Every day, week and month you’re not online is a day you won’t get back. And it won’t bite you back now; the bite comes five years from now. The growing pains will be felt as the next generation creeps into our industry. Your workers, wholesalers and customers will expect you to be computer savvy.
It won’t be that far out of whack to bring your laptop to the jobsite, and e-mail your order to your wholesaler. Your younger employees will expect you to be technologically knowledgeable. And eventually you’ll be able to separate yourself from everyone else by showing your customers online manufacturer showrooms.
Our industry is having a difficult time adjusting to the new technology. Action Plan 2003, a study sponsored by the American Supply Association in September 1997, suggests that the faceless interchange the Internet breeds creates competitive advantages for some companies.
“We are surprised that both manufacturers and wholesalers have not listened more carefully to the needs of their customers, recognized the importance of this type of data and information to contractors or moved more quickly to capitalize on this opportunity,” the report states. “In addition, capitalizing on the time-value of bidding information is another vehicle to offset the ‘price-price-price’ culture of the plumbing supply market.”
Action Plan 2003 reports that the plumbing industry is lagging behind other fields on the Internet. Nevertheless, there are some online pioneers in our industry. In October 1997, PM wrote about contractor pioneers; this time around it’s manufacturers.
Hey, we’re no fools, we know where our bread is buttered. We realize some manufacturers may get miffed at our list, so we should state the obvious: This list should not be considered a PM endorsement of these sites.
The sites were rated using several different criteria — including design, information and general usefulness. We gazed at numerous manufacturer Web sites on our computer — a Power Macintosh G3, with a 28.8 modem. All the sites were viewed in Netscape Navigator 4.05 during the third week of April.
Without further ado, here is the list, presented in alphabetical order:
Amtrol www.amtrol.com This site ranked high in graphic design and information. Amtrol, a manufacturer of plumbing and heating products and indirect water heaters, flaunts an easy-to-use site.
Buttons help the user navigate quickly and efficiently through the site.
Contractors will find a great deal of information about the company’s products, including cut-away product photographs. Now you can see what the inside of an indirect water heater looks like. It helps you explain the products better to your customers.
Amtrol lists specification sheets for its products online as a .pdf file, which can be viewed using Adobe Acrobat. These files can be extremely helpful when doing product research.
Central Boiler www.centralboiler.com The Internet places a tiny company like Central Boiler on a level playing field with giants like Kohler. Unless you knew Central Boiler, a manufacturer of gas and wood-burning boilers, you would have no idea it was located in the small rural town.
Central Boiler’s Web site wasn’t made for novices; it could be confusing for amateurs. The site breaks into four frames, including one to vote the site a top 20 Internet site.
Central Boiler gives its plug for wood-burning efficiency, and the value of safety. If you’re looking to pitch CB’s products, you can point your customers to this information-rich site. The company gives contractors a diagram on how its systems work with radiant heating systems. Additionally, you’ll be able to find an online catalog.
Grinnell www.grinnell.com A simple, clean design by Grinnell helps it use the Internet to the fullest capacity. Quick-loading pages place the company’s entire product catalog online, complete with pictures. Grinnell is a manufacturer of valves, fittings and sprinklers.
The site features a scrolling bar that introduces the latest in company news. Photos easily break down the site. This location was constructed with expert information for novices to use. There is plenty in way of research on the site, and you can request papers on multiple safety reports, or the company’s research and development.
Grinnell’s site is a must reference if you need to make presentations to customers about fire protection or flow control.
Halsey Taylor www.halseytaylor.com Halsey Taylor, manufacturer of water coolers and drinking fountains, takes the spot for the slickest online graphic. Underneath each button on the left frame is hidden artwork, displayed only when the user’s arrow is pointed on it. Although the site possesses the slickest graphic, it coincidentally contains the smallest text.
The site includes an area for contractor problem troubleshooting with the company’s product. Fifteen different problems are addressed on the site. If you don’t find your problem, you can e-mail them.
Be aware, though, there is a lot of information exchange between the user and company, which lends itself to better tracking. The potential invasion of privacy should eventually lead to a fine-tuned version of the current Web site.
In-Sink-Erator www.insinkerator.com When was the last time you installed a food waste disposer or hot water dispenser and offered the customer a recipe for fresh strawberry pie? In-Sink-Erator’s site separates you from the rest of the pack.
This sharp, quick-loading site dispenses charts, product information and recipes. In-Sink-Erator’s Web site can make a good contractor great — and interestingly enough — some areas are still under construction.
After you install In-Sink-Erator’s product into your consumer’s home, point them to this site. It gives consumers a great explanation on how to properly use the company’s products — and why the products help the environment.
IPEX www.kitec.com Dan Holohan is right — the Kitec man is scary. In fact, he scared me right into IPEX’s site, which squeaked in as a top 10 pick. The site almost did not make the list because of navigation difficulties. It made the list because of outstanding content.
The site contains a wealth of information about the company and its products, including cut-away photos. IPEX —manufacturer of Kitec pipe, fittings, valves and fittings — offers multiple charts for figuring out the right piping size. A lengthy amount of time is required to do research on this Web site, but in the long run it’s worth it.
Kohler www.kohlerco.com Exactly what should be expected from a manufacturing giant, Kohler provides an easy-to-navigate, graphically intense site. Kohler maintains a neat, cohesive artistic feeling throughout its Web site.
A neat little notebook helps you break down the installation of Kohler products, which better explains your value to your customers. The most recognizable consumer name on the list, Kohler comes through for the contractor by displaying a gallery of products.
Your customer not sure if she wants the toilet in cream or green? Send them to the site to see. Kohler helps your customer decide what she wants before calling you. It’s a reciprocal deal — you can point your customer to the site for her to decide what she wants. This site is a win-win-win for Kohler, the contractor and consumer.
Taco www.taco-hvac.com Taco — a manufacturer of hydronic products — seems to continuously lead the pack with innovative technology. Just six months ago, the Rhode Island-based company became the first company to provide a real-time video webcast from a PHC trade show.
Its Web site fits the bill of a company pushing the envelope of technology. Taco’s site contains its entire gamut of products — all of its product catalogs are located online. Additional time is required to download the Acrobat files, but you can find anything the company offers anytime you want it.
The biggest downfall with this site is its lack of design. However, Taco’s gold mine of knowledge compensates for design weakness.
Truebro www.truebro.com The quick-loading, clean cut Web site from Truebro provides outstanding information for ADA conformance. Truebro, a manufacturer of ADA plumbing products, provides diagrams on what is needed for disability conformance.
The company goes into detail about the 1991 Americans with Disability Act. This site is a great resource if you need to make a presentation to a customer regarding plumbing disability products. Complete with its spinning “TB” trademark, Truebro’s Web site contains a ticker with the latest company news.
Truebro breaks down its products — listing specifications, features, benefits and best usage. The site is photo-based, so you can point your customers to Truebro’s page to show them the value they are purchasing.
Wirsbo www.wirsbo.com By far, Wirsbo gives the best explanation on why a person should choose radiant floor heating over a forced air system. Wirsbo, a manufacturer of radiant tubing, literally lists benefits of radiant heating and its products for homeowners, wholesalers, contractors, builders and plumbers. It also explains the benefits of snowmelt systems. Simple in design, this site from Wirsbo offers online catalogs and product literature. The site also contains a gathering of frequently asked questions — a great place to point a customer who is considering radiant heating. An outstanding resource.
If you want to tell us why you believe another site should have made our list, e-mail us at Ursitti@aol.com. Do you have a great contractor Web site you want us to check out? Drop us a line at Ursitti@aol.com.