Web-based businesses? Not yet.
YARMOUTH, Maine--Fire and security systems professionals who responded to a Security Systems NewsPoll prefer human interaction over keyboard contact and predict that Internet-based buying and selling in the industry has a long way to go before it will ever replace brick-and-mortar distributors and retailers.
"If I have questions, I don't want to have to email someone and wait for an answer, and I also don't want to be told to go to www.frequentlyaskedquestions.com. I'm on the road or jobsite, not my computer. I like talking to people," said Steve Herring of Gill Security Systems of Fayetteville, N.C.
Of the 107 respondents who took the survey in July, only three percent did 100 percent of their business purchasing and selling over the Web, while more than half (56 percent) did less than 10 percent of their purchasing and selling over the Web.
Some people, such as Marilyn Collins, a marketing manager with Schlage Electronic Security at Ingersoll Rand Technologies in Forestville, Conn., see increased use of the web by "purchasers looking for information, product specs and sourcing. However security products often involve site-specific needs and or jurisdictions that affect installation and require after-install service, which can best be provided by a local distributor."
Can a web-based shop provide the same level of service as a traditional shop? Sixty-nine percent of respondents said no. Scott Williamson of Family Guard Security Systems of Englewood, Ohio, said when he's tried to use a web-based supplier, "I found the sites confusing and hard to navigate. I much prefer picking up the phone."
JR Hentshel, director of access control for distributor Boyle and Chase in Accord, Mass., said the Internet is a tool to offer customers to enable them to check product information, availability and pricing, but "there are some technical applications that still need to be discussed and cannot be easily determined via the Web." He notes, however, that his company "depends on instant messenger to help out our clients."
Jeff Hendrickson, director of marketing for Silent Knight, said the Internet allows them to efficiently exchange information with customers. "Information is the grease that keeps the sales process moving," he said.
Will Web-based distributors/retailers eventually replace brick and mortar shops? Twenty-two percent of respondents thought yes, while a hefty 78 percent said never.
Ricky Johnson of Design Security Controls in Houston, Texas, summed it up this way: "There are still too many of us old guys who like to see and feel the products before we sell them."
On the other hand, Jeff Brummet, president and chief operating officer of American Sentry Guard of Greenwood, Ind., was among the 22 percent who believe that web-based shops will eventually prevail. "Properly funded and run Internet companies can offer exponentially more expertise at a fraction of the cost that a brick and mortar distributor/retailer can."
Likewise, Dennis Raefield, chief executive officer of NexVision Consulting in Alamo, Calif., believes the wave of Web-based business is headed this way. "It has been done in every other industry, why not security?"