It seems that the online revolution is more of an evolition when it comes to the roofing industry,

Four years ago, Roofing Contractor ran a special section called "Dot-Coms: Changing the Way You Do Business." Today, a quick search of the Internet reveals that a total of seven of the 16 dot-coms we discussed no longer exist - a disheartening figure if you are a venture capitalist or an Ivy League grad forced to move back in with mom and dad.

Of the remaining nine dot-coms covered in the special section, five of them are project management-type sites that are designed more for builders and general contractors. The other four are lead-generating sites that cater to all sorts of trades, not just roofing.

Sadly, it is the roofing-specific sites that seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Does this mean that roofers are hopelessly backwards? Some may draw that conclusion, especially since there are still some contractors that don't even have Web sites. But it is this editor's personal belief that roofers are too busy actually working up on the roof to spend much time at their computers surfing the ‘Net.

Nonetheless, technology can be your friend, so perhaps the online revolution is more of an EVOLUTION when it comes to the roofing industry. One company exploring new frontiers on the Internet is MonierLifetile, Irvine, Calif. Starting in February 2004, the company began offering Web-based order entry for its customers. Users can now access an array of online business services through the company's Web site, www.monierlifetile.com. MonierLifetile calls its Web-based ordering Direct Order Entry and hopes it will improve efficiency and order accuracy, as well as reduce transaction costs for its customers.

In 2003, MonierLifetile had introduced a precursor to DOE, known as online Sales Order Status or SOS. SOS enables customers to access their open orders, order status, delivery notes and invoices. More than one-third of the company's customers are currently registered for SOS and using the service on a regular basis, with new users signing every day. Additional features have been added to the SOS system and customers can now change their requested pickup date on orders, or if necessary, cancel their orders.

Moving to the next level, with the new DOE, registered customers can click on the MY MLT button on the home page of the MonierLifetile site to access the online service and actually enter their own orders. Users select tile products and accessories and then enter job-site information, after which the system assigns an actual sales order number.

MonierLifetile's customers can register online for the new service. Once they have completed the online registration process, a company representative contacts the customer with a log-on and provides instruction for using the system.

Though MonierLifetile's customer service centers still receive orders in the traditional fashion, Donna Baldwin, MonierLifetile's director of customer service, says that many customers had requested the ability to enter their own orders in real time. "Our new My MLT portal - which includes access to order status, the ability to change the dates on the orders or cancel them, or to enter new orders online - has been extremely well received by our direct distributors and contractors. It shortens the tile ordering cycle time for customers and gives them direct control over their orders," adds Baldwin. "Customers from coast to coast have been raving about the simplicity and reliability of the system and have been recommending enhancements for the future, which we have put on our project list."

Baldwin says that the company currently has about 25 percent of its customers using My MLT for order entry, status or change, and this represents a significant portion of its business. "Customers are registering online daily as word spreads throughout the industry."

Baldwin concedes that some contractors don't have the technology for My MLT, but overall, MonierLifetile is concentrating on getting the word out and plans to have the majority of its customers up by the end of the year. "Right now, 22 percent of our orders are coming in through DOE," she says. "The biggest pull for customers is having control - they can enter their orders directly, check status, changes dates if needed. There has been a phenomenal response." The ability to change dates and cancel orders online is helpful when projects are delayed or moved up.

Baldwin believes that the roofing industry is finally catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to the Internet, and MonierLifetile aims to help them. The My MLT system is easy, "It's a shopping cart format - there is no typing in of part numbers," Baldwin explains. "When they make their selection, we suggest other items they might need, like ridge, rake, etc. They can say yes or no. It's very user friendly."

Baldwin expects that by the end of the year, at least 50 percent of the company's customers will be using some form of My MLT. "More services are planned," she adds. "Older inventory will be available at a discount. You will also be able to place orders for samples and collateral materials."

MonierLifetile is currently working on another system where larger customers who don't want to enter in the info via the Web site can do an electronic transfer of orders from their system to MonierLifetile's. "We have a huge cross population of customers and want to offer something for every type of customer," says Baldwin. "For some, they just send faxes and we enter the information into the system, so it's fast regardless of how sophisticated the customer is." Overall, Baldwin believes that with the order placement part of the process automated, the company can concentrate on helping its customers in other ways. "This is the most exciting thing to happen in the 20 years I have been in the industry," she says.

MonierLifetile also sells to distributors and they can use DOE as well. "The system works to help contractors who don't buy direct from us - it makes the distributor's ordering process more efficient," says Baldwin. "Timing is critical; we are shortening the cycle. Either way, the contractor - and builder - are benefiting."

Lori Bach of Latite Roofing in Pompano Beach, Fla., was part of a group testing the system before it was officially introduced. "It's great, I love it," she says. "When I have a shortage, I can go on and see if the material is available and then order it instantaneously." For other projects, Latite will still place orders via fax, but Bach likes DOE for the critical situations.

Bach would urge other customers to try the system because, "It helps getting information and products as quickly as possible." Latite, a $40 to $50 million dollar a year company, can order direct with a couple of its other suppliers, but not via the Web. "No one else that I deal with has anything like it," says Bach. "I wish they did!"

One distributor using the new system is ABC Supply Co. Inc., Beloit, Wis. In late January 2004, on her first day of employment in ABC's roof tile division, tile coordinator Terri McInnis was introduced to the DOE system. "I am absolutely delighted to be able to enter our own orders 365 days, 24/7," says McInnis. "By doing so I am able to have real-time buying and real-time billing. This means no more waiting for delivery notes or invoices to be mailed or waiting on hold for copies of delivery notes or invoices." With DOE, the delivery notes and invoices are scanned the day the order is picked up. According to McInnis, "This makes it possible to confirm material has been picked up and also if the order was picked up completely or not, therefore giving us the leading edge on customer service to be able to notify our clients of the deliveries."

Old Country Roofing, Vacaville, Calif., is a large company that does residential roofing, both reroofing and new construction, as well as some commercial work. Tile makes up a large percentage of its business. Terry Button, Old Country Roofing's operations manager, says the company has been using DOE for a couple months. It's more of a transition for Old Country Roofing because the company will be going to the direct system shortly. "We didn't want to change 100 percent right away," Button explains. Her staff is getting practice entering in orders and seeing them immediately online. "We're willing to work with MonierLifetile because we do a lot of volume. We work well together," adds Button.

"The beauty of it is, there is so much waste in the world, but we're trying to do as much paperless as we can," says Button. "This system is instantaneous. You get your confirmation number right on the screen. It saves time and paper. We can put in the date that we request and every day or week we can update it ... that saves a lot."

Sidebar

Another manufacturer allows its contractors to order via the Web ... if they are insulation contractors. But Johns Manville's roofing contractors can still use "JMConnexus." This system enables Johns Manville Approved Roofing Contractor to enter guarantee applications and view the status of pending guarantees on-line. The goal is to eliminate errors and reduce the time for guarantee approval.

Around since 2001, JM launched an active promotion of JMConnexus at the National Roofing Contractors Association trade show in San Diego this past February. Contractors who sign up at www.jm.com receive coupons for $25 off each new guarantee.

"Sixty five percent of guarantee values are done on line," says David Carl, manager of the Guarantee Services Unit. He hopes that by the end of the year this figure will be closer to 75-80 percent. "The system improves accuracy and speeds up the process for contractors." A 10-day process has now been shortened to one.

Carl says feedback so far has been excellent. For contractors who are intimidated by doing business via the Web, JM is willing to walk them through the process. Spending 20 to 30 minutes with new customers saves time for everyone down the line.