Use computers as a distribution channel

The following was originally published 20 years ago, back when data was still kept on 5-1/2" disks.  How much of my predictions have come to pass? What can we expect in the years to come? 

Today’s architects and engineers make on-the-spot decisions as they create drawings at the computer. Rather than search through catalogs, they’ll choose products from manufacturers whose data is available electronically at their fingertips.

Those manufacturers are today’s competitive marketers. They’ve managed to automate their product information right into the decision making process, says Michael Chusid, president of Chusid Associates, marketing consultants for the construction industry.

“Think of the computer as a channel of distribution for your product,” Chusid says. Automation offers many avenues for selling information and creating product awareness.

Get into the plan
Incorporate a computer- aided design/manufacturing (CAD- CAM) relationship into the product, Chusid suggests. The architect creates a design using a manufacturer’s CAD software. Based on that design, the manufacturer uses CAM to create samples and customize the product for the application.

This process makes the product an integral part of the design. Customers who have bought the software will be more likely to buy the product, and the manufacturer has a foot in the door long before the project goes out for bid.

There are other advantages. Use of manufacturers’ software to produce construction documents can:

  • Cut mass production for inventory
  • Shorten lead times
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for shop drawings
  • Simplify order entry
  • Expedite construction

Software for designers is just one option. An estimating program specifically for your product can be a selling point for contractors, Chusid says. And an inventory management program will do more than a little co-op advertising to establish a strategic relationship with distributors.

Market with electronics
Computers have a place in just about every aspect of marketing. “There will be new demands on your media dollar,” says Chusid. Marketers will have to fit electronic media into their overall marketing strategies.

Various types of electronic building-product catalogs are now available. Some charge manufacturers for advertising space and distribute to a controlled circulation, as conventional print media do. Others offer free space to manufacturers and are sold to the end-user.

Disks can be used in direct mail advertising, says Chusid. They can be produced and mailed more economically than literature and they’re not likely to be overlooked.

On-line databases can share data among designers, dealers, manufacturers, contractors, and facility managers. They can be used for electronic order entry, and some have lead-tracking capabilities.

If your product line changes faster than you can educate your sales force, make the computer your product expert, Chusid suggests. Set up a computerized reference system customers can call to get information.

Automate your product
Automating product information is something virtually every manufacturer can do. But manufacturers also should look into computerizing the product itself, says Chusid.

Electronics have been introduced into the most unlikely products, he says. Plumbing systems use electronic valves and sensors. Door hardware has embraced computerized access control and security mechanisms. And lighting systems respond to how a room is being used.

How far should you go with electronics? Says Chusid: “It depends on how far-reaching you want your relationship with customers to be.”

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By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1991