BuildPoint to bring target market out of woodwork

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E-marketplaces haven't been the savviest of b-to-b marketers, but construction industry market BuildPoint Corp. is hoping to change that with a new program that helps its suppliers target hard-to-reach contractors through its site.

The effort, dubbed MarketPoint, lets manufacturers reach more than 30,000 contractors through a variety of avenues, including point-of-sale advertising in the market's just-launched, aggregated 1.6 million product catalog.

The marketing program solves a major problem for manufacturers in the construction industry, which rely heavily on distributors to get their products out to local contractors. Because they don't touch their ultimate customers directly, manufacturers have a tough time marketing to them directly.

Increased efficiency

"This is a more efficient vehicle for manufacturers to reinforce their brand position out to the buying community," said Stephen Smith, BuildPoint's VP-sales. "It's a vehicle for them to position their products and services."

One supplier said he is approaching the program with "realistic" expectations.

"We envision it almost as a low-cost, low-maintenance end-user sales person," said Randall Parian, VP-sales for NSi Industries Inc., Charlotte, N.C. NSi makes electrical components, and will kickoff its MarketPoint program this week. "It's an extra employee we don't have to pay an expense account and worry about whether he's working."

While the construction industry has its giants, most suppliers-not to mention builders and distributors-are relatively small companies like NSi. The fragmented nature of the industry makes it well-suited for an e-marketplace like BuildPoint, but it also means that companies may not be as ready to take advantage of high-tech solutions.

"We're three guys that started this company nine years ago," Parian said. "We're all salesmen, and we don't understand all this [e-commerce] stuff. There was a time when everybody said we had to put our catalogs on CD-ROM. Now I've got about 15,000 Frisbees around here. That was an expensive lesson."

Proving its worth

BuildPoint believes MarketPoint will prove its worth. Most important, it will give manufacturers a chance to market to customers right at the point they are specifying a job, filling out a bill of materials and sending a purchase order, Smith said.

Manufacturers who join the program get premium banner ad placement in BuildPoint's product catalog. Starting today, they also receive preferred placement in search engine results.

BuildPoint is hosting manufacturers' product sheets and providing links to their Web sites. It is also launching a newsletter this week, which will afford manufacturers some e-mail marketing opportunities, Smith said.

Manufacturers who join MarketPoint will also get exposure on and, two construction marketplaces run by The McGraw-Hill Cos. Inc.

Finally, MarketPoint will work in tandem with a separate marketing program for distributors, dubbed SupplyPoint, to help manufacturers drive interested customers to their preferred distributors.

Although none of this is revolutionary, it is new to the construction industry. In particular, manufacturers have always wrestled with the fact that they must market through distributors and thus can't be sure their message is being heard, Smith said.

Other construction markets are taking similar approaches. BuildNet Inc., for example, is letting manufacturers place branded information on construction plans purchased via its site, said John Wagner, BuildNet's executive director of corporate communications. BuildNet is building other online configuration tools that will support a branded, manufacturers' presence. And it is also hosting manufacturer catalogs on its Web site, Wagner said.

Transaction driver

For its part, BuildPoint is hoping its new marketing program will drive transactions over the site. It says it has had more than 35,000 companies transact business over its e-marketplace, including 75 of the country's top 400 general contractors. So far this quarter, a total of 100 requests have been posted to the BuildPoint site, resulting in eight transactions.

BuildPoint's project marketplace, launched a year ago, lets contractors manage project bids online. The new product catalog, launched earlier this fall, lets those contractors move at least a portion of their procurement-usually handled locally through distributors-onto the Internet.

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