Sophisticated product catalogs and order entry systems are standard features of today’s jan/san Web sites. While product-centric distributor sites are well suited to distributors’ many existing customers, they often miss the mark when it comes to attracting and retaining new business.

Once distributors have a product catalog and ordering system successfully up and running, they need to focus on the “extras” that will make customers happy to add the site to their “favorites” list.

Sanitary Maintenance recently spoke with distributors and Web design experts about ideas that can help revive Web sites and make them an indispensable tool for both old and new customers.

Create Rich Content
Businesses browsing for jan/san products are interested in the “three C’s,” says Michael Marks, managing partner for Indian River Consulting Group, Melbourne, Fla. “Content, collaboration, and commerce — in that order.”

In addition to ordering products, customers are looking to Web sites for valuable information that will help them improve their job performance and solve their cleaning dilemmas.

Distributors find that including cleaning tips, material safety data sheets (MSDS) and other educational sections drive customers to their Web sites.

Allied Eagle Supply Co., Detroit, added a section on cleaning tips to its Web site in response to the many phone calls the company received from customers with questions about their cleaning problems.

According to Natalino Scappaticci, general manager, the company is also interested in offering in-depth training videos on its Web site that customers can download to a personal digital assistant (PDA) and take with them to the job site.

Other distributors are also expanding their online offerings with the goal of becoming a valuable resource for customers.

Richard Cottingham, president of Cottingham Paper Co., Columbus, Ohio, plans to add an educational element to his Web site that focuses on green building practices.

“It’s getting hot press right now, and I think its confusing to people,” he says.

Cottingham hopes to address customers’ concerns on the topic by presenting information in an easy-to-understand format and linking it to green products and cleaning procedures.

Newsletters are another effective tool to provide customers with up-to-date educational material.

Dave Renard, president of Renard Paper, St. Louis, posts a newsletter to his site several times a year that is filled with company facts, new products and cleaning tips.

Distributors who cite lack of time and manpower as roadblocks to writing newsletters or adding cleaning tips to their sites can always link to other Web sites that offer this type of information, says Marks. This can also serve as a good marketing tool.

Promote Your Web Site
Even the best Web site is useless if people don’t know about it. “Make sure your Web site is search-engine friendly,” advises Linda White, owner of Design By Linda, Des Moines, Iowa.

To learn more about your Web site’s traffic and where it ranks in the search engines, Marks recommends two Web sites: and

To help spread the word and direct traffic to your Web site, White suggests developing a list of customer e-mail addresses and sending out sales announcements or news a couple of times a month. Be sure not to go overboard with e-mail or you run the risk of being labeled a spammer.

“When you send out an e-mail, don’t give customers the whole story in the e-mail,” she says. “For example, if you have a sale, link them back to your Web site to see the sale.”

Dalco Enterprises Inc., New Brighton, Minn., often runs promotions to keep customers interested and to lure them back to the company’s Web site.

In September 2005, the company gave away a free iPod® for the 10,000th order placed on the site. By March 2006, online orders reached 13,000.

“People are really catching on to promotions,” says Neil Bakker, the company’s information technologies manager. “We’re experienced an average 65 percent growth every year for the last four years on our Web site.”

There are also freebies that companies can take advantage of to help promote their site, such as free listings in business directories or sharing links with other businesses.

These listings can help drive traffic with search engines that track URLs based on the number of links coming into the site.

It is also important to include your Web site address in print advertisements.

Then there’s the old-fashioned way of marketing your site: word of mouth. “The biggest roadblock is getting the word out to customers so they know what you have available,” says Bakker.

Dalco relies on its account managers to help advertise the company’s Web site, offering training seminars and incentives to sales reps that sign customers up online.

Customize The Experience
For customers that order products online, full account access is a must. Businesses want to be able to check the status of an order, pay bills, access their purchase history — and they want to do it on their own time.

Eastern Bag & Paper uses a distribution software package, provided by the company’s third party carrier, to track its deliveries.

“We always have customers calling to find out when they’ll get their order,” says Ken Rosenberg, vice president, marketing, Eastern Bag & Paper, Milford, Conn. The software allows them to go online any time of the day or night and find out exactly when their order is going to be delivered.

Customers also want to see products specific to their business needs.

“Ninety-nine percent of what customers buy, they have bought before,” says Marks. “They don’t need to see a big catalog.” Instead, he recommends giving customers access to the last 100 items they purchased. “If they need something new, they can call someone,” he says.

Product specials should also be targeted to the customer, says Marks. “For example, if you’re having a sale, send an e-mail out saying, ‘You bought 50 of these from me, just wanted to let you know they’re going on special.’”

Distributors can also bundle products, says Marks. “Take a look at every invoice shipped in the last year and find out how often, say, strippers go with waxes. Once you figure out which products go together, when customers order a product, you can mention the other products that go with it. You’ll save them a second trip.”

Update Content
Nothing stops browsers from returning to your site faster than stale material. For many distributors, keeping Web sites current is one of their biggest challenges.

“Most distributors create a Web site and think they’re done,” says Robert Boyles, president of Smarter Distribution, Coppell, Texas. “Managing and updating a Web site is a job,” he says. “Someone has to monitor it, feed it and baby it. If you’re going to have a list of specials, it has to be this week’s specials, not last year’s specials.”

Bakker believes companies should update their Web sites frequently to keep customers coming back for more.

“We try to change content twice a month, sometimes more,” he says. New product sections are rotated once a month, and every month the company offers a new cleaning tip of the month.

Allied Eagle Supply Co. recently hired a catalog company to keep its database of product descriptions and photos current.

“We used to have products on the Web site, but we did it one time and hardly ever updated it,” says Scappaticci. Now, with the help of a third party, the company is able to keep its products up to date.

Integrate Web And Business
Don’t make the mistake of treating your Web site as a separate entity from your business, says Scappaticci.

Transactions made on the Web, such as order processing, should tie in with your back-end systems and flow seamlessly through all aspects of the business.

Dalco Enterprise uses e-procurement software that further dissolves the lines between distributors and customers, says Bakker.

Customers can access the distributor’s Web site from their own procurement application. They then “punch out” of their system and enter the supplier’s Web-based catalog to place orders. “The system ties customers and distributors together very tightly,” says Bakker.

Currently, Dalco has one customer that places 100 percent of its orders online using this software. But for those customers who prefer the human touch, Web sites should facilitate transactions with sales reps, says Marks, not replace them.

Contact pages should include a list of employees’ names, plus their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. If your sales reps use text messaging, include a photo of the rep on the Web site that links directly to their cell phone, says Marks.

“The Web site should be a tool to intercept customer demands and requests for information.”

Even the best Web sites can’t replace the need for human contact. It’s still up to sales reps to follow through on Web site leads and forge strong relationships with their customers.

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C.


ASHES Helps Members Connect
The American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES) recently launched an online business directory called the Phoenix Business Directory, a resource that will connect the association’s members with suppliers, products and health care environmental services information.

The directory, available at allows users to search by company type, state or alphabetical listings.

Dosmatic Rolls Out New Web Offerings
Dosmatic U.S.A./International Inc., a manufacturer of injectors that dose precise percentages of chemicals and other solutions into a water line, has redesigned its Web site,, to allow for easier use by distributors and customers.

The updated site provides chemical compatibility charts, product selection guides, a section on frequently asked questions, manuals and training information.

IEHA Launches Site Redesign
A newly redesigned Web site from the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA) provides users with a more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate site, at

In addition, the site now features a news section covering the association and industry events. IEHA members will have access to an enhanced news section as well as a Members Forum.

People In The News
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