Back in 1999 when Jim Peterson was attending his umpteenth World of Concrete showcase, he was intrigued with the array of new concrete-related products that he saw in Las Vegas. Yet he was even more amazed that there wasn’t a central clearinghouse that building industry types could tap into to learn more about these new products and techniques once the show was over.
On his way home to Los Angeles, he realized he had found a niche that needed filling. So Peterson, a former vice president of a major concrete contractor in Riverside, Calif., jumped on the e-wagon and set off to establish a Web site on the Internet frontier. He sketched a layout, hired the best Web design firm he could find and — voila — in June 1999 ConcreteNetwork.com sprang to life.
For its debut, Peterson wrote eight jargon-free, easy-to-read articles on different concrete topics. “I aimed — and still aim — at writing in layman’s terms, giving good information in a nontechnical manner,” says Peterson, adding that today the site covers 46 concrete topics and is continually expanding. Initially, he adds, his target audience was landscapers, architects, builders, remodelers and others associated with the building community who were not directly involved with concrete but wanted to know the basics.
Surveying the Site
Feedback has been positive from day one. There has been a steady demand for subscriptions for the Concrete Source, a free e-mail newsletter for building industry professionals. “We were right about our approach,” says Peterson. “Even professionals like topics discussed in a nontechnical manner.”
But it was a big surprise, says the Web site founder and company president, to learn that a huge amount of the traffic that visited the site were concrete contractors exploring other uses of concrete with which they weren’t familiar.
Peterson, who is also a partner with a company that prepares foundations for roughly 3,200 tract homes a year, says there are many contractors out there who work in five or six areas and are constantly researching other business lines. Concrete contractors are a breed, he says, that “like to stay informed.”
During the site’s first month, it had just over 1,000 hits. In May 2000, the site had 30,000 visitors. By May 2001, the numbers had climbed to 100,000. And they’re still mounting today.
From engraving methods and concrete countertops to tilt-up concrete and waterproofing, the site contains nearly 650 accurate and jargon-free articles and resources written by experts and professional writers. Besides the wide variety of concrete topics addressed, there are features and opinions sections that cover a gamut of business and building industry matters, as well as a concrete equipment marketplace where you can buy and sell new or used equipment. And the information is constantly changing: The user-friendly site is updated weekly every Friday.
During the year 2000, several new sections were added to the site to give contractors the resources they need to help run field or headquarters operations. Peterson also added an industry calendar that highlights concrete industry shows, training, seminars and general building events.
This past January, he introduced a directory — organized by geographical area and specialty. “Basically, as the traffic grew we started to understand that if we provided the information on a topic but not the means to get the job done, we were only doing half of the job for the visitor,” says Peterson. “So we added our directory,” which lists several hundred concrete contractors, experts and other industry suppliers in more than 50 categories in 164 metro areas.
For a small monthly fee, the directory lists a company’s description, phone and fax numbers, e-mail address, a photo gallery and a link to its Web site. “We provide everything to help people connect with the contractors themselves,” says Peterson. “We are not — and we do not want to be — the middleman. We want to facilitate direct contact.” Peterson says he is in the business, however, of building, hosting and maintaining sites for concrete contractors, providing the foundation necessary to link to ConcreteNetwork.com. “We think it’s a unique selling proposition,” he says. “There are lots of people who can build you a Web page but how many can help you be found in such a direct way?”
From Start to Finish
Maneuvering through the site easily is crucial to this dot-com’s success. “We really aim to serve our site visitors by helping them get to what they need as fast as possible,” Peterson says. No passwords are needed and you won’t see an irritating pop-up ad or a banner splashed across the page, he adds, because ConcreteNetwork.com’s mission is “to deliver relevant and easy to-understand information… from a Web site that is fast and easy to navigate.”
Peterson says his company has learned that folks — whether they’re contractors or consumers — still want to transact business as they always have: “person to person. The Internet is simply a tool to make an introduction to start the process,” he stresses. His site is designed so people can quickly locate the information they need, easily digest the facts and pick up the phone and call someone in their area who can do the job. For instance, there are about 20 short articles on acid-etched staining that explain how stains work, detail the surface preparation necessary,discuss colors and so on. “It basically walks a person through the whole process of acid-etched staining,” Peterson says. In a way, “It’s just like shopping for a car. You research on the Internet, print out some specifics and walk into the dealer’s showroom knowing what you want.”
Peterson says he gets overwhelmingly positive feedback from his clients. “They tell me that Internet buyer are ‘a different bird.’ They are much more educated prospects who help the contractor skip a lot of preliminaries. They’ve already researched the colors and patterns they want. When they call the contractor, they know what’s going on.”
And it pays off. “In seven out of 10 phone calls, it’s the real deal,” says Peterson. As a matter of fact, he adds, one contractor in El Cajon, Calif., who was “listed in eight areas on our site, asked to go down to six because he was getting too many calls.”