Do You Need a Web Site?
© 2000 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2000
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Do You Need a Web Site?
Another Point of View
By Tom Wadsworth
"Huh? You’re discouraging door dealers from getting a Web site?"
It does seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Web sites are popping up at an alarming rate. Dizzied by all this E-mania, you may feel stuck in the dark ages if your company doesn’t have its own Web site.
No, I’m not a crotchety old fuddy-duddy who resists all them thar’ newfangled contraptions. I initiated and managed one of the garage door industry’s best Web sites for four years, and I’ve helped dozens of dealers who are struggling with Web issues.
Why, then, would I suggest that garage door dealers don’t need a Web site?
"Need" is the key word here. A Web site probably won’t hurt you, unless it’s more work and expense than you can handle. A Web site can also help your business. But I think a typical door dealer’s business has some inherent constraints that tend to limit the usefulness of a Web site.
Just hear me out.
The Local vs. Global Issue
I’ve surveyed dozens of garage door dealers who have Web sites. It’s not uncommon for them to report that more than 75% of their Web site responses come from far beyond their service area. It may be flattering to have Pedro from Brazil respond to your Web site, but what do you hope to achieve by responding to Pedro?
If you’re a typical dealer, your business is local, not global. Your advertising efforts should be targeted to your specific region, not to the world.
Yes, having a Web site is comparatively cheap, and a growing number of people in your market area are surfing the Web. Those are good reasons to consider getting a Web site. But here’s your challenge. If you get a Web site, make sure that your local Web surfers know how to find you.
The World Wide Web is like a giant global Yellow Pages book that is taller than your building. However, the Web does not have an easy index for quickly finding what you want. If someone looks under "Garage Doors" in a Web search engine, they might retrieve 300,000 different Web pages. If your site is lucky enough to be #508, who’s going to dig down that far to find you? And besides, do you really want to be #1?
If you get a Web site, you must overcome this global issue and advertise your Web address locally, on business cards, trucks, ads, letterhead, everywhere. Local people will not just "find" you on the Web. You must tell them, again and again, how to find you.
The Volume Issue
For five years, I’ve been monitoring Web traffic to garage door sites. I’d guess that there are now a few thousand people every day who are searching the Web for garage door information. If there are 15,000 dealerships in North America, a few thousand surfers are not that significant.
Yes, that number is growing. But my surveys of door dealers with Web sites indicate that very few sites are being flooded with "hits." For now, it appears that most consumers are still using the Yellow Pages to find somebody to help them with their door problems.
Currently, the most shopped-for Web products (besides services) are items like computers, software, books, CDs, flowers, electronics, etc. Look closer at these products. All these items (1) are relatively small in size (shippable), (2) do not require on-site measurement and analysis, and (3) do not require installation by a trained technician. Get my drift?
If you want to meet the needs of those few locals who are shopping online for garage doors, then design your site for garage door information, not garage door sales. In my mind, a dealer’s Web site must excel at being an Information Delivery Vehicle that informs and prepares the customer for a sale. Your effort will be worthwhile, but don’t expect a large volume of visitors for a few more years.
The Time Issue
Opening a Web site is a lot like opening up a branch location. Like a branch store, your Web store requires regular attention and dedicated personnel to handle sales inquiries. If you have a Web site, who’s running your Web store?
Smaller companies, like garage door dealers with 4-10 employees, generally find their employees to be maxed to the limit and unable to add Web duties to their daily tasks. Before you launch your Web site, I hope you’ve identified your Web Employee who has a specific schedule for his or her Web Work Time.
Here’s the key Web Time issue: E-mail responses. Web users are accustomed to immediate gratification. If you wait two days to respond to an E-mail, don’t be surprised if the potential customer has already taken his business elsewhere.
You’ve probably already integrated an answering machine into your business and are responding daily to telephone messages. If you get a Web site, you must be ready to integrate E-mail responses into your daily routine as well. I recommend an 8-12-4 schedule, where you check and respond to E-mail the first thing in the morning, at noon, and then at the end of the day. But if you’re not ready for the time commitment, don’t get a Web site.
The Expertise Issue
The Internet has created several new occupations, such as Web managers, Web programmers, Web designers, E-commerce developers, Web security specialists, E-mail managers, and many more. You won’t need all these positions, but you will likely need some expertise to handle site management, maintenance, and response issues.
At the very minimum, you will need some E-mail expertise. Business E-mail requires specific computer and communication skills, such as keyboarding, spelling, formatting, handling attachments, and knowing what to say. A slow and sloppy E-mail message, all too common today, makes your business look slow and sloppy. Do you have someone who can handle professional E-mail correspondence?
Does a garage door dealer need a Web site? For at least a few more years, I think your business can continue to be quite successful without one. If you continue to advertise in effective local media and continue to provide great products and service, you’ll do just fine without a Web site.
But the time is coming when a majority of your customers may expect you to provide a Web site that efficiently helps them make an educated buying decision. If your customers are repeatedly asking, "Do you have a Web site?" and if your main competitor is widely advertising his Web site, then that time may be here already.