(Left to right) Jeffrey Braum, Tom Thorgerson, Gary Schneidman
Photo: Gail Zucker (Left to right) Jeffrey Braum, Tom Thorgerson, Gary Schneidman

The owner himself will admit the high-end dealer Interstate + Lakeland Lumber was one of the last companies to start using computers. But when the business did take the plunge, it hit the Web full force and in its own way.

"We looked to spread our brand. We readied our logo, the whole thing," owner Sheldon Kahan says. "What better way of creating that brand than to make a Web site?"

Gary Schneidman, CFO of the Greenwich, Conn.-based business, took on the project, and he wanted to hire a graphic designer who could create something fresh. "Everyone was showing us exactly what everyone else had," Schneidman says. "We have some unique products, and we wanted our site to reflect that."

Surprisingly, someone without Web site coding experience fit the bill. "A lot of sites we see are pre-existing code you add content to," says Jeffry Braun, the graphic designer who got the job. "We built it for exactly what we want to do."

By starting from scratch, Interstate + Lakeland produced a site that customers say truly reflects the identity of the company, with quick access to valuable product information and loads of images. A customer section allows builders to access financials as well as see shipments and more day or night, and a downloadable section lets architects see how the dealer's offerings can fit into projects.

The team, including IT director Tom Thogersen, who did the site's coding, launched the first version of the site in 2002, but they consistently keep the content up to date.

"We believe every three or four years, you have to redo it totally and come out with something new," Schneidman says. This, Braun says, keeps customers from getting bored.

One of the newest additions to the page is the custom millwork catalog, which launched this year. "The millwork is key," Kahan says. "When the company began in 1922, it had the element of a mill shop. As the company evolved into a lumberyard, we've always maintained the millwork identity."

Focusing on visuals, the millwork catalog includes before-and-after photos along with a gallery of completed projects.

In addition, a molding and millwork section provides catalogs that browsers can view on the site or download. Other product offerings, broken down into categories, are made easily accessible through the home page.

"It's just a clear indication of what it's possible to do with the supplies and lumber you can get from us," Braun says. "It shows how our high-end products will enhance a home."

Customers also appreciate the way Interstate + Lakeland organized the product section.

"With all the new products that are available in the building industry, to be able to go to their site and be taken to the manufacturer's Web site, you are constantly learning stuff," says Jan Corning, vice president of construction at Brenner Builders.

Corning also says her company, located in Bedford Hills, N.Y., goes on the site two or three times a day to check materials, to check what's available for specs and siding, and to see what is in stock.

Some customers spend most of their time in the e-commerce section. There, they can manage accounts, track shipments, check on payments, budget, and place orders. About 40% of the dealer's active customers use this online system, Schneidman says.

Jelleny Reeves, bookkeeper and timekeeper for Michael Mariani Construction, which caters to customers in New York and Connecticut, says she uses the site for pricing.

"If I lost an invoice, it was easy to get it from there," she says. "When the owner or the estimating guy is here, they just go to the Web site when they need pricing." Sometimes, she adds, employees need information at 2 a.m., and they "go online, it's just right there."

Also, building companies say they like not having to pick up the phone for every little question they have.

"I don't want to say there is a lot less human interaction, because that's not true," Corning says. "But the tedium, the daily tasks, those are part of what the Web site can handle."

The millwork catalog uses images to highlight services.
The millwork catalog uses images to highlight services.

While the online team at Interstate + Lakeland has succeeded in creating a comprehensive and engaging site, they know the work is not done. They still meet every Thursday to go over comments and talk about how to further improve the site. Revising their contacts page tops the list of revamping needs, and they constantly update products.

"From people that are checking from time to time?to regular customers, you want them to feel you are actively tracking what's new to keep them informed," Braun says.

Vital Statistics

  • Company: Interstate + Lakeland Lumber
  • Year Founded: 1922 Headquarters: Greenwich, Conn.
  • Number of Locations: 6 Total
  • Number of Employees: 180 2006
  • Gross Sales: Company wouldn't disclose
  • Percentage of Sales to Pros: 92%