By Stephanie Herzfeld
By offering everything from robust search features to extensive specifications to easy-to-follow installation details, BUILDING PRODUCTS' 2001 Favorite 50 product manufacturer Web sites are the cream of the crop. They have many characteristics that readers said they want in a Web site and usually a whole lot more.
To narrow down the search for the best product Web sites for this annual list, BUILDING PRODUCTS editors reviewed hundreds of sites–with the help of eight builders and remodelers–maintained by manufacturers whose products are used most by contractors surveyed in BUILDER magazine's "2001 Brand Use Study." BUILDER is a sister publication of BUILDING PRODUCTS.
The most important features of a building product manufacturer's Web site, according to our contractor-reviewers, are detailed specs, complete installation information, clear images, and helpful extras.
Detailed specs often are the main reason builders and remodelers log on to the Internet, says Dennis Gehman of Gehman Custom Builder in Harleysville, Pa. Finding exact sizes, shapes, and colors saves time, reduces mistakes, and prevents miscommunication with customers. This is why sites with great specs, like Kohler's and Pella's, for example, are so popular with contractors.
"The importance is in getting sizes, spec sheets, and cut sizes because it saves me time from having to call my distributors," says Tim Wallace of Arlington, Va.-based TW Wallace Construction.
Comprehensive installation information is another mark of a great product Web site like the ones found on the Favorite 50 list. "Installation information in a [downloadable] PDF format–that's what I'm looking for," says Patty McDaniel of Boardwalk Builders in Rehoboth Beach, Del., who commends Certainteed's Web site for that reason.
Melanie Orr of Boise, Idaho-based Stronghold Construction agrees. "Installation information is very important because we don't get it from the supplier all the time, and we need to know it before we order a product to prevent ordering the wrong thing," she says.
Detailed CAD drawings and PDF files are often a pro's best friend, and usually are quick and easy to download with Adobe Acrobat, a program that can be obtained free from many of the Favorite 50 Web sites, including ThermaTru's and Merillat's.
Crisp, clear product images, including application shots, are another important feature that the Favorite 50 Web sites possess. "It helps to be able to send clients to Web sites to get photos," Wallace says, so they don't have to drive around to showrooms. At the Favorite 50 sites, like those for Sterling and GE Appliances, your clients can find what they want in a fraction of the time it would take them to see the products in person.
Spectacular photography is helpful to pros as well. Jim Stetson of Colony Homes in Woodstock, Ga., notes that great photos are especially important to him because they help him become familiar with products he hasn't seen before.
Wishful (Web) Thinking
Most pros would agree with James Magnotta of Lansing, Mich.-based Magnotta Builders and Remodelers that "anything that can help you sell to customers and help correctly specify and properly install products is helpful." But many techno-savvy contractors want Web sites to go above and beyond what even the Favorite 50 Web sites offer, acting as links to their subs and customers.
Michael Strong of Brothers Strong in Houston wants Web sites to integrate his firm, suppliers, and customers on the Internet so that information about clients' products can be downloaded by his subs through a link to his firm.
Meanwhile, Marty Schirber of Castle Building & Remodeling in Minneapolis says homeowners are becoming savvier as more and more information is available to them online, so pros and customers have to use the Internet together. "I want to use the Net as a tool with my customers," he says.
Favorite 50 Web Sites
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Here is an alphabetical list of the Favorite 50 product manufacturer sites.
Sea Gull Lighting
BUILDING PRODUCTS wants to thank the following builders and remodelers for their help in reviewing the Favorite 50 Web sites.
Gehman Custom Builder
Magnotta Builders and Remodelers
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Castle Building & Remodeling
TW Wallace Construction