Four years ago our company received calls from "techno-geeks" wanting to setup a web site for our use. At the time the idea seemed absurd - how could a homebuilder benefit from any Internet activity - after all we build houses out in the real world, not cyberspace.
In one short year, we found ourselves in the midst of setting up our first web site and today we have a highly interactive, daily updated site that has actually assisted in selling custom homes. The thought of not having a presence on the net or not using the web in daily activities is as foreign today as building a home with a handsaw.
In deciding what role the Internet would play in our company, we had to first look within the company and ask four key questions:
(1) Who is our prospect/customer and how do they go about researching and finding a homebuilder?
(2) What information do we want to share?
(3) Can the web allow us to market more broadly at a lower cost and provide more targeted information for the customer?
(4) Can we do it at a low cost and in a simple and efficient manner.
Our investigation led us to the conclusion that a web-based presence was not only necessary, but a requirement in the coming information age. Our reputation of being a leading-edge builder wouldn't hold water for long, if someone a thousand miles away (or next door), couldn't find us on the Internet. The resulting solution was an interactive web site that provided broad brand-based marketing information, as well as specific product-based information on houses for sale.
Homebuilding is very visual and lends itself well to the Internet, where a builder can display through photographs or drawings many examples of his or her ability and specialty, as well as tell a story about their company. Our site attempts to do both:
Quick response to email. Interaction and the ability to respond to inquiries are critical to the success of any web-based marketing effort. All throughout our site we provide the ability to email us for more information. All email is routed to an employee of the company who responds that day. We often times will get email and with a quick response, wind up engaging in a dialogue over the course of several days that ends up with a face-to-face meeting. The ability to show quick response and develop a relationship "on-line" can set you apart from another builder who does not have such ability.
Password protected site for buyers. Finally, for the customer whose home is currently under construction, we offer a "private-entrance" point for information on his or her home. Upon entering this area with the client's password, they will view status information on the progress of their home. Included in this area is an update on the current stage of construction, schedule for remaining construction, status on client selections, change order details, etc. This information is updated daily, via a direct link to our company's main database - "Structure".
Updated in-house. Any site will require constant updating and refinement to keep it "fresh" and exciting. We started with a site that was managed by an outside firm, but found that bringing the updating ability in-house was both an easy and inexpensive way to maintain the site. Either alternative can produce success, it depends upon your resources and company's abilities.
Communicating on the web. In addition to our web site; email capability and the ability to access the web for product resources and research has now become a necessity. Often, emails both to clients and trade-partners result in a more efficient and clear method of communication, which also provides a historical documentation of events. The ability to react quickly and communicate efficiently is critical to managing a growing company and managing the multitude of tasks and events which occur each day.
Clearly, the use of the Internet and web-based application tools will only increase with each passing day. The ability to take advantage of these tools today will only reap benefits tomorrow as each new technological advance becomes "standard" within the industry and most importantly, your client's lives.
For more information, contact:
VP Operations & Controller
Simonini Builders, Inc.