The NEWS wanted to know so we asked our Contractor Consultants why they use (or don't use) the Internet in their everyday business operations. The answers we received showed a varying range of Internet participation.
"The Internet has become important to business operations everywhere," said Tom Lawson. "Even if you were not ready to jump on the wagon, sometimes you have no choice. The Internet is a very big part of the business world and if you aren't using it now, I think you will be in the near future."
THE HEAVY USERSJim Hussey of Marina Mechanical is one contractor who uses the Internet for a number of different reasons. "The Internet is very important to our business," he said, "as a procurement tool and as a marketing tool.
"Whenever possible, we use the Internet to research, locate, and purchase equipment, raw materials, and supplies. It is generally easier to verify availability and price, and there seems to be fewer shipping problems. The Internet is a wonderful tool for identifying and locating parts for the various products and systems that we service and maintain.
"As a marketing tool, every new client reports checking us out on the Internet as a part of their due diligence when selecting their service and construction providers. Both our Web page as well as the business partners with whom we share links, are vital tools in telling our story and differentiating us in the marketplace."
Scott Getzschman of Getzschman Heating & Sheet Metal agrees that the Internet is a useful tool for procurement as well as communicating with its existing customer base.
"We presently order almost all of our equipment and parts from our suppliers off the Internet," he added.
"We can monitor pricing, warranty, and banking through the Internet. We also perform service for Sears in the greater Omaha area, and we utilize their Internet Service Bench for the entire process. It has become a huge part of our daily business.
"On the flip side, we have designed our Website so our customers can reach us. We probably are presently taking two to three calls a week off the Website and two or three leads a month for new equipment. It is a tool that more and more is becoming a part of everyday life."
Larry Taylor of Air Rite Air-Conditioning Co. said his company uses the Internet for a variety of reasons, i.e., to receive service calls, payables, receivables through electronic deposits, access vendor Websites for technical information, pricing and marketing data and support. But he also uses the Internet as an important communication tool. He cited a recent example.
"This winter we have developed the ability to have our folks stay at home on bad weather road days, and they have logged into the shop [using the Internet] to continue answering calls and scheduling for our customers and techs. Even though we could not get our trucks on the roads, we were able to communicate and schedule repairs with our customers so that when the roads did become drivable we were ready to respond."
It was tough for Ann Kahn of Kahn Mechanical to list all of the ways her company depends on the Internet - but she tried. "We use it to communicate with our clients, vendors, and one another on a daily basis," she began.
"As the world becomes computer literate, it seems more and more people request quotes, invoices, payment options, and other business-related items electronically.
"It's a great resource for searching out unusual and hard to find parts and supplies, and has come to replace manufacturer's catalog books and O&M manuals when we need instant product information. We direct clients and prospects to our own Website to read about our capabilities and how we can help them, and our tech dispatching and vehicle tracking systems are Internet-driven.
"I hadn't really stopped to count all the ways the Internet has become a value to our business - and I'm sure I've left some off."
For contractors like Jeff Somers of Monsen Engineering Co., any interruption in Internet connections could spell doom for his company. "We depend on the Internet 24/7," he added.
"We use it for communication such as our new mobile solution for technicians and of course, e-mail. We do research on companies for marketing and sales, and search for suppliers of special parts and equipment. It is also a great technical tool, and we use it every day to get data from manufacturers on equipment. I can't imagine trying to run our business without the Internet. When it does go down - and that's rarely - it's a major problem for us."
Vince DiFilippo of DiFilippo Service Co. thinks the Internet is one of the best things to happen to the HVAC industry.
"We use it to research data and specs on equipment that cannot be found anywhere else so easily," he said.
"We refer our clients to Websites to get information and to obtain lost equipment homeowner's manuals. We use the Internet to send and receive e-mails from clients and for interoffice and office-to-tech communication via Nextel phones. We also use it for training via modules and magazine articles."
NOT QUITE THERE YETMary Marble of J.A. Marble Co. thinks there are some kinks to work out yet before she puts all of her eggs in the Internet basket. "I receive invitations to bid over the Internet," she said. "We tried to view and bid online but the graphics are too small, and we cannot see the entire print at one time. Therefore it was not useful.
"And we are not getting orders over the Internet. We do communicate with our customers via the Internet, such as e-mailing photos. But a lot of the customers who I deal with are maintenance people themselves and may not even have access to the Internet."
Although Russ Donnici of Mechanical Air Service sees the Internet as "an invaluable tool for us" and uses it to communicate and research, he is also aware of the dangers it poses to employees who want to use it for nonbusiness purposes.
"We do limit Internet access," he added. "Only managers have full access. Others only have access to specific sites we allow, and cannot use e-mail. We have had problems in the past with personal e-mails and Web surfing during business hours on our system so we just don't allow it."
Aaron York of Aaron York's Quality A/C takes a different view on the value of the Internet. "It is becoming more important to our business today but it is not the utopian answers we have hoped it would be," he noted.
"It serves the consumer with product information, making them more intelligent about what we are providing for them. The downside is that they tend to feel that once they read a manufacturer's Internet information, they are now the experts. Many times this is detrimental in that they refuse to acknowledge the training, experience, and knowledge of our company representatives.
"The Internet will never go away. It is here and all our industry must prepare to use it for our advantage rather than remain in our business as usual mode. More and more customers find products on the Internet at prices that defy profitability if we tried to match it. We must provide them service or lose them to someone who will while we sit and blame the Internet."
Publication date: 01/30/2006