Plugged In & Turned On

by WOHe

Plugged In & Turned On

Today’s kitchen and bath dealers are upbeat and computer
savvy when it comes to simplifying their jobs, sending e-mail or
obtaining product information on the ‘Net, yet they still lag
behind when it comes to marketing their business online, a
K&BDN survey reveals.

By Janice Anne Costa


Despite the oft-heard stereotype that small, Mom-and-Pop-style
businesses tend to be computer illiterate or at least computer
resistant today’s kitchen and bath dealer is surprisingly computer
savvy, with the overwhelming majority of dealers not only owning or
leasing computers, but spending a healthy part of their day hooked
up to them.

In fact, a whopping 97% of kitchen and bath dealers surveyed by
Kitchen & Bath Design News report they currently own or lease
computers, and of those, nearly half (48%) spend four or more hours
a day on their computers (see Graphs 1 &2).

Additionally, 81% of the dealers questioned say they’re
currently hooked into the Internet, according to the K&BDN
survey, which polled some 240 kitchen and bath dealers from all
over the country about their computer usage, habits and attitudes
(see related story, Page 24, and Editorial, Page 7).

Although the kitchen and bath dealerships surveyed were small in
size (58% of those surveyed have five or fewer employees),
attitudes toward new technology were clearly more fascinated than
frightened, with 81% of respondents saying they view the Internet
and current wave of new technology as something that is “exciting
and presents enormous opportunities” a sharp contrast to many
people’s perceptions of small businesses as being “behind the
times” or afraid of change, particularly when it comes to new
technology and computer usage.

In fact, only 12% of those surveyed said they view the wave of
new technology as being “too fast paced, confusing and
intimidating” and a mere 7% said they felt it represented “far more
of a potential competitive threat than an opportunity.” 

However, while the great majority of kitchen and bath dealers
seem to be comfortable using computers for accounting functions,
CAD/drafting, estimating, database applications and other
administrative functions and nearly three quarters are currently
enjoying the benefits of e-mail a great many still lag behind when
it comes to putting their businesses on the Web. 

In fact, while only 19% of survey respondents said they don’t
currently have access to the Internet (and 58% of these dealers
said they plan to remedy that situation in the next 12 months),
barely a third (36%) reported that their company currently has a
Web site. Even more surprising, of these, more than half (54%) said
they have no plans to establish a Web site in the next 12
months.

In addition, kitchen and bath dealers apparently tend to be less
aggressive in using the Internet to its full potential, with barely
a third reporting that they’re using the ‘Net to market themselves,
preferring to utilize the Internet for getting product information
or communicating with clients and manufacturers.

Internet usage
If it’s true that the
Internet is the “information highway,” then kitchen and bath
dealers are definitely picking up speed, recognizing the ‘Net’s
unique ability to provide up-to-the-minute product information and
specs at the click of a mouse. In fact, staying current is the
number one reason surveyed kitchen and bath dealers said they log
onto the ‘Net, with a full 80% of the dealers surveyed reporting
that they use the Internet to “obtain current product,
specification and installation information” (see Graph 3).

The K&BDN poll also revealed that 48% of the surveyed
respondents say they use the ‘Net to purchase products and
services.

However, while kitchen and bath dealers are apparently eager to
buy products via the Internet, they appear to be far less inclined
to sell them online, with only a mere 10% stating that they use the
Internet to sell their products and services via
“e-commerce.” 

Communication, too, seems to be one of the ‘Net’s strongest
draws, with almost half of all respondents (47%) reporting that
they use the Internet to communicate with others in the industry,
and to relay job-related information, both internally and
externally.

On the downside, computer savvy seems to fall off when it comes
to self-marketing, with only slightly more than a third (35%) of
survey respondents reporting that they use the ‘Net to market their
companies to clients and prospects in a cutting-edge way the same
number who report using the Internet for non-work-related
“surfing.”

Of course, not everyone is sold on the cyberworld yet. But even
those who are fighting the inevitable seem to recognize that it’s
only a matter of time. In fact, a full half of those who aren’t yet
hooked up to the Internet freely admit that they’re
procrastinating, noting that they haven’t yet joined the cyber
parade simply because “we haven’t gotten around to it yet.” Another
41% said they felt they didn’t need it, while 4% felt it was too
expensive, and another 5% worried about it encouraging
non-work-related “surfing.”

E-Mail
Perhaps the friendliest of all computer applications, e-mail has
captured the attention of nearly everyone in business today, in
large part because it offers instant communication capabilities,
combined with an ease of use that may even surpass many of today’s
phone systems, with their “press one, press two” voice mail
mazes.

Especially in the fast-paced and detail-oriented kitchen and
bath market, where dealers must interact with clients,
subcontractors, manufacturers and distributors on a regular basis,
e-mail provides an opportunity to reach someone instantly
particularly as technology increases to the point of allowing
people to check e-mail on the road from pagers, palm pilots and
even cell phones.

Not surprisingly, then, almost three quarters (74%) of all the
dealers surveyed by K&BDN report having at least one e-mail
account. And, of the 26% who don’t, more than half (56%) report
they expect to have 
e-mail capabilities within the next 12 months.

E-mail is used for everything from contacting manufacturers and
clients to communicating with industry peers.

Specifically, 63% of survey respondents say they use e-mail to
contact manufacturers and/or distributors, while 51% use it to
communicate with clients, 29% use it to contact prospects, 27% use
it to interact with subcontractors, 25% use it to communicate with
company employees and 23% use it to converse with industry peers
(see Graph 4).

Since one of e-mail’s greatest benefits is the speed quotient,
checking it frequently becomes essential to getting the most out of
it. To that end, 69% of survey respondents noted that they check
their e-mail daily, while another 16% check it several times a day.
In contrast, only 15% reported that they check it “only when they
remember.”

Hardware & software
Of course, the computer revolution doesn’t actually start and end
with the Web as much as it sometimes feels that way in this day of
“dotcom” everythings. Rather, technology has many benefits and
applications that have nothing to do with the Internet, with the
one essential ingredient being the basic hardware.

When it comes to hardware needs, kitchen and bath dealers report
a mixed bag, with 32% noting that they have one computer, 37.5%
reporting that they have several computers and 30.5% saying each
person in their company has a computer. Additionally, some 55% of
survey respondents reported plans to purchase new hardware in the
next 12 months.

But if hardware is key to business, the bells and whistles
associated with it are apparently not. Only 11% of respondents
noted that they use a laptop for presentations, with today’s focus
seeming to be more on the software programs than on fancy packaging
or portable hardware units.

In the area of software, word processing and accounting and/or
spreadsheet programs comprise the lion’s share of the market, with
83% of survey respondents noting that they currently utilize word
processing and 73% saying they use computerized accounting programs
at their kitchen and bath firms (see Graph 5).

Computer-aided design (CAD) and drafting software also obviously
play a major role in kitchen and bath dealerships, with 66% of
respondents saying they currently use CAD software, and another 13%
noting that they plan to buy it in the next 12 months.

Database applications and job estimating/scheduling also have
high dealer appeal, with 45% of survey respondents noting that they
currently use database applications and 44% saying they currently
use job estimating/scheduling software.

Nearly a third of respondents (33%) reported they use personal
scheduling/contact management software to plan their days, while
22% use inventory control software and 6% currently use “other”
software, including 3-D drafting, e-mail, games, legal and
contracts, Internet and desktop publishing.

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