior Editor)
from P&M Magazine October 1997