This month, BidforMaterials, a website that connects suppliers and contractors, celebrates its one-year anniversary. During its first 12 months online, the site’s listings of suppliers and pros have blossomed exponentially. It’s also discovered, though, that monetizing a platform like this is easier said than done.
The site, according to its creator Frederick Cann, Jr., has seen the number of suppliers registered increase tenfold, to 3,000 nationally, from when it was launched in October 2009. The site allows suppliers to search for jobs to bid on, to bid online and contact the contractors directly.
Cann, who also owns the Medford, N.Y.-based renovation company JR Solutions, says that the real selling point of the site is that gives contractors access to a supply chain which extends well beyond their immediate area of operation, and that the bids are “right time,” with live salespeople involved in the process. He admits, though, that because he was slower to register contractors, some of the suppliers on the site “sat around without any activity for awhile” and had to be re-energized about its advantages.
Now, though, there are 600 contractors registered, 193 of them located in New York. For confidentiality reasons, Cann couldn’t disclose details about the transactions that his site facilitates. What he did reveal, though, was that the bid prices “have surprised some contractors and have ‘enlightened’ some others.” Contractors have also told Cann that while registered suppliers might not be their first choice, “they will be No. 2, which tells us that our suppliers are next in line if someone drops out” of a bid.
Suppliers registered on BidforMaterials include branches from many of the industry's leading building material dealers and distributors, including Pro Build and 84 Lumber. Recently, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Feldman Lumber signed up for the site when it saw that a contractor was looking for marine lumber, which it stocks. Andy Palladino, one of Feldman's inside salespeople, tells BUILDER that the bidding process, including paperwork, took only about a week. While Feldman didn't win that bid, Palladino still thinks BidforMaterials could be valuable for his company to bid for jobs in the metro New York area that it might otherwise not know about.
Suppliers can register on BidforMaterials for free, but contractors originally had to pay $50 per month. However, Cann says he eventually dropped that fee and is now more concerned with “populating the site,” which he compared with Facebook as a social media platform where buyers and sellers can congregate and interact. “We want this to be the first place subscribers go in the morning and the last place they go at night,” he says.
A few months ago, BidforMaterials started accepting advertising, which Cann believes will eventually be the site’s primary revenue stream. (On the BidforMaterials home page, one can see an ad for the online retailer SafetyGlassesUSA.com.) Cann envisions all sorts of possible advertisers, including attorneys, real estate agents, manufacturers, and even chiropractors.
Cann and his partners—Allen Weinstein and Tom Costarelli of Solas Plumbing & Heating in Medford—are also striving to make BidforMaterials more than just a transactional site by developing information about green products and trade shows, as well as offering how-to webinars. They’ve also had some success working with charitable organizations, such as Building Hope on Long Island, N.Y., to use the site to solicit building material donations.
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.