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Cyber Monday, For Contractors?

Eric Aune2

Cyber Monday, For Contractors?

For a couple of years now I have been ordering job materials and truck stock for my plumbing and heating business online. One of the country’s largest wholesalers has paved the road for those looking to rid themselves of the city desk time restraints, and it works for me. [Name withheld intentionally; they take plenty of my money without any kickbacks, I’m not going to give them a free plug here.] As I see it, my business hours are not restricted to a simple timeframe. Most small shops, like mine, are available to their customers pretty much whenever the phone rings. Unfortunately, our suppliers are not.

Enter online materials ordering. It’s been a huge time saver for me in many ways. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the counter guys at the city desk. I like to chat about this or that; heck, one of my closest friends works the city desk. Therein lies part of the problem. Having a relationship with these ladies and gentleman is great but it also has you spending a little time here and a little time there shootin’ the breeze instead of fixing a boiler or stopping a leak. Sometimes this time is forced upon us while we wait for an order to be picked on a busy day, but time is money, right?

When I order materials for a job — usually for the next day or soon after — I can show up to the will call desk, grab and go. I usually stop to say hi or grab a coffee but I am always on my way in short time, on my way to the next job to make money, and not talk about last night’s game or the latest YouTube sensation (don’t act like you haven’t checked out what everyone’s talking about, we all do). Another great thing about ordering online is I can do it from my truck or my office; from my computer, phone or tablet, and I’m not put on hold or made to wait while the guy on the other end fumbles through one computer screen after another, trying to find what I’m looking for. I do this when it’s convenient for me, no matter the time or place.

Let’s face it: having someone back at the office [a luxury I don’t have these days] doing this for me would be great. Through my own experience with ordering materials online, I would insist that office personnel do just the same, opening up more time to bid jobs or schedule work rather than chit-chat with the salesperson on the phone all day to order some copper tubing and a couple toilet seats. Again, time is money, right? I hear guys say this all the time. I listen and learn from some of the best in the industry while sitting on trade councils or contractor associations. One thing I don’t hear them saying is they’re moving their business into this century. Well, I have and it works. Maybe this young go getter of a contractor could teach some of those guys/gals a thing or two? Maybe, and I’m trying.


  1. John E. OReilly
    John E. OReilly11-20-2012

    Eric: I appreciate the insight — “time is money,” so it’s only a matter of time for other trades people to follow your practice. Given this inevitable trend in how contractors buy merchandise, what’s the future of manufacturer sales promotions that are based at the city desk?

  2. mechhub

    I still hit up the counter guy and do also take advantage of the specials offered for counter pick-up but, if I can order for a job I haven’t even stepped foot on until 6 o’clock at night, I will.

    I just like having the opportunity to get what I need on order, no matter the time and have it ready for me the next day. That’s how most of us have to do business, I can’t afford to load up inventory anymore.

    Thanks for the comment John!

  3. Jim Godbout
    Jim Godbout11-20-2012

    Hi Eric,
    well said, we just have a little different philosphy
    We strive to keep all our business local and create long term relationships that promote business for all parties involved.
    keeping it local supports many families in our area.

    Relationships keeps our suppliers on there toes to perform for us when called upon.

    Time is money is right, i have my shop guy do most of the buying and supplying our shelves so guys don’t have the opportunity to chit chat at counter because that is very costly overhead.

    Glad shopping online helps you, we just don’t see it as good fit for our business, unless we absolutely have to.

    take care

  4. Eric Aune
    Eric Aune11-20-2012

    Thanks Jim.

    One thing that may not be clear in my original post is that my online ordering is being done through a wholesaler. I am not a fan of websites offering products to just anyone. I guess by keeping my business with the supplier I too are supporting those in my community. From the guy who unloads the truck to the order pickers and counter guy. Also the truckers and independent couriers.

    I see the value of the relationship, and I too value it. The way I see it, my method is convenient for me and my supplier. Their computer spits the order out, the same guy who would fill it does so in this scenario and then I come in and pick it up or have it delivered.

    I have then taken less time from the counter guy or a salesperson, freeing them up for those in need of answers right now. I still spend the same or more with them as I did prior to this process and they definitely keep tabs on that.

    The convenience of placing orders when I have time or when they arise is a huge plus for small companies like my own. I’m sure I would have a similar outlook if I had a warehouse of stock on hand as well. But for me, that warehouse is my truck and a small amount of shelving and bins that take up very little real estate. Thanks for taking the time to comment Jim! I appreciate it.

  5. Jim Godbout
    Jim Godbout11-20-2012

    Thanks Eric
    I think it is real important to support our wholesale industry as you are

    You and john are doing some great things with this site
    Keep up good work

    I have been trying to keep up with mechanical hub, Taco, and Heating help in the evenings. Days are long and sometimes don’t have enough energy

    Hope all is well with you and family

  6. M

    If only ordering boilers online was endorsed by manufactures.

  7. Eric Aune
    Eric Aune11-21-2012

    M, I order them online often, from my wholesale house.

  8. Mark Perrone
    Mark Perrone11-26-2012

    Eric, my experience shows you are doing all the work of the “inside sales guys” pulling their part numbers and checking their inventories all while creating “your” order, are you being compensated for that time with a better discount for “online purchases”. We certainly never were. We use to order online but found out the time spent doing the wholesalers “data entry” could be better spent elsewhere, We discovered that just about everyone writes down their stock list for review somewhere, be a piece of paper or a cardboard box (napkins are popular to) , we then take a picture with a cell phone and e-mail it to the wholesaler with phone number and instructions. I think it’s better to let them do their jobs and get back to me with options. they can still leave the order in the will call slots

  9. Eric

    I mostly agree with what you’re say Mark but, what makes the online ordering work for me is the opportunity to place an order after hours without the need to call upon a “on-call” employee or my salesperson. This is especially convenient during the heating months when I am busiest.

    I often order many of the same items, therefore my order history helps me compile a list quickly. I don’t get paid to order during the day anyway. I bill my time the same as anyone else but without a staff person to place the orders for me I can do it when it is most convenient. I know its not for all contractors but in my opinion it can really help very many.

  10. Andy Mickelson
    Andy Mickelson11-27-2012

    Eric, I have been using the online system for about two years. I feel the biggest benefit I get is the fact that I know the parts I ordered are what I want. Also I can quickly find out who has the parts I need and what the cost is going to be In a matter of minutes vs. tens of minutes on the phone. If the local branch doesn’t have it on the shelf I can see where it is and make an estimate on how long it might take to transfer from another branch. It also allows me to quote jobs well after the desk is closed. The local branches still need a little help when it comes to pulling the order on time, but we all need a little something every now and then!
    Thanks for the interesting post.

  11. Eric

    Thanks for the reply Andy. I too are satisfied with the ease of finding and ordering only what I need, the first time when ordering online materials. Your business is very similar to mine in size and scope. Maybe this method is better suited for the one/two man shops?

    Hope all is well in Montana, I know it is cold here and much, much busier.


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