(written in January, 1998)
by Jim Heaphy
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a column for this magazine in which I took note of the rapid growth of the Internet and the Worldwide Web. At that time, countertop material manufacturers were just beginning to establish web sites, and only a handful of fabricators had a presence in this new communications medium. I predicted then that the Worldwide Web would soon become a significant source of information for our industry. Every major manufacturer of solid surface material and plastic laminate now has a web site, and scores of countertop fabricators do as well. In this column, I will briefly list the current web addresses for the manufacturers, and go into more detail about the web sites of a dozen fabricators, to give you an idea of the variety among them and the marketing and communications possibilities that a web site can offer a fabricator.
A minor technical note - the majority of web site addresses start with a standardized format - http://www. In the case of those that follow this standard, I have included only that part of the web address that follows http://www. If the web address follows a non-standard format, as some do, then I have given the entire address.
Most of the material manufacturers are now using pretty self-evident web site names - go to corian.com, avonite.com, wilsonart.com, formica.com, or nevamar.com to see what they have to offer. For some reason, Pioneer Plastics takes a slightly different approach - pionitelaminates.com.
But my main focus in this column is on the fabricators who have spent time and money to establish web sites. They are truly the pioneers of the late 90's. How effective are they in communicating a positive image of their business and useful information to a potential customer? In all honesty, results vary.
TR Kitchen Concepts can be found at stonelily.com/clients/kitchenconcepts/. This is an exceedingly simple one page web site that consists of little more than the company logo, the address and phone number, and a list of the brands sold. In effect, it is nothing more than a business card posted on the web. On the plus side, it must be inexpensive and certainly didn't take them more than a few minutes to put together.
Verso Custom Counter Tops, located in "Chicagoland", is at 5starweb.com/verso/. The web page features photographs of the company's showroom storefront and their fleet of trucks, but no photographs of actual countertops. The web site invites customers to visit their showroom, but the showroom's real world address is not offered. Also, certain words in the text are blue rather than black, which commonly indicates that those words are links that you can click on to connect to related web pages. The blue words do not function as links in Verso's web page, which is disconcerting to experienced web users.
Service Plus Countertop Specialist of Raleigh, NC is located at citysearch11.com/E/V/RDUNC/1002/38/03/. That address seems a bit much to have printed on your business card. This is a fairly competent web site, which is part of CitySearch, a web service providing comprehensive information about news, businesses, restaurants and entertainment in North Carolina's triangle area - the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the surrounding region. The web site features some nice photographs of attractive countertop installations and a map to help customers find the business. My only complaint is that the graphic background looks like ceramic tile, although it seems that the company does not install ceramic tile countertops.
Olson Enterprises of Burlington, WI is at cyberingenuities.com/oe/. The opening page has a long list of technical specifications describing the company's quality standards for solid surface fabrication. In my opinion, this list offers too much jargon filled detail, which would probably be above the heads of most potential customers. The web page features some eye-catching special effects, such as the word "samples" flashing in various colors on the screen, whatever that means. This seems to add nothing to the company's message.
Laminate Systems Ltd. of Canal Fulton, OH is at laminatesystems.com. The opening page has a nice graphic showing Europe and North Africa as seen from outer space at night, illuminated by city lights. One wonders how this particular graphic, impressive though it is, enhances the message of a countertop fabricator in Ohio. However, the site does feature a photograph of a commercial installation - the solid surface countertop in a coffee shop.
Duracite of Benicia, CA is located at duracite.com. Because this firm is located only a few miles from where I live, I could not help but notice that the name of the city is misspelled several times in the web site. Nice features of this web site include a showcase of twelve small photos of installed countertops. When you click on any of them, an enlarged photo is displayed. There is also a chart showing all the Corian colors and patterns.
Helmart of Cincinnati, OH is located at http://fx1.honeycomb.net/helmart/. This is a promising web site that is "under construction" - several planned features have not yet been implemented as I write this column. A photo gallery is available, as are a map and detailed driving directions to their shop. Information is offered on how to obtain a quote and place an order. Average lead times for various kinds of jobs are given. This information seems quite useful to potential customers. Promised in the future are links to manufacturer web sites and information about warranty programs.
CWP of San Bernardino, CA is at cwpsurfaces.com. This site features a stunning "space art" background with twinkling stars. The company touts its membership in various trade associations and shows attractive photos of five different brands of countertop materials. Not surprisingly, it is difficult to tell the difference on the screen.
Solidtop of Deerfield, FL is at solidtop.com. The web site features an interesting opening graphic that actually has something to do with countertop fabrication - a countertop all by itself on a black background. To its right, various geometrical shapes - a cube, a sphere, a cone and so on - are labeled as links to be clicked for more information. Included in this web site are links to fifteen other web sites pertaining to kitchen remodeling.
Countertop Designs of Sacramento, CA is at http://wwnm.com/countertop/. This web site features a tastefully patriotic red, white and blue motif, with the company name casting a subtle shadow, creating the illusion that it is floating in front of a backdrop. A box at the bottom of the screen informed me that I was the 1108th visitor to the web site, which implies that lots of people are paying attention. A map to their shop is also featured. Particularly effective was a photo of the owner receiving DuPont Corian's Magna Award, lending an air of credibility to the business.
Two of my favorite fabricator web sites have something in common. Both are for kitchen and bath dealers which have in-house countertop fabrication departments, and both are located in San Jose, CA, Silicon Valley's biggest city.
Cabinet Craft at cabinetcraft.com is the simpler of the two, but it is quite effective. The company name is rendered in an attractive woodgrained type face, and the opening page is simple and uncluttered, featuring a beautiful photo of a completed kitchen remodel. One interesting feature is that a potential customer can obtain a coupon for a 10% discount through the web site. A map is available. A sales message scrolls across the bottom of the screen like a news bulletin at Times Square.
One web site stands head and shoulders above the rest as stylish, informative, distinctive, comprehensive and even a bit humorous. Willow Glen Kitchen and Bath of San Jose, CA is at willowglen.com. This web site is clearly a labor of love for the owners, who seem to conduct their business affairs with thoroughness and a great deal of enthusiasm.
Willow Glen specializes in the Mission and Arts & Crafts architectural styles. Many impressive kitchens, baths and fireplace surrounds in this style are shown at their web site. The web site is decorated with numerous graphics in the distinctive Mission and Craftsman styles. Some of the graphics are animated and are quite eye-catching. The company's owners have written three books on kitchen and bath remodeling, and many excerpts from these books are featured at the web site.
DuPont Corian countertops are emphasized, and especially the decorative sandblasting work that is a specialty of Willow Glen. Many photos of sandblasted backsplashes, tub decks and fireplace surrounds are available for viewing.
Many web sites invite customers to visit their place of business in a perfunctory way. Willow Glen invites customers to drop in for a cup of espresso and visit their courtyard cactus garden. This is only one of the many ways that the personalities of the owners emerge through their web page.
Another way is that they devote a web page to their beloved Rottweiler, Gator, who hangs out in the showroom. Gator's own web page features photos and a stunning painting of the dog. Gator regularly works in an animal-assisted therapy program, and his web page has received awards from organizations of animal lovers on the web. The web page informed me that I was the 5,096th person to visit Gator online. Gator is popular! I think I could easily devote an entire column to Willow Glen's web site. Check it out!
Are you planning a web site for your business? If so, take a look at what these countertop fabricators have come up with. Incorporate the ideas that you find most effective, and develop your own new ideas. Speak directly to potential customers, and allow the distinctive character of your business to shine through. The Worldwide Web is an incredibly innovative and promising medium. Utilize its full potential, and you will be rewarded.