Uniforms, literature, motors, and even personnel — hvacr contractors are finding them on the Internet, according to a News survey of contractor subscribers. A full 66% of respondents said they have made Internet purchases for business-related purposes.

But the main thing these contractors are looking for online is product information, according to 88% of the study’s participants. The ability to access company e-mail was the next largest area of Internet use, at 53%. General company information, online buying, website links, and rep contact all hovered around 36%.

Contractors are pretty much up to speed now on owning computers for business purposes (88%), although a surprising 12% said that they do not. Also, 85% said that they use the Internet for business purposes, averaging 6 hrs per week (see Figures 1 and 2). That leaves a meager 3% who use computers for actions like dispatching, customer tracking, and accounting, but who do not use e-mail or go online with them.

This could have more to do with the computers’ age and speed than with the contractors’ desire to surf. Of those contractors who don’t go online, whether or not they have a computer, 45% said they intend to use the Internet within the next 12 months; 29% said they didn’t know; and a stubborn 26% (that’s 26% of the 15% not currently online) said that they will not use the Internet for business this year.

In case you were interested in how fast your competitors are surfing, the majority going online (64%) use a 56K modem; the next highest was DSL at 11% (tied with “speed unknown”); 8% use a TI line; 7% use a 28.8K modem; ISDN and cable modems scored 5% and 4%, respectively; and none are using 14.4K or slower modems. Some participants also mentioned using a wide area network (WAN) and UHF.

Info Quest

Beyond a doubt, these contractors are looking for product information online (Figure 3). This includes product specs (80%), technical information downloads, ordering, technical support, and troubleshooting.

By large percentages (73% to 87%), the contractors expected the use of the Internet in these areas to increase in the future.

It is interesting to note that these contractors use online training, seminars, and conferences (30% total) and their strong expectation that this will increase. It could warrant further exploration into what kinds of online training are most effective. And it leads to the question of whether offerings of online certification can be very far away.

Future Uses

Contractors will continue to look to the Internet for speedily accessible information, according to their verbatim responses, which seem to be a direct reflection of their current practices.

  • Researching products will continue at a strong pace. “Being a service company,” wrote one contractor, “we come upon products we do not sell but need to repair. We have found information on the Internet to repair some items but not others.”
  • Troubleshooting online will also continue, both through manufacturers and through other contractors. One creative subscriber mentioned that servicers and installers “can send pictures of problems [as e-mail attachments] and get support.”
  • Another mentioned that “Beyond technical sales and training, there will be chat rooms where contractors can compare notes on new or problem products.” Area51hvac.com and thewall.com are established websites with this focus.

    Related to service and troubleshooting, a respondent mentioned that the Internet “enables us to keep a much smaller library of books and manuals, enables us to get current information directly from manufacturers.”

  • As part of a construction team, contractors noted “access to bid documents without reprographics costs,” “job project coordination, concept to completion,” and “customer, supplier, and field supervision communication with current information and detail to prevent misunderstanding.”
  • From suppliers, contractors would like to see “accurate freight and shipping information, quickly; timely and up-to-date product information and communications.” One commented that “All distributors must update sites more often.” Another said, “Customer support should be more dependable in the future, along with increased demand.”
  • Other uses, while not unimportant, were lightly touched upon, such as end users using the Internet to research hvacr products, and online permit generation.
  • On the whole, though, it seems clear enough that the Internet will continue “improving cutting-edge companies’ abilities to get to the next level.”

    This survey, conducted by the Business News Publishing Company Marketing Research Division, was mailed to 2,000 contractors. There were 353 usable returns from a usable base of 1,992 surveys, for an 18% response rate.

    Sidebar: Do You Yahoo?

    If you want your website to be hit in contractor info searches, here are your best bets.

    A solid 59% of these contractor-subscribers said that Yahoo is their primary search engine to locate websites and information. Next highest was MSN at 36%, Alta Vista at 21%, Lycos at 18%, and Infoseek at 16%.

    Other search engines contractors said they are using include AOL, Dogpile, Excite, Google, Ask Jeeves, HotBot, and Snap.

    Among Web browsers, contractors mainly said they use Internet Explorer (80%) and Netscape (29%).

    Publication date: 01/22/2001