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How Building Materials Can Create an Incredible Customer Experience

Learn how you can create an incredible customer experience by thinking outside the box and using the latest technology. Chris Noone sits down with us to talk about how Site One has done just that to separate themselves in the marketplace.

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

Chris Noone joins the show to discuss how building materials companies can disrupt the industry and separate themselves from competitors by using technology.

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Chris Noone, Director of Category Management and Hardscapes at SiteOne.

Chris gives insights on how companies in the building materials space can help create efficiencies with customers by providing an amazing online experience.


Introducing Chris Noone and SiteOne

As Director of Category Management and Hardscapes at SiteOne, Chris helps the company focus on customer experience and efficiency for their audiences. His perspective is particularly unique because he worked on the manufacturing side of the hardscapes and masonry business before moving into distribution with SiteOne in June of 2018.

SiteOne is focused on five areas: irrigation, agronomics, lighting, nursery and hardscapes. Using technology through its e-commerce site, SiteOne has improved the customer experience and helped their audience be more efficient in their day-to-day tasks. Their goal is to help contractors, homeowners and landscape architects make both purchasing decisions and design decisions online.

How to Focus on the Needs of Your Audience

Chris recommends focusing on different sides of your business to expand on each audience’s need. Most distributors have a single line focus which limits contractors to go there just for one piece of their business. Instead, become a one-stop shop in terms of both products and education. When you also add in e-commerce, you can really help your customers become more efficient.

In addition to physical stores, you should also let your customers buy online and have their purchase distributed directly to their job site. This service provides an extra layer of speed, so a contractor or customer can come home in the evening, design a project, and conveniently place their order directly online. They can choose to pick it up in the morning or schedule a delivery directly to the job site. Either way, they avoid waiting in lines at the store first thing in the morning.

This service will help you be on par with consumers’ expected level of convenience due to the Amazon effect. With a labor shortage in the industry, it’s important to take away as many headaches as possible for your customers so they can focus on other areas.

While there’s certainly a segment of the contractor business that remains loyal to the old way of doing things, it’s important to cater to both audiences, the old school and the new school, in order to grow your business. Your company mentality needs to shift in a way that addresses the efficiency component while improving your customer experience.

Always come from the mindset that the customer comes first. Think of ways to help them become better at their craft as a way to separate yourself from the competition. Essentially, you need to help improve their business just as a business consultant would.

How Manufacturers Should Partner With Distributors

Chris has advice for manufacturers who want to partner with distributors using e-commerce. Proactively put your images together and go above and beyond with barcoding in order to stay ahead of the curve. If others in your company feel resistant, go little by little to see what kind of results you get.

What else do distributors look for in an ideal manufacturer?

Ultimately, the joint goal should be to help contractors grow their business. You should have a go-to-market strategy that is through distribution rather than direct sales. Everyone is on social media now and manufacturers can use those and other platforms to help educate contractors on their products alongside distributors.

With so many new products coming out, it can be hard for contractors to keep up. This means that education is a key part of success when you’re ready to launch. Contractors are a smart group, but education can help cut down their time on the job site. Don’t make them hunt for the information; instead, make it easy to find, through you or a distributor.

Navigating the Manufacturer-Distributor Relationship

Chris understands frustrations on the manufacturing side, especially when the distribution channel doesn’t do things the way you think they should be done. But according to Chris, the biggest mistake made by manufacturers is the idea of: “We can do more with more.”

Manufacturers need to remember that distributors are working for their customer first, which means figuring out how to best take care of their customers’ needs first. Manufacturers should be onboard with that perspective and work with distributors to help ensure their customers’ needs are met.

A good distributor should also work to protect your company’s brand. If it’s too much of a fight to get your product on a project, it can impact your margins and become a “race to the bottom.” It’s smart to think about both the spacing and amount of your distribution

Getting Inspiration for Industry Disruption

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For inspiration, you should look at buying habits outside of the industry to get ideas on how to make it more efficient for customers to obtain the products they want. SiteOne’s inspiration came from pre-ordering groceries online for either pickup or delivery. Now customers and contractors can order online and either come into the store or order for freight delivery.

You can also use your online presence to live up to the saying, “People buy from people.” You can use your web and social media presence to create a likable link between your brand and what you can help customers accomplish, so they feel like they are buying from a person, even when they order from you online.

Another option for distributors is to create a rewards program based on contractors’ purchases. Start simple, and eventually, you can build it out to be a great way to gain loyalty with customers and manufacturers.

One item on Chris’s wish list for future innovations includes getting the second, old school half of contractors to use e-commerce rather than solely coming in store to order. A second is to create a program or process for contractors to design a project online, submit to their e-commerce platform, and have the product order automatically created.

Clearly, a fresh perspective can lead to effective results in the building materials industry. Look around and think outside of the industry. There are plenty of opportunities to incorporate strategies from retailers like Amazon or grocery chains to separate yourself from the rest of the pack.

Want to contact Chris? You can reach out to him via email at [email protected].

Want to learn more about how distributors think? Check out our podcast on How to Grow Sales With Dealers & Distributors. Have questions or thoughts on this week’s podcast? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at [email protected].