Just before I set out on a one-day driving business trip recently, since it was just before Mother's Day, I asked my wife if she would like to take the day and go to the mall to buy spring clothes.

She said, "No thanks." Well, I was in shock as she went on to say that she didn't go to the mall anymore and that she had already done all of her spring shopping online. She went on to extol the virtues of not having to drive, park, deal with untrained salespeople, etc. She was now doing almost all of her shopping online.

Still sort of in shock, I drove with three business people to the day's meeting. Before I had pulled out of the parking lot, the one young man, who is a mortgage broker, pulled out his BlackBerry and spent the next hour and a half reading and typing. He told us that he was answering questions from employees and customers, keeping up with interest rate changes, and using the Internet for any number of reasons.

By the way, I thought blackberries were those things we picked at my grandmother's house. Apparently, now the term refers to something else.

When I arrived home that night, as a result of the day's meeting, I needed to make an airline reservation for a future meeting. Without giving it much thought, I went to the computer, as I have for the last year or so, went online and bought my tickets, chose my seats, and received my confirmation.

As I printed out the confirmation sheet, the events of the day recycled through my mind. I thought about how much our world has changed and how much we are now an electronic world.

It's An Electronic World

As I reflected on what had happened that day, I thought about our business, wondering if we and other contractors are moving quickly enough into the electronic world. I like to think that our company is up-to-date in the way we do business, yet I don't believe we are taking advantage of the opportunities that may be out there in the electronic world.

We have a Web site (www.welsch-heatcool.com), and we have been receiving an occasional online inquiry. We don't do any real selling through the Web site, nor are we using the Internet to communicate with our customers or potential customers.

If my wife does nearly all of her shopping online, maybe our company should follow suit and take advantage of these new opportunities.

We are an old company with many longtime customers, many of whom, like me, are not really into today's electronics. As a result, we have not felt the necessity to rely more on the electronic opportunities that are out there.

But now I think we may be missing out on part of the market, especially those individuals 40 and younger, who have grown up in the electronic world. I ask myself if we should be scheduling service calls on our Web site or become more proactive in trying to reach customers through the Internet. I would be very interested to know what successes you are having using the Internet. If you allow me, I will be happy to share the successes with our other readers.

Don't Miss Out

I'm happy that HVAC still requires that we go to the job, survey the home or business, and make personal contact with customers in order to determine their needs and desires. I believe this still allows us to "sell" our company the way we have done for years.

However, I'm afraid that if we aren't making proper use of today's technology, there may be an entire group of potential clients that we may never reach because we never make contact with them in the way that they do business. We know the world of communication is changing rapidly, and it's up to us to make sure we adapt quickly enough to take advantage of these changes.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at Welsch1@primary.net.

Publication date: 05/23/2005