Nearly a quarter of LBM dealers would reject the software package they're using now if they could choose a system all over again, results from a new ProSales survey indicate. But the poll also revealed that dealers have intense feelings--both positive and negative--about the computer systems they employ at their yards.

The online survey on information technology (IT) conducted between Jan. 27 and Feb. 9 found only 48.7% of the dealer respondents said they would choose the same software package if they had to do it over again, while 23.8% said they wouldn't and 27.5% weren't sure. Among other results:

  • The average dealer has been using its current software package for 9.6 years.
  • Dealers were happiest with their accounts receivable and order processing systems. They were unhappiest about their ability to import data (such as price quotes), export data to spreadsheets, and write reports.
  • LBM operations with sales above $25 million tended to use computer systems more vigorously than did smaller operations. For instance, bigger dealers were more than twice as likely to offer online access to pricing and invoices. But bigger dealers also tended to have more negative opinions about the software.
  • Respondents gave the highest marks to their systems' speed and regular upgrades. They were unhappiest about software vendors' training, software support and--for those who requested it--custom programming.
  • More than seven out of every 10 respondents use their computer systems to e-mail or fax statements, delivery tickets, or other communications. But fewer than 20% allow the customers to access this data online.
  • There was roughly a 50-50 split between dealers who backed up their data onsite vs. offsite. More than 85% of the data servers were hosted at the company while 13.4% were hosted offsite.
  • The amounts that dealers paid for their software and support varied dramatically. (As a rule of thumb, various ProSales and other surveys indicate that dealers pay no more than 0.5% of revenues on information technology.)
  • Many dealers complained vigorously about paying more for IT and not getting any better service. But some dealers said their prices had gone down.

A total of 256 respondents from building material dealers, molding/millwork companies, and shortline specialty distributors replied to the survey. The poll was co-sponsored by ProSales and Rader Solutions, a Louisiana-based consulting company headed by Chris Rader, a ProSales columnist. Every region of the country was represented. Just under half the respondents worked at building material deales with under $10 million in annual sales, while another 28.9% were at dealers with $10 million to $25 million in sales.

While the answers weren't consistent, the intensity of dealers' views was. When asked to rate satisfaction with various software applications on a five-point scale, fewer than one in six dealers said they were "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied" with most of the programs. The rest felt moderately or strongly pro or con regarding their systems. And while many dealers complained about the service they've been getting--particularly when the help desk was located overseas--other dealers pointed out examples where their IT partners had gone the extra mile.

One dealer, perhaps inadvertently, made that dichotomy clear. "I like it because it hasn't changed," he said of his IT system. "I dislike it because it is old and needs to be changed/updated."

Activant by far was the most popular system used, accounting for roughly half the systems identified. Dealers identified more than two dozen IT packages, not counting a few who developed theirs in-house.

In reviewing the results, Rader said he was concerned that only one in eight dealers was hosting its systems offsite and just under half back up data offsite. "I recieve a lot of Google alerts about lumberyard fires," he noted. "I have nightmares about systems that can't be recovered. There was a fire at yard in New York, just last week. If you accomplish one goal, backup your data offsite."

"While there is a generally high level of satisfaction with the software and dealers, the frustration level of the dealers that were asked to comment about their software company or support was shocking," Rader added. "Only 48.7% of the dealers would do it over again with the same software and company, while the rest would not or just don't know. Wow!"