By Irwin Rapoport

Investing $75,000 to improve its website and online ordering system was more than just a means of improving customer service for Colorado's Blazer Electric Supply—it was also helps ensure that the company retains its current customer base and remains a viable player in a competitive market.

"We're getting some new business through the website," said Steve Blazer, co-owner and president, "but it's not necessarily a lot of additional business. We need to have the capability for our customers to maintain their interest in us, and how we do business. We don't really use it as away to attract new customers—we use it more as way to protect our business from going elsewhere where other distributors might be easier to access.

"We knew that there wouldn't be an immediate return on our investment," he added. "It's almost like an additional ante to pay to play the game because so much of our world is going more toward online business transactions and using mobile devices to manage materials."

The website upgrade took place in the first quarter of 2016 and, according to Blazer, electrical contractors appreciate it.

"It only makes up about one percent of our business," said Blazer, "but customers are also utilizing it the ability to look at invoices and check their statements, pricing, and availability of products. We measure all that activity and there is a positive trend in the use of the site for all those activities as we continue to promote it and customers get more into the habit of going to it.

"It frees up our people to not have to field calls from customers asking for a price, what their statement balance is, or if we have something in stock," he added. "We're trying to get our customers to be a little more self-sufficient, but at the same time, we're providing the information that they need at a moment's notice. The investment helps in ways that you don't really measure or see on a profit/loss statement."

But this does not mean that clients and salespeople are not speaking to one another. The site gives Blazer's people more time to concentrate upon helping contractors design and plan delivery schedules for projects, find the best products in terms of price and specifications, and discuss medium- and long-term needs.

"Being able to order online is important for smaller contractors," said Blazer. "A perfect example of this is how customers in rural areas are benefitting from it. After they complete their work during the day, at night they can determine what they need for the next few days. As they are billing for their customers, they can go on our website to find out the price of materials. They can access our services when we're not open—that is the key."

However, this does not end the link between the contractor and the salesperson in terms of the order, as acknowledgments are given regarding the order and, more importantly, reviews of the order to ensure that everything is correct and that essential elements are not left out.

"There are times when they didn't always select the correct item—say they are getting .5-inch conduit and they have a three-quarter coupling on their order," said Blazer. "Sometimes our people will use it as an opportunity to say that 'You ordered a bunch of PVC, but didn't order any glue.' This way the customer knows that were looking at their orders carefully. We want to make sure that they can stay on schedule at their various projects."

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Irwin Rapoport is a Montreal-based freelance writer. He can be reached at rapoport.irwin@gmail.com.