Frederick Cann admits that pricing construction jobs has always made him a little nervous.

Cann, who owns JR Solutions, a 10-year-old home building and renovation company in Medford, N.Y., notes that while there are several Web sites—including ServiceMaster and BidClerk—to which he could turn to bid for labor, he couldn’t find a site to bid for materials.

“That got me thinking that maybe there’s an opportunity,” he recalls. So about six weeks ago, Cann and two partners launched, a site that allows contractors to post their materials lists, and for suppliers to find new leads for business.

Suppliers can avail themselves of this service for free. As of Monday more than 300 suppliers—distributors and lumberyards from around the country—have signed up. Cann says the site is adding between 30 and 40 new suppliers per day. And as of Monday, it had also signed six contractors (at $50 per contractor per month) to access the service. “And we didn’t market to any of them.”

The recession, which has had a devastating impact on the supply chain for building materials, is clearly opening doors for new forms of distribution. For example, in California, New Home Inc. is about to open the first of eight retail showrooms that will offer 200,000 green building products in 33 categories. Its owner, Rich Rifkin, envisions a chain of between 100 and 200 stores open by 2011's end, buttressed by an online retail and education site.

Cann sees as “‘the ultimate tool for construction costing.” His partner, 75-year-old Allen Weinstein, who owns Solas Plumbing & Heating in Medford, thinks the best thing about the site is that it gives contractors wider access to supply sources. “Some guy in California might have just foreclosed on a job and has toilets I can buy for 50 cents on the dollar.”

The site already appears to be saving money for users. For example, Cann recently bid out a request for prehung interior doors and got three replies within six hours. The bidder he chose is located only 20 minutes from the job site and was $500 less than the other suppliers. “I didn’t even know this supplier until he bid,” Cann says.

The site also allows contractors to click onto a particular product to find a greener alternative, with related costs and literature.

So far, the partners (including Tom Costarelli, who runs Solar Plumbing for Weinstein) have been marketing their site through direct mail and press releases. The company will take a booth at IBS in January and is currently developing mobile billboards. BidforMaterials also has commissioned salespeople in every state. But Cann and Weinstein believe that the key to promoting site will rest with the suppliers that join the network.

The site’s exposure got a boost recently when it partnered with John Patrick O’Hara, the managing partner of Corporate Realty Services, a commercial real estate broker and construction consultant based in Hauppauge, N.Y., which has overseen the development of more than 2.5 million square feet of commercial space on Long Island.

Cann explains that the O’Hara connection could be particularly beneficial to companies looking for approved land and local labor and materials suppliers to facilitate construction.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: New York, NY.