Looking at Manufacturers' Web Sites

Fourteen years ago, I left for college. On my first day there, the president of the university gave a speech to welcome the incoming class. He began by asking us to look to our left, then look to our right. We did as we were asked; after all, we were freshman. He then went on to say, "In four years, either the person on your left, or the person on your right, will not be here."

Needless to say, my heart dropped to my toes as I offered a quick prayer!

How does my little anecdote fit into this column? Well, the same idea applies to the kitchen and bath industry. Yes, scary as it sounds, about half of today's kitchen and bath dealers could easily cease to exist in four years if they don't embrace the medium that has us all adding "dot-com" to our sentences.

I don't mean that as a threat, but merely as an eye-opener!

Stop to think about how far the Internet has come in the past two years by taking a brief look at these statistics:

  • 27 million purchases are made online everyday.
  • There are 106.3 million Americans using the Internet.
  • At this very moment in time, there are over 600 million Web sites.
  • Although I'm referring to the worldwide Web, more than 70% of all Web sites are based in the United States.
  • By 2000, $220 billion in sales will be made worldwide, thanks to the Web.

With almost 20 Web pages being added to the Internet every second, not only is having a Web site more and more vital to your company's existence (and please don't create the site yourself, contrary to what some will suggest to you), it's now obviously time to embrace the Web in your everyday routine.

How? One simple way is to know thy manufacturers' Web sites!

Information source
Manufacturers' Web sites are a wealth of information! You honestly would be amazed at how much time you'll save when you gather facts and data from a Web site. For example, say you need product specs for a Sub-Zero refrigerator. In a matter of seconds, you can be on the company's site and downloading even printing out those specs. That's much easier than trying to find your spec book somewhere under your "To Do" pile, looking up the spec, then trying to figure out whether it's current or not.

Here are a couple more examples of how to use actual Manufacturers' Web sites:

  1. Visit the Viking Range Web site (www.VikingRange.com) and you can view the company's latest products, read about their new prototype stores or even search through posted job openings.
  2. On the Moen Web site (www.Moen.com) you (and your client) can "build" a faucet. Simply go to the site to create a variety of looks until the client is satisfied. (You can even suggest clients do this at home, on their own time.)
    The process is simple. First you choose the finish for the faucet body, next the accent kit and finally, the handle option. Once you choose the handle option, voila! You're looking at a picture of the "finished" product before you've even ordered it.
  3. www.TaskLighting.com' will provide you with information on application ideas for lighting, answers to frequently asked questions and the names of who to contact at the company for everything from literature to special requests.
  4. Wood-Mode's updated Web site (www.Wood-Mode.com), which was unveiled in December, has the company's door styles right on the site! In the showroom, or in the home of a client, Wood-Mode dealers can quickly review door styles as they sit in front of a computer. Wouldn't this work well if there was a door style you didn't have in the showroom, but you thought the client would love?
  5. Don't forget to go online for the industry sources you normally check out offline! For example, have you visited the upgraded Kitchen & Bath Design News' Web site? You'll find information on a wealth of industry-related trends, past columns, and other topics.
  6. Stop by the recently updated www.NKBA.org to find out all you need to know about the National Kitchen & Bath Association, including what the topic is at your next chapter meeting, how to print out a needed form or what the date and location is for the next Kitchen/ Bath Industry Show (K/BIS).
    BTW (that's "by the way" in netiquette), if your manufacturer doesn't have a Web site yet, you may want to throw your two cents in and strongly suggest that they get online, and fast! A link from a manufacturer's Web site to yours will send qualified leads your way. One major cabinet supplier's dealers will tell you they receive many leads from the company's Web site and those leads turn into sales.

Learn to navigate
Almost every time I chat with kitchen dealers, they tell me about the potential clients walking through their showroom doors with handfuls of information they've printed out from the Internet. Do you know how to find that information? You should be able to. You don't want your potential client to be more knowledgeable about products, features and cutting-edge designs than you are.

To learn how to navigate the Web more effectively, there are a couple of options available. Why not check out an adult education course at your local high school? Most computer stores offer Internet classes, too. Don't be intimidated. The classes are full of adults, just like you, from all walks of life.

In addition, the NKBA is now offering a three-hour course on the Internet and how it relates to the kitchen and bath industry. You can check with your local NKBA chapter, or visit www.NKBA.org, to find out when the course will be offered in your neck of the woods. So, while the Technology Age is still in its infancy, few would disagree with the view that it's here to stay. Now I encourage you to look to your left, and then to look to your right. Take stock and make sure you're the one to graduate with flying colors into the 21st Century!

Karla Krengel is v.p./sales and marketing for the Chicago-based Worldview Technologies, Inc., the leading Web site design firm for kitchen/bath and interior design professionals. She speaks widely throughout the industry on Internet-related topics, and is an instructor for the National Kitchen& Bath Association.