New technology affects companies of all sizes, although in different ways. For example, a small practitioner can probably get away with a Web site that is little more than an electronic business card, displaying a logo and providing basic contact information. Larger companies, however, particularly design/build firms, need to provide much more to compete for the attention of potential customers. Even referrals prefer to be able to visit a company site that includes a company history, a mission statement, a description of what the process of working with the remodeler will be like, and images of past projects.

But many remodelers go well beyond this, displaying a list or links to industry associations and community groups to which they belong, images and brief biographies of key employees, as well as testimonials and contact information for past customers.

One of the more practical uses of Web sites is as screening tools to qualify potential customers. A simple form that asks interested visitors where they heard about your company, what kind of project they have in mind, how much they want to spend, what their timetable is, how many other contractors they're talking with, and so on can help you sort through inquiries and zero in on serious buyers. A company Web site is, however, a substantial investment, both to build and to maintain.

But deciding to maintain a minimal Web site for your own company won't get you off the hook. You still need to understand how to use the Web to research products. Most homeowners use the Internet to search for products and find out how much they cost long before they even start to think about finding a remodeler to do their job. This trend is so strong that many remodelers, even companies with $3 million or more in annual revenue, are finding it difficult to keep up with their customers' product knowledge. What's important, however, is not being an expert on everything but being familiar enough with technology to follow up on a customer request.

Digital Office The Web is just the tip of the iceberg. Technology is making its way into every aspect of running a remodeling business. What's changing is the optional nature of employing technology. It's no longer merely a convenience; it's become a necessity.

One example is the way more and more remodeling contractors are using PowerPoint in their sales presentations, either in their office or on notebook computers in the prospect's home. These slide shows can also be designed to help homeowners make product and material selections or to view projects similar to what they have in mind. In the same way, simple CAD presentation software enables contractors to show homeowners what the finished product is going to look like.

Even more interesting is the widespread use of e-mail. A survey reported in this magazine noted that an increasing number of homeowners, particularly those doing high-end remodeling projects, prefer e-mail communication to the phone. The message is clear: Remodelers who are having trouble moving beyond faxes and phone messages will soon face difficulties.

This trend will soon spread to suppliers as well, if it hasn't already. There are already parts of the country where remodelers can check current pricing, place orders, and schedule deliveries via e-mail or Web-based systems.

Keeping Pace Technology is here to stay. The speed, accuracy, and costs savings brought about through the use of technology are simply too great to ignore. If you're not tooled up, now is the time to raise overhead to make sure you can keep pace. Now is also the time to gauge the progress of your subcontractors and suppliers. And now is the time to invest in training for yourself and your staff. Remodelers who can't keep up will soon find themselves shut out of the most profitable projects. — Walt Stoeppelwerth is a publisher of management and estimating information for professional remodelers. 800.638.8292;;