Fabricator Websites: Beauties and the Beasts

I first wrote about the potential of the Internet for countertop fabricators in KBDN in 1996. Just a few fabricators had their own Websites then, and there wasn’t even an official DuPont Corian site.

Growth was rapid over the next couple of years. By 1998, all of the major countertop material manufacturers had Websites, as did scores of fabricators.

A decade later, it’s time to take another look at how countertop fabricators are using the Internet to market their businesses.
It’s not surprising that many fabricator Websites fail to live up to their potential, despite the Internet’s dominant role in business communication in the last decade. After all, small businesses often fail to communicate their message effectively through brochures, Yellow Pages listings and newspaper ads, even though these methods of communication have been widely used for a century or more.

THE WORST SITES

Nine years ago, I wrote about a fabricator Website that informed visitors that pages describing warranties and offering links to manufacturers were “under construction.” I visited the same Website this year, and those pages are still “under construction,” with the same corny little cartoon of a guy digging with a shovel. The Transcontinental Railroad was built in seven years. What’s taking so long with this Website?

It’s important that your Website not appear outdated. One site I visited recently features beautiful photos of Corian sinks. However, some of these sinks were discontinued several years ago. Another site promotes “New Colors for 2003.” And yet a third site touts its “Latest Press Releases,” and the most recent one is dated May of 2002.

Yet another claims the company is one of the top fabricators in the country. The home page has buttons promising four additional pages of information. Clicking any of these buttons produces an error message that the page can’t be found. If this company is really a top fabricator, one might wonder why it can’t maintain a functional Website!

A few fabricator Websites have domain names that are completely different from the business name. This is a bad idea. If customers can remember your business name, then it is also easy to remember a Website address based directly on that name. If customers have to use a search engine to find your Website, it is far more likely that they will take a look at your competitor’s Website as well.

Website visitors tend to be the sort of people who want to communicate with you online. One Website invites each visitor to furnish a mailing address, so that the fabricator can mail a brochure by U.S. Postal Service. Aren’t Websites supposed to replace printed brochures, and transmit the information instantly and inexpensively?

Another fabricator Website tells visitors that they can place an order by fax, but doesn’t offer any e-mail option. Fax machines are plunging in popularity. Don’t expect a customer who has junked an old fax machine to drive to Kinko’s to send you a fax.

Spend time rewriting and proofreading your Website text, or hire the services of a skilled writer. Misspellings and bad grammar are inexcusable. Consider carefully your message and the image that you wish to convey. What sets your company apart from your competitors, and how can you best communicate this to potential customers?

THE BEST SITES

What distinguishes the most effective fabricator Websites from the also-rans? Most important is a professional design, which instantly conveys an upscale, serious and consistent image. Take a look at BearSurfaces.com of Edmonton, Alberta, or Solidtop.com of Boca Raton, FL, or CustomSurfaces.net of Marietta, GA. These Websites strike a visitor as beautiful and informative at first glance, which inevitably creates the impression that the company behind the Website is worth doing business with.

I highly recommend that you retain the services of a professional Website designer who has the skills to create the image you want, and then have that designer revise and update your Website regularly.

Another well-designed Website is NBCSolidSurfaces.com of Springfield, VT. This company emphasizes its long-standing involvement with the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association (ISSFA) in much greater detail than just posting the ISSFA logo on the home page, as many fabricators do. This creates the perception that the company is a true industry leader. The image of quality is reinforced by three well-placed customer testimonials on the home page.

Carefully planned use of videos can also be effective. CaliforniaCountertop.com of La Mesa, CA invites visitors to view two of its television ads, available as either Windows Media Videos or QuickTime Videos. Also featured is a Countertop Education section and a detailed checklist of all of the information required to obtain an accurate job estimate.

PrismSolidSurface.com of Oklahoma City, OK features a sophisticated countertop estimating program. Visitors can design an entire room layout with several countertops in any of dozens of different shapes. They can then enter the exact dimensions and select sinks, edge profiles, colors and backsplash details. Once all of the data is entered, an estimate is generated, accurate to the penny.

MarLam.com of Phoenix, AZ is the Website for a company that fabricates solid surface, granite, quartz, cultured marble and plastic laminate countertops. This site features a slide show with photos of every department in the plant, and is used to recruit new employees. Interested candidates can download Adobe .PDF files such as a brochure about employment opportunities, and a job application. The .PDF format ensures that pages printed from any computer will have a consistent, predictable appearance.

Another Website that makes extensive use of Adobe .PDF files is CustomFabrication.net of Nashville, TN. Offered are worksheets, order forms, waivers and product literature. KGStevens.com of New Berlin, WI also offers a variety of .PDF forms, in a section entitled, “Getting The Job Done Right.”

OliveMill.com of Anaheim, CA places portrait photos of key personnel at the top of each page, emphasizing that you are dealing with friendly people rather than a faceless business entity. This Website answers all of the common questions that customers are inclined to ask.

Two Websites mention the companies’ support of charities. JCWCountertops.com of Woburn, MA supports Toys for Tots. This company was also the ISSFA Fabricator of the Year for 2001. In my opinion, mentioning that kind of honor does not date the Website, but rather promotes it.

GiscoInc.com of Darien, IL is not a fabricator Website as the company builds and sells machinery to solid surface and cultured marble manufacturers. However, the firm earns mention here since it supports the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Many people are inclined to think favorably of businesses that support charities. I know that I do.

Now, I’d like to make a special offer to my readers. Visit my Website, TopRepair.com, browse a bit, and send me an e-mail with comments about what you like or don’t like. Give me your Website address, and I will return the favor. I’ll visit your site and offer what I hope you will find to be constructive criticism.

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