In 2000, a new Dot-Com startup called IndustrySmarts Inc. launched a new kind of information portal in the electrical channel called the Electric Smarts Network (ElectricSmarts.com). Now, 14 years later, Industry Smarts has partnered with Penton to replicate the successful model in the HVACR industry (HVACRSmarts.com). HVACRSmarts Network provides a web-based platform for manufacturers to promote their products through their distributor partners, arming the distributor with the latest Web 2.0 tools.
“We are very excited to partner Penton with the IndustrySmarts team to bring HVACRSmarts to the mechanical industry,” says Dan Ashenden, Group Publisher – Mechanical Systems. “This is the perfect synergy and a unique platform for manufacturers, distributors and contractors to come together with the essential information exchange needed every day in this fast paced business. This new Internet portal is designed to leverage and increase the communications power of distributors with the promotion of manufacturers’ products and services they carry (their electronic “line card”). Through syndication across distributor websites nationwide, the distributors’ websites will now have the latest product information, news and content automatically loaded on their sites!”
The new HVACRSmarts Network website includes a powerful industry search engine, videos, feature stories, new product news, an eCatalog library and more.
According to Ashenden, the contractors will see that real time product and information on their local wholesaler’s site – their main contact to run their business every day. HVACRSmarts is based on a proven and successful model in the electrical industry – which shares our two-step distribution method.
In summary, The HVACRSmarts portal syndicates critical manufacturer and service providers’ content – from the latest product videos, to complete e-catalogs, new product news, plus eTraining and eLearning. In addition, the editorial team will provide content such as press releases, feature stories, and more.
“For manufacturers, a single buy equips all channel partners to actively market on their behalf with the latest website, push e-newsletters, and mobile app technology available,” explains Ashenden. “Suppliers can control their content across the entire channel from a single point of contact, while monitoring view and click activity from a single dashboard. This is truly a game changer for ‘Through Channel Marketing’ and strengthens the essential and accurate data exchange across our industry.”
HVACR content from industry manufacturers is automatically filtered for promotion under the distributor’s own brand.
A role to play
“People were concerned that they would be disconnected from the distributor channel because everyone has access to this thing called the Internet,” says Peck. “So would you need a distributor anymore? Disintermediation was a big phrase of the day. Distributors were concerned that people would just buy directly from manufacturers.”
“Since Bill and I already worked in the electrical industry we knew that this wasn’t a B-to-C model,” adds Peck. “This distributor was contributing a lot more to the marketplace than could be served by a single purveyor of material that you could buy from online. They were doing credit, logistics, sending trucks to sites, helping with the engineering and technology part of procuring products. We knew the channel was strong, but this would bring challenges as to how information flowed through those channels.”
The HVACRSmarts platform includes a Newsletter Builder that allows distributors to quickly create and send eNewsletters using templates and the HVACRSmarts’ content library.
Peck and Floyd soon realized they had a role to play: to build a technology platform to help the manufacturer get his product information, application stories, e-catalogs, videos and spec sheets, through the distributors brand into the hands of the contractor/end-user.
“As we grew and evolved, we really have stayed true to our original mission,” says Peck. “From the beginning we saw that there were other markets with the same type of channel – including plumbing and HVAC – and at that time we had the vision that we would eventually enter other markets. We started with electrical because we worked in the industry and knew that marketplace well.”
When creating both the HVACRSmarts and ElectricSmarts Network, Peck and Floyd focused on how the distributor channel works. Even with the advent of the Internet, the distributor plays the aggregator role between the manufacturer and end-user, and that is where HVACRSmarts adds value.
“The Internet disrupted the normal flow of information because end-users couldn’t find deep product information on the distributor’s website,” explains Floyd. “Contractors were used to getting their product information from the folks they bought product from – the distributor. They don’t have the time to visit 50 different manufacturers’ websites to find solutions or find a spec sheet.”
According to Peck, the distributor wants to retain their role of providing information and guiding the contractor, providing them with engineering and so forth. They are the ones that have the relationship with customers. HVACRSmarts Network simply provides the content and web-based tools to allow them to continue that role in the Internet age.
From the manufacturers’ perspective, ElectricSmarts and HVACRSmarts are very powerful.
“We have used ElectricSmarts for a number of years, but not until recently have we truly realized the power of what their portal can do for Siemens,” says David Quatela, brand manager at Siemens. “I can say as a branding manager that this exposure to the marketplace is pertinent to our success in the industry.
“With any company’s website the goal is to attract users and increase traffic aka ‘the pull,’” adds Quatela. “With ElectricSmarts as a partner we have access to their entire user group regardless of whether they are customers of ours or not. We are only limited by the content we provide and then watch Electric- Smarts ‘push’ that content to our current customers and prospective buyers. It is that ‘push’ that makes them a valuable partner to us.”
The Four Tools
The HVACRSmarts Network platform allows the branding to take place for the distributor. For the HVACR model there are four tools that enable the distributor to brand up.
The first tool is the Content Package, which is a set of webpages that have the look and feel of the distributor’s website. This is where all the content from the manufacturer is brought in. It’s a search engine that allows the contractor to search feature stories, press releases, catalogs, news announcements, videos, etc.
“The distributor still has their own website, but they essentially link to this content package that we brand up for them,” says Peck. “There are no IT hurdles on their part; we set it up, and they link to it. All the content flows in constantly from the manufacturers on their line card, so now customers go there and it goes well beyond what a distributor would have posted, which would typically be limited to a manufacturer line card, their branch locations and a phone number.”
The second tool is an e-Newsletter Builder. “We created a tool that the distributor can push one button and load content from the website into pre-built e-newsletter templates within seconds,” says Peck. “This newsletter can go out once a month or twice a month. A distributor can send out e-newsletters with ease with all this content available. It’s an easy way for them to do what they have always done, communicate information about the industry to their audience based on the manufacturers they do business with.”
“I love ElectricSmarts services – especially the eNewsletter Builder,” says Michael R. Rockwood, general manager of Associated of Los Angeles. “I’ve used it for two years and monthly send a professional, targeted newsletter, with personal messages from our sales guys, to six different customer groups. This is very personal, very targeted, very professional – and it only takes about 15 minutes per month!”
The third tool is the Smart eCat, an electronic library of manufacturer catalogs. “Rather than end-users going to hundreds of manufacturer websites they can go into this one area branded for the distributor that has all the manufacturer catalogs in a nice unified format that they can search,” says Peck.
The fourth tool is a Mobile App. Contractors in this generation are out in the field using iPhones and iPads and they want this information remotely. “Since it’s burdensome and expensive for a distributor to create their own app, we created a platform that brands up for them,” says Peck. “They distribute it to their customers and it includes the same content we have been talking about ... all this information is available to their users. The distributor is the goto resource for the information.”
When the manufacturer logs onto HVACRSmarts.com, there is a dashboard designed specifically for them. They can manage and monitor their content: videos, new product news, etc. Also, they can go to the Stats area and see how many people saw a specific video or ad, and under what distributor brand. They can see activity across the whole industry in real time from a single source.
The distributors also have their own dashboard where they can see viewer activity. For tools like the eCat and e- Newsletter, which have registered users, the distributor can see who clicked on what and viewed a video on a specific product. They can look more generally too and see what people are interested in, what products, categories, etc.
The Smart eCat brings manufacturer product catalogs into a single, easy-to-search and navigate format.
It’s not Google or Facebook
HVACRSmarts Network is a digital product that is changing the way business is done in the contracting industry.
“To run an efficient business a contractor needs to take and have a relationship with his distributor,” says Floyd. “With the Internet the manufacturer is trying to deal from afar with the contractor. And the efficiency of the channel is to deal with the closest source, which is the distributor. The problem is as they try to take on more, it really pushes the distributor further away from the customer rather than closer to the customer. The benefit has always been having a relationship down the street with a distributor and if asked for a sample the distributor will show up with that.”
“The channel in place was never broken – all we have done is modernize how information is delivered,” says Floyd.
“Because this is different, it goes beyond advertising for a manufacturer,” says Peck. “We are really getting into the nitty-gritty of delivering information, where someone can use it to make buying decisions. Also, we are getting into helping the transaction process of buying products – we have an important role to play in this.”
Floyd adds that no one else is doing what HVACRSmarts Network and ElectricSmarts Network are doing. “Google can’t do this, Facebook can’t do this either,” says Peck. “So that is something very unique for the approach we are taking to the marketplace. We are not trying to get everyone in the world to go to HVACRSmarts.com. Instead we are empowering the distributor to bring the relationships and the audience they already have to the manufacturer content. This is what makes this ‘channelfriendly.’ It’s a win-win-win for distributors, manufacturers and contractors.”
With HVACRSmarts Network the goal is to have people engage in content under their distributor brand where the relationship is already there. This provides an opportunity for the distributor to have a web presence via push and pull. All these tools are available to them where the distributor is seen as the product and content expert and HVACRSmarts Network is tooling them up with technology, so they can compete with an Amazon or Google (if Google gets into selling products).
“Distributors are not just middle men; they are playing a vital role in serving the contractor, something Google and Amazon can’t do,” says Peck. “This is something the distributor needs to address; they need to be as tech savvy as Amazon, and this is where HVACRSmarts Network can come in, that will keep their brand in play, along with the customer relations and service orientation that they have always had with the customer.”
The HVACRSmarts main portal site is up and running at www.HVACR Smarts.com and will be rolling out across wholesalers sites starting in 2015.
Candace Roulo, senior content editor, of Contractor, Green Mechanical Contractor and Radiant Living, has more than 15 years of experience in the construction and mechanical contracting industries. A recent Folio and Construction Writers Association award winner, Roulo covers the latest news, case studies, and events in the industry.