You are probably already using the internet to make your life easier. But if you are a contractor on the jobsite, one of the most complicated, tedious, time-consuming tasks in construction is still just as unpleasant: research and procurement. For improving efficiency while decreasing cost, the Internet is a powerful tool, but most contractors are in the dark on how to use it to better find the products they need faster and at a cheaper price. The following paragraphs examine how the whole process, from research to procurement, can be improved upon by using the Internet to supplement your standard procurement practices.
Do the Research
What you should be focusing on the most is your research. The saying "Measure twice, cut once" is true both figuratively and literally within construction. It is especially true during procurement. A well-researched purchase is one that you can be sure will not cause conflicts down the line. But how do you get the product that you’re looking for at the best possible price?
Google is your friend. If you’re working directly with the project owner, one tool that you’ll find essential is Google Image Search. For some projects, all you may get for a reference is an uncaptioned photograph. Just grab the URL of that image, click “Search by Image,” and Google will return any Web pages that have that image. That means you are more likely to find the exact product you need to match what your client wants.
You can also use some special characters that will help you in your search. Google calls them “operators.” Operators are just special punctuation characters that you can use to make your search more specific.
For example, look at “-,” the dash. Placing a dash directly before a word will block those results from your results page. If you're searching for BrandY siding but BrandX keeps appearing, even when searching specifically for what you want, try searching for “BrandY siding -BrandX.” That dash will help you cull unrelated results from your searches.
But say you a trying to find something else, like BrandZ, but you’re not even sure of a name, If you are looking for a new brand of a product that you need, you can also use the “related:” operator. For example, searching for “related:google.com” will show you competing search engines. Apply that logic to your favorite brand of siding, and you might find a competitor that fits your needs and budget more than what you’re using now.
If you actually know the name or model number of the product you need, you may already be familiar with using quotation marks. Putting a term in quotes “like this” will search for that exact phrase, in that order, as opposed to looking for pages that simply have the keywords you typed. If you know exactly what you need, try this method first.
Be as Specific as Possible
When it comes to finding what you need, always start narrow. Only broaden your search if you don't find what you need. Don't just search for "lumber." If you know the requirements of your job, the measurements or the location, you should know you will need a truckload of 4" x 4" x 12' Southern Yellow Pine in Wichita or some 10' decking in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Never be afraid to add measurements, locations and other specifics to your searches. You are more likely to find the product you need in the area you need it, and you will find it far more quickly than you would have otherwise. Not to mention, if a company takes enough care to list that information out so that you can find it, you can bet they are likely a company that will care enough to provide you with quality customer service.
Get What You Need
So, you know the product you need, and you know where you need it. Now, how do you find the vendor nearest to your jobsite? If know model number of your product, you can try searching the manufacturer’s website. Sometimes they will have a distributor list available. Unfortunately, most manufacturers do not list individual locations that sell their specific products, and most vendors will only list the brands they carry, not necessarily the specific models numbers of what they have in stock.
This is where you may need to start making some calls. Unfortunately this process can’t be done much faster if the vendor is not on top of their online presence. But as long as you properly research your product, you will be equipped with the information needed to negotiate an advantageous deal. If a vendor does not have the product you are looking for, they may try to substitute a similar product. This can be a double-edged sword, as you could be getting a deal or you could be getting an upcharge. Going in knowing the general market value of your product and similar products is a huge advantage when it comes to saving money.
You may also notice a correlation between website quality and customer service. Obviously, more old-school vendors have developed relationships and don’t necessarily see the need for having a modern website. A company focused on impressing the customer won’t forget about their online presence, but these vendors will sometimes have more expensive pricing. Make sure you buy from someone you would buy from again.
One thing you may not immediately glean from a vendor’s website is their tiered pricing. Often, the more consistently you buy from a vendor, the better pricing you will receive. Obviously, this doesn’t much help if you are doing different jobs in different areas, but you may find that some vendors will eventually be giving you pricing where it’s more advantageous to order a product from your regular vendor and have it shipped to your jobsite, as opposed to ordering near the jobsite. The key here is to find a vendor that will give you a good balance between customer service and competitive pricing and develop a long-term account with that vendor.
Referrals and reviews are a huge part of this business. Ask your peers and read reviews so that you have a better understanding of what kind of person or company you are dealing with. It’s easier to craft marketing materials than it is to craft positive customer relationships, so if you hear about a vendor from word of mouth, they are likely a solid choice.
Any company that is dedicated to their customer relationships has quality sales representatives, and that’s another way the Internet helps makes this process easier. Never be afraid to shoot a sales representative an email or a text just to see if they have any sales on products you find yourself needing. As opposed to a 15-minute phone call with one vendor, you can easily send an email to 10 vendors in 2 minutes, giving them a heads up for any jobs you may be starting soon. This tactic might even net you a deal on a something you will need in the near future. The most important part of this interaction is staying in front of your sales representative. It's no secret that reps will do more work for a courteous customer, so the next time you have an order you need filled as soon as possible, you can shoot that email and expect a reply that suits your needs.
In a way, every part of the procurement process is a numbers game. For your research, it’s about lowering a number and clearing out the noise so you find the perfect product you need for your project. However, when it comes to purchasing, it’s about increasing a number: more contacts, more inquiries, more business. To find exactly what you need, where you need it, for a price within your budget, the Internet is essential. By searching smarter and using online tools to communicate faster, you can make your procurement process a little easier.