Selecting and Purchasing Products

The Internet aids research, but remodelers', subs' and customers' hands-on approach to products keeps final selections and transactions offline.

May 31, 2004

Selection and procurement software are the latest additions to the professional remodeler's arsenal. Do you need a program dedicated solely to selections or will a software package with a purchasing component do the trick?

A few key questions to ask include:

  • Is it important to be hands-on in the selection process?

  • Do you communicate with clients, suppliers and subs by fax or e-mail?

  • How are change orders handled?

  • What kind of accounting program do you use?

Spectrum Fine Homes: High-tech meets high-design

Located in Mountain View, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley, Spectrum Fine Homes has clients who are about as tech-savvy as they come. The $2 million design/ build company, which has a staff of licensed interior designers, also is tuned into the importance of the selection process. Before any project goes to the building stage, every finish - from the wall color down to the hardware on the cabinets - must be specified. No allowances.

You might think Spectrum Fine Homes would be on-board with anything that offered high-tech selections for both the company and its clients. But Susan Davis, the company's design principal, is skeptical about product selection methods and purchasing software programs that allow remodelers and their clients to do everything online.

"With finishes, so much is touchy-feely," Davis says. "You cannot choose granite online. You can get some ideas of what might work, but you've got to go to the granite supplier and actually see the slabs and pick the individual slab that speaks to you."

Just as Davis prefers not to send clients to shop for finishes solo at a brick-and-mortar store, she's uncomfortable with the idea of them selecting finishes alone online. She thinks her clients and the project as a whole benefit from the expertise and guidance of a person who knows the options and the pros and cons of those options. In the end, she says, it saves time and money, resulting in a happier customer and a more profitable job.

"To just be able to pick and click, I don't see it as the end-all answer for the consumer to get a really cohesive, finished process," Davis says. "If you're picking your granite, you want to make sure that granite works with your cabinet, works with your backsplash tile, works with your flooring, works with that sofa that's going to sit adjacent to it. It's integral."

As soon as clients sign a design agreement, Davis gives them Post-it notes and binders filled with magazine tear-outs. Clients also fill out surveys. It's a very low-tech approach, but in a short time, Davis can get a clear visual idea of who her clients are and begin pulling together options for finishes.

That's where technology comes in.

"We do utilize the Internet a lot - more and more," Davis says. The staff designer responsible for furnishing and color specs uses the Internet almost exclusively for research and often e-mails options to clients. The company views

e-mail as a great tool because messages can be copied to several people and keeps everyone involved in the selection process on the same page.

The company's procurement process also benefits from the use of technology. About five years ago, Spectrum Fine Homes began using QuickBooks Pro to update their bookkeeping system. As a side benefit, product procurement has become more streamlined.

"When it's time to order something, we generate our purchase orders through our QuickBooks Pro program," explains Davis.

If a supplier has e-mail access, Spectrum Fine Homes can e-mail the purchase order using QuickBooks. Because not all of their suppliers have e-mail capabilities, Davis estimates the company still sends 50 percent of purchase orders via fax.

Using the software program has made Spectrum's procurement more efficient and accurate because the data only needs to be entered once. "Your purchase order feeds into your invoice, which feeds into your billing," Davis says. "[With QuickBooks Pro], we can track everything. We have access to everything. It's cross-referenced."

Davis' only complaint about QuickBooks Pro is that it didn't cross platforms at the time Spectrum Fine Homes was software shopping. The once Mac-only office became a dual-platform company to accommodate the software program.

Other product selection and procurement programs have come across Davis' desk over the years, but she hasn't been tempted to stray from QuickBooks Pro. "The learning curve of some of these other programs is so great and for our revenue level, we don't need anything more."

Software Programs With Purchase-Order Functionality
Works With
Contact Info
An application service provider module is approximately $1,000
Works with any procurement system
www., 800/701-8053
Internet-based software; purchase orders automatically delivered with your specifications
Intuit Master Builder 2004
Starts at $1,895
Xactimate for Remodelers, Cadsoft, WinEstimator, Quest Estimator, ACT!, GoldMine, Microsoft Office
Add-on module includes database of more than 19,000 parts and materials, and 1,000 assemblies; also can import your own data. Generates purchase orders from completed estimates.
QuickBooks Premier Contractor Edition
ACT!, Microsoft Word, Outlook and Excel
www., 888/729-1996
Ability to automatically create invoices and purchase orders added for 2004
$10,000 to $15,000 for estimating, procurement and accounting modules, plus training; starts at $2,200 for an estimating-only solution; $4,000 for an accounting-only solution
ArchiCAD, Cadsoft, Microsoft Office, Primavera, WinFax Pro
www., 800/628-6583
The full suite offers a procurement feature that generates purchase orders, tracks change orders, issues receipts and creates invoices. Entry-level database of 4,000 items; large database of 20,000 items and 700 assemblies, including RSMeans databases; can import your own data
Xactimate For Remodelers
$58/month per seat
QuickBooks Pro, Master Builder, ACT!, GoldMine, Microsoft Project and Word, any CAD program with .dxf files
www., 800/424-9228
440 regional price lists for labor, equipment and materials; updated every 90 days; can export estimate information

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