Is it practical? Is it useful? Most important, can it really benefit business? Walls & Ceilings readers answer the tough questions about the Internet.

Wall and ceiling manufacturers’ Web site offerings

Walls & Ceilings readers report that the World Wide Web is shedding its novelty status, paving the way for more contractors to make e-business their business.

In surveys recently conducted by Walls & Ceilings and its parent company, Business News Publishing, manufacturers and contractors alike said their financial and emotional investments in computers and the Internet are growing.

Surfin' USA

The separate surveys polled Walls & Ceilings’ general readership—the respondents of which were more than 81 percent presidents or owners of their companies—and advertising manufacturers.

In the survey among general readership, 32 percent of those that responded owned five or more personal computers, with 23 percent owning one and 21 percent owning two. More than 55 percent indicated that the number of computers used by its workforce would increase over the next five years. More than 69 percent responded that they have used the Internet to gather information on the wall and ceiling industry.

Thirty percent have taken the next step in e-commerce by purchasing materials on-line. Of those, 60 percent were very satisfied with their buying experiences and 30 percent were somewhat satisfied. In addition, more than 95 percent of the respondents anticipate use of the Internet for the purchase of materials to grow in the next five years.

These figures reflect a general expectation among respondents that Internet usage will rise, 31 percent projecting 50 percent or more. Twenty-nine percent expect a 21- to 49-percent increase in usage and 40 percent project up to a 20-percent increase.

Seeing the sites

The Web site as an integral aspect of the business entity is still in its infancy, especially in construction, say respondents to Walls & Ceilings’ survey to advertising manufacturers. They have a variety of opinions on the effectiveness of the Internet in reaching customers, but their responses point to an agreement with general readership that the Internet will be a growing force in their businesses.

More than 88 percent of the companies that responded have Web sites. These sites are mainly offering product information, links, question-and-answer forums, catalogs and even job openings.(See the diagram below.)

In written comments, many responding companies said they are not actively promoting their sites as a source of sales, citing their desire to ensure a continuing role for distributors, and saying product intricacies make such sales too difficult. Some view them as another means of communication like a phone or fax, believing people come to the Web site in the first place due to a need for specific product information or to solve a problem.

But other respondents in growing numbers are realizing the opportunities of direct sales through their Web sites. Eighty-three percent of responding wall and ceiling manufacturers said 5 percent or less of their sales were generated from their Web sites in 1999. However, 67 percent said they expected that number to rise, and more than half considered e-commerce at least somewhat important to their current sales efforts. Of those that aren’t already using their Web sites for e-commerce, 79 percent said they would begin in the next two years.

Coming together

How are sellers and purchasers faring together in cyberspace? Ads in trade print magazines, word of mouth and links from magazines’ sites seem to be bringing the two together, say half of advertising manufacturers that responded. One advertiser claimed one of its division’s e-mail leads increased 800 percent by simply printing its Web address in its ads. Seventy-two percent of Walls & Ceilings’ advertising respondents are satisfied with the amount of traffic print advertising is driving to their Web sites. Traffic on their sites, manufacturers say, is bringing them many quality leads from previously unknown customers seeking out these advertisers via the Web.

The negative side is an overall frustration that businesses are unable to track where the traffic is coming from. Many expect more traffic and more results from the investment of creating and maintaining a Web site. Some say the media need to do a better job of promoting the Internet to contractors. Contractors should be happy to learn manufacturers freely acknowledge the annoyance people feel toward promoting sales through junk e-mail, or Spam.

As with many surveys, a sizable gulf exists between actual respondents and actual population of contractors and manufacturers out there. However, this does at least offer readers the opportunity to see how they compare to the numbers of others riding the wave.