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How DecksDirect Is Disrupting Building Materials Sales

We’ve always said your online presence should be your best salesperson, and our guest this week indulged us with a great discussion on the world of ecommerce. Building materials brands have a huge opportunity when it comes to online sales, and we think everyone will want to learn more.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Episode

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 insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

The CEO of DecksDirect, Blair Budlong, joined us for an in-depth look at ecommerce and how brands can sell better (even faster) to their online audience. We got some great ideas and insight into the world of selling online and what the future holds for the building materials market.

Building Solutions for Sales

Blair Budlong started his career not in building products, but in building design. “I was an architect originally,” says Blair. “I really didn't have a lot of interest in commercial projects. And the residential side of it was a tough market. So it led me towards products and building materials.”

Blair took over the family business, selling building materials — mostly deck products — during a time when you couldn’t buy anything on the internet. Homeowners would see products on their neighbor’s deck or in an ad and didn’t know where to purchase it. “We would talk to them and say, ‘Hey, go get this brand, just go to a lumber yard and get them,’” explains Blair — but homeowners weren’t likely to visit a lumber yard.

Instead, they went to Home Depot to source a similar product. “It was frustrating to hear people have a desire to want more, but an unwillingness to go get it.”

In an effort to help and attract customers, Blair’s company launched a website that helped visitors build a deck. It featured the plans and materials list — “everything you need is in this package,” he explains. “And then you go buy it at the bricks and mortar, which is really good, except for when the big box stores [started] to change their focus … you couldn't walk into a Home Depot and get everything you needed to build a deck in an afternoon. The products are changing so much, and they just didn't have shelf space.”

That meant Blair and his team had to develop other solutions for site visitors. “So then things became a special order,” says Blair. “You got constant feedback, whether that was having somebody call you or email you or chat, that you got to hear from that homeowner directly. So you could identify needs and wants and pain points, and adapt to it really quickly — where when we were selling through retail stores, we never got that.”

Tips for a Successful Ecommerce Site

Developing solutions for clients like this started to pay off for Blair’s company around 2008-9. “Consumers were looking for products that weren't gloss black. They wanted matte finishes and texture finishes. And we tried working with manufacturers for a while,” says Blair. “We didn't get much response to wanting to add a special color for an online company. So we went out and made our own for a while — and had some really heavy success.”

Today, Blair runs DecksDirect with the same mindset of learning and listening to customers. In fact, part of why we invited him on the show stems from the fact that Venveo’s Zach Williams is a recent customer of DecksDirect. “I bought decking material through you guys last year,” says Zach. “It was awesome.”

The DecksDirect website is successful in its design for a few reasons, but there are some features that stood out to us.

186 Tips for a Successful Ecommerce Site

“Number one, you've got a search bar right at the top [that] says, ‘What can we help you find?’ — not simply a search. It's directly asking the question of, ‘What is somebody looking for?’” says Zach.

“And then secondarily, you have this wonderful, very large phone number right here in the top right,” says Zach, “Once I see [an] actual phone number, it legitimizes the fact that this organization is willing to help me answer my questions. Even if I'm making an ecommerce transaction, there's actually data that supports [that] simply by adding a phone number, it increases your conversion rate.”

Many people shop online to avoid having to talk to anyone, but Blair believes there’s a need for more hands-on customer service in his industry. “Our goal is to talk to people as much as we possibly can,” says Blair.

A deck project is not a simple task, and building methods and materials have changed over the years. “So you can't just call up your uncle and have him come over on Saturday and help you build a deck. There're weeks and weeks of planning and picking colors and picking options and planning it out that, at some point, you need somebody to just help you get through the process,” says Blair.

From colors to fasteners to railing, DecksDirect will walk customers through the process of planning out their deck and the products needed to build it. “If we can be in the middle there and give somebody the confidence to install composite decking or to put on a cable railing system or to install low voltage lighting, one, they're going to have a way better deck. And two, we're going to capture that in a sale,” Blair explains.

This hands-on approach of working with customers has helped DecksDirect with sales and offers other brands an example of what’s possible with ecommerce and digital marketing. “We have over 50% of our customers call us or at least have some level of a touch within there,” says Blair.

Prioritizing the Process of the Sale

That kind of strategy for selling took DecksDirect time to develop, of course. “We're still figuring it out, but it took us four, five, maybe six years before we realized that we were a sales organization and not a service company,” he explains. “You have processes in the sales organization, and we needed to bring in people that could work a process — to take customers that were coming in with ideas with concepts, with problems that they didn't know how to find the solutions for and try to coach them through those processes.”

DecksDirect doesn’t force sales or influence customers to buy a particular product from their website. “We’re going to try to find a product or a color or an option or a style that fits with the home and fits with the customer,” says Blair. “I find it a lot of fun because we're aligned with the customer in that we're not trying to compete against somebody else through it. We're not trying to push something or upsell all the time. We're just trying to get to the end of the project together so that they can have a barbecue.”

Zach shared his own experience with DecksDirect, and he couldn’t recommend them more. He gave his deck plans to the sales team at DecksDirect, along with a tight turnaround time. “I think a day or two later, I got a full itemized list of every single material, screw, whatever I was going to need to build this deck,” explains Zach. “You were going to get us all the product in two weeks, and Home Depot was eight weeks.”

Sales Channels and Addressing Conflict

The DecksDirect team isn’t just selling products, they’re selling solutions to customers, and that requires a detailed sales consultation with the homeowner. “Unless you ask the right questions and understand what your needs are, you can't recommend the right products,” emphasizes Blair.

“It's attainable, but it's hard. So we have to have inventory on the ground. We have to be in control of that,” says Blair. “And there're expectations set by Amazon and some of the other big players that you just have to keep up with. And when we've got such a high average order value that comes with a different level of trust that you have to build with customers, that's beyond just going to Amazon and buying a $30 widget.”

Being able to sell and deliver more quickly than dealers and other retailers might sound disruptive, and we wondered if DecksDirect considered their strategy a source of channel conflict. “I don't look at it as channel conflict. We want the brands to be as awesome as they can. And in order for that to happen, they need to have really good channels of distribution,” says Blair.

“We don't really look at it as channel conflict at all. The bigger one is the customer conflict of the customers really aren't being serviced very well,” says Blair. “We know that our customer is that homeowner. It's the consumer.”

Want Even More Insight?

Ecommerce is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean solid customer support is out the door. It’s what differentiates DecksDirect from their competitors, and Blair is enjoying it. “It's a lot more fun talking and being part of their project than just taking orders over the internet,” he says.

Listen to the full interview for more insight into the world of ecommerce.

You can visit DecksDirect to learn more, or reach out to Blair via email or LinkedIn.

Be sure to check out our other podcast episodes on ecommerce and how to develop strategies for your building materials brand.