Using Technology in Your Business

We're in trouble. Our industry as a whole is behind the general population when it comes to embracing technology. The really bad news here is that the "general population" is our customer base.

Should this scare you?

Absolutely.

I'm just as guilty as the next person. Me, the person who doesn't shut up, had to have a cell phone given to her, rather than signing up for one on my own. Now, I don't feel safe without it.

Then, of course, there is a certain East Coast kitchen dealer, the one I call the dinosaur (and he knows who he is). When my duties used to include selling Web sites, I called him one day to see if I could sign him up. Well, he told me he'd never need onehe was too oldhe was a dinosaurhe would retire before he'd need "one of those things!" Guess who recently put a Web site online?

Technology CALLING
The reality is, unless you sport your very own pocket protector, technology seems to scare most of us. And, technology isn't just about the Internet and Web sites, as I recently had reinforced to me.

I've been nominated to the NKBA's new Technology Sub-Committee. There are five of us on the committee all women I might add in addition to our brave NKBA liaison, Bob Spangler, the NKBA's manager of Internet services. The goal of the sub-committee is to suggest direction to the NKBA with regard to technology.

When I learned my nomination onto the committee had been approved, I was very excited. After all, I travel across North America, educating kitchen and bath industry members about the Internet, in addition to writing this column. I have a good feel for what we still need to accomplish education-wise regarding the Web, and I am honestly concerned about where we are, or perhaps I should say, where we are not, going. Obviously, I defined technology to our group as "The Internet."

But, others in our group approached it via different angles, like CAD programs, how the "big box" is using technology and how we need to better implement technology into our work lives for things like estimating, handling leads and writing up proposals.

Our sub-committee on technology, which meets once a year, got together during NKBA's Winter Meeting. In addition to our sub-committee, there are councils representing dealers, designers, manufacturers, manufacturers' reps, wholesale distributors and so on. Each group pow-wows and then presents its information and suggestions to the NKBA.

As the suggestions were being presented to the group as a whole, it was all I could do to contain myself! I just wanted to stand up and cheer! Again and again, I heard the call for technology. Almost every group was saying "give us more!" Some of the highlights included:

  • A desire to know more about the availability of technology for dealers
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  • A call for designers to use technology more while designing
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  • More and better job listings on NKBA.org
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  • A call to move forward with technology so that we aren't left behind as an industry
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  • Use of the Internet for training and communication
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  • Creation of industry chat rooms online
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  • Making dealers aware of emerging technologies
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  • Investing more in electronics
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  • Pushing for greater expectations of industry Web sites
    I agree, I agree, I agree!

the Comfort Zone
But, now, how do we make this work? How do we bring this to the level of the individual kitchen and bath dealer? Well, I have some ideas.

One, go out and purchase a PDA a personal digital assistant. PDAs are to Palm Pilots what tissue is to Kleenex. A palm device is the most incredible way to store your appointments, calendar and phone numbers. The investment will run you anywhere from $100 to $1,000, but will save you more than that in time and effort. You can even "beam" your business card to someone and they can beam theirs to you. Imagine all of that stored right at your fingertips, without having to rummage through that big pile of business cards.

And, I promise you, learning to use one of these things is far easier than mastering a bike without training wheels, or your VCR. It's the simplest technology I've ever encountered.
Number two read, read, read! The only way to learn this stuff and get ahead (or even catch up) is to read. What can you read? Most newspapers feature a technology section once a week. Yahoo! Internet Life is a great, easy-to-understand magazine for those who swear they are dinosaurs.

Third, I urge you to take a class or two. If technology just isn't your thing, don't be embarrassed. Believe me, there are many out there in the same boat. You can find these classes through your local computer store, learning center or adult education courses put on by private schools. And, let us not forget the obvious the classes offered by the NKBA. Remember, a "technology class" can be about anything from Web sites to CAD.

This year, Kitchen & Bath Design News magazine and the NKBA have teamed up to offer an entire technology forum at K/BIS. This would be a great place to get started with your classes or update your knowledge. To learn more, visit www.KBIS.com.

The fourth, and final item (though I could really go on!), is to use the Web. If you're using it currently, use it more! The Web is the most incredible resource.

Have you checked out the Web site of your competitor recently? You just might learn a thing or two about what they are doing.

How about signing up for Web-based e-mail? Web-based e-mail means you go to a Web site, sign in and pick up your e-mail. There are a couple of great things about Web-based e-mail. First of all, you don't have to go into your computer to pick up your e-mail. You can be at home, at work or even in Europe and pick it up from anywhere there is Internet access. Also, Web-based e-mail suffers a lot fewer viruses.

As Bob Spangler recently said to me, "All the different aspects of technology are just pieces to the puzzle." He's right. It's a puzzle that we must all figure out. If we don't, extinction looms large for dinosaursboth the self-proclaimed and the unknowing.

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