Blog for Building Materials Companies

Selling Building Materials Online

  |  Posted in Sales

Selling Building Materials Online

A major building materials company is looking for a VP of eCommerce. I assumed they were going to start selling their products online like many other companies.

I was wrong.

When I read the job description, I saw that they planned to use their new VP of eCommerce’s knowledge and expertise to gain a competitive advantage and grow their sales. But they had no plan to sell their products online themselves. Instead, they planned to help their many distributors, dealers and big boxes who already sell online be more successful at selling their products. They also planned to help customers who don’t sell online yet but want to get started.

Here are some of the responsibilities of the eCommerce position:

  • Partner with customers to drive sales on customer websites, raising sales for us and the customer
  • Work with .com customers and use data to improve the customer experience and increase transactions
  • Identify where our company can provide the most value to online sellers
  • Assist distributors and dealers who want to start selling online with recommendations and best practices
  • Be viewed (in our product category) as the leader in online sales knowledge and expertise
  • Have a deeper and more current understanding of the online customer’s needs (in our product category) than any of our customers or competitors
  • And more

This is a very smart strategy. Every distributor, dealer, and big-box is either already online or planning on it.

How did we get here?

Big Boxes followed consumers and shifted their focus to online

A few years ago, I started to notice how big box line reviews were changing. Buyers kept asking more and more about online. It was like the stores were an afterthought.

Most companies added online sections to their line review presentations that really didn’t add any value. They listened to what the big box buyer asked for and played it back to them. If you used words like SEO, content, images, videos and website copy, you were covered.

You can’t really blame companies because this was all new. Everyone was learning through trial and error. Products that no one could imagine would be ordered online are now commonplace.

Progressive dealers and distributors are investing heavily in their online businesses. Some of them are both selling and shipping online.

Some dealers and distributors are operating the same way they have in the past, with customers picking up materials or offering job site delivery. The difference is that product selection, pricing and orders are taking place online, saving everyone time and money.

We also have a new type of customer who is an online category killer, like eFaucets or DecksDirect. Almost every category of building products has an online seller that is focused on that specific type of product.

Some of these companies are more successful than others. The ones who are more successful are the ones who have more knowledge about online sales of building materials than their competitors. Their success has little to do with the products they carry or their prices.

What your customers want today is convenience and efficiency

More homeowners are buying DIY or DIFME products online. They are also sending their contractors to a website to place the order and make sure the order is correct.

Contractors want to work on their schedule. If they want to order a product at 8 pm while sitting at home, they’ll prefer suppliers who give them that option. Most of these sales are still for local pickup or delivery.

As online sellers get better at meeting the needs of the contractor and demonstrate reliable delivery, the contractor will be less worried about where the supplier is located. They expect an Amazon-like experience – easy, reliable and continually improving. Free shipping becomes two-day free shipping, becomes one-day free shipping, becomes same-day free shipping.

Facilities managers are buying more online from Grainger and others.

Panelized/modular builders already recognize the efficiency of ordering online.

Architects and designers may not order your products but these days they are more likely to find them online. They may send the contractor to a website.

The customers you sell to and through are moving online.

The customers you rely on to sell your products are looking for help growing their online sales.

Helping is the new selling

Building materials manufacturers are in the perfect position to offer this advice and grow their sales.

As a manufacturer who sells through different online sellers, you have a 30,000-foot view of the landscape. Without revealing an individual customer’s confidential information, you can use your knowledge to help all of your online customers.

If a customer wants to get more contractor sales online, you should be able to show them what changes they need to make.

Some of the companies that sell your products online don’t have expertise in online selling. They don’t know how to analyze data and make improvements based on the results. Their experience comes from brick and mortar stores and they frequently see their online store as a digital version of a physical one.

You open the doors and hope some customers find your store. You run some ads, add up your daily sales and once in a while you remodel your showroom or update a display.

The online world is moving at hyperspeed and a building materials company that has a person with online selling expertise can help their customers make this transition.

Some of the category killer websites are run by people with online selling expertise but little or no experience in building materials. In this case, your expert can act as a translator for your salespeople to help them learn more about the building materials business.


Whether or not your product is sold on Amazon, it is becoming a bigger factor in the online sales of building materials. You should understand Amazon and how it might affect your business.

Big Boxes

With an eCommerce expert on your staff, you can help your big box customers grow their sales and yours. Big boxes have been building their online selling expertise. They’re used to telling the manufacturers what to do – they’re not used to a manufacturer who can teach them something. They realize there is still a lot to learn and they will appreciate and value the support by giving you more business.

I keep expecting to wake up and see in the news that Amazon bought Lowes. Which companies will be in the best position then?

Menards has successfully relied on traditional print and radio advertising to grow their business. Now, they’re working to catch up to the others by upping their online selling game. Wouldn’t it be great if you had an expert who can help them?

Your Customers Are Looking for Guidance

Your building materials customers are facing more change than they have ever seen. Online selling is one of these changes. Hiring a person with eCommerce or online selling expertise to guide your customers could be a very smart move for your company.

These people are hard to find and in demand in many industries. There are a few outside experts who can help you.

eCommerce expertise is the new skill every manufacturer should be looking for and developing.

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About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.