Remodelers can be overwhelmed by statistics, projections, and guesstimates as to what the future holds for the industry.
Spinning the Web
One remodeler's Web site serves as a sales tool as well as a showroom.
On a typical day, Raymond McNealy could do business with customers in California, Washington State, Kansas and Florida without once leaving his office in Rockville, Md., or even picking up a telephone. McNealy, vice president of The McNealy Corp., uses his company’s website, www.mcnealy.com, to generate leads, educate potential customers, and sell bath fixtures via the Internet.
"At the beginning, [we built a website] to have a corporate presence on the Internet for local citizens, to have another mechanism for them to find out about us," McNealy says. After one year of operation, McNealy estimates that about $100,000 of his business in installed bath remodels has come from a client’s initial contact with the website. Another $220,000 comes from his online sales service.
|The McNealy Corp.
According to McNealy, about 60 percent of the Washington, D.C. suburb’s residents work for the government, and of those, 80 percent have regular Internet access. "What happens is they may be at work and have [a potential bath remodel] on their minds so they’ll do a search on an engine," he says. "We’ll usually come up in the top 5 percent."
Once an interested web-surfer arrives at McNealy’s home page, they’re offered a variety of options. Customers can find information about The McNealy Corp.; research costs; look at before, during and after shots of bath remodels; send e-mail; begin the project bid request process; and order bath fixtures from the virtual showroom.
"The website is a nonthreatening way for people to get a feel for who we are and what we do," says McNealy. "If a person wakes up at 2 a.m. and can’t sleep, they can still take a look at me, find out about us, look at our work and see if we’re the type of company they’d like to do business with."
Although the remodeling business portions of the website are targeted toward locals, any U.S. resident can access the virtual showroom. McNealy says that online sales were a natural complement to the website. "It was kind of an afterthought," says McNealy. "When going into this at the beginning, I thought that if the public could view us, wouldn’t it be nice to offer fixtures on the Internet. If Amazon could sell books, I could do the same thing with a faucet."
The McNealy Corp. owns and operates a 4,000-sq.ft. bath fixtures showroom for clients, and McNealy used his existing relationships with product vendors through the showroom to set up Internet sales. Customers browse through an online listing of products available through McNealy Corp., and place orders directly into an online form.
McNealy receives the order via e-mail, processes the credit card information, and forwards the purchase, again electronically, on to one of the two vendors he works with. The vendors then ship the products on McNealy’s behalf. "I’m just a broker," he says. "With lower pricing, you no longer take time for a face-to-face sale. [The customer] saves money, and I didn’t have to spend time with them for a $200 sale. The price sold it."
McNealy is able to process these electronic orders without much disruption of his work day. He’s able to do all the work himself, and it didn’t require the addition of any new personnel or equipment, either. "That’s the great thing about online sales," he says. "The traditionals costs of a retail brick and mortar store are eliminated."
The website automatically calculates appropriate tax and freight for each order as they come in, and the entire process from order to shipping takes about a day. On average, a customer will receive a faucet ordered from www.mcnealy.com within three to four days. McNealy estimates that his business does about $4,800 a week in Internet sales alone.
McNealy’s customers don’t seem to be intimidated by using credit card numbers over the Internet, either. Occasionally, a customer will note in their order that they’ll be calling later in the day with a credit card number instead of including it in the electronic order, and that method of payment doesn’t interfere with McNealy’s system at all.
Although McNealy is quite Internet-savvy, he doesn’t do any of the computer programming on the website. The nuts-and-bolts of the site are put together by Teczar, a web design firm located in Fredrick, Md. McNealy found Teczar after months of investigating possible design firms. "I went to their site, www.teczar.com, and within 15 minutes, I was so impressed with their own site that I picked up the phone and called them," he says.
It took about three months and several thousand dollars before the website was ready for operation. "A lot of the time was spent talking to [Teczar’s staff] and conveying the message to them. They don’t know bath remodeling." If Teczar employees weren’t familiar with the remodeling business before, they certainly are now. McNealy estimates that he spends about eight hours each week working on the website.
Since mid-April, 1998, McNealy estimates he’s spent about $24,000 having Teczar create, maintain and update the Web pages. Although it fluctuates greatly, it costs about $1,000 each month for site upkeep. Teczar has three programmers working onwww.mcnealy.com, and McNealy himself is the only one at McNealy Corp. involved in working on the site.
It’s easy for McNealy to see the results of his handiwork, however. Every morning Teczar sends him a Site Activity Report, allowing McNealy to see how many people visited his site, what they looked at and for how long. According to McNealy, most of his visitors concentrate on the company history, project examples, contact page and online showroom. He receives about 100 visitors in each 24-hour period.
McNealy’s also changed the way his company markets to those visitors, based on the success of his website. His remodeling trailer includes the website address in addition to the company logo. All of McNealy’s newspaper and yellow page ads include a reference to the website, and he’s been able to cut back on yellow page advertising from about $600 each month to $200 each month. "If people aren’t finding me there, they’re finding me through Internet searches or newspaper ads," McNealy says.
But the most important lesson to take away from McNealy’s website is that the technological aspects didn’t daunt him from using the Internet as a primary business tool. Instead, he views Internet business as both a challenge and an opportunity. "I’m self-taught. Everything I learned about the Internet, I learned by looking at it and reading," he says. "I love sales and remodeling, but it changes. What changes is the way business has to be done...change is good."
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