Loran Hall, owner/president of Mathew Hall Lumber in St. Cloud, Minn., says he used to call his company's website a "glorified Yellow Page ad."

"It was pretty bland stuff," he says. "We felt it had to be something worthwhile. It needed to be something our customers would enjoy going to."

The company redesigned its website in 2008, organizing it into more than 60 pages and giving customers the ability to access all of its vendors through www.mathewhall.com.

"It's a huge tool for people," says Mathew Hall's advertising and marketing manager, Holly Ruether. "You can have a beautiful store with beautiful displays, but you just can't display everything. They can access full-color catalogs from our website. That's where most of the traffic is going. People are accessing the vendor sites from our site on a daily basis. We have people clicking on our coupons all the time, too."

Plus, the site provides contractors with their own log-ins to access and manage their accounts. "If they want to put together an order at 10 p.m. and put it on the first delivery in the morning, they can do that," Ruether says.

Online Access

One of the Excellence Award judges called it "a GREAT site for a single location." They liked the client account information as well as forms that employees can download.

The judges also praised the graphics for tying in well with the dealer's advertising. They noted that its visuals do a good job of paying tribute to the company's long history, producing a nice combination of old and new looks.

That was a secondary mission of the redesign, Ruether wrote in the company's entry: To provide a "historical perspective without looking old-fashioned."

A major reason for redesigning the website was to increase its usefulness to contractors. They can key in their user name and password to view inventories, create orders, e-mail the orders to their sales agents, access invoices, pay bills, and check on deliveries.

"They can get an up-to-date status of their accounts," Loren Hall says. "They don't have to wait for a statement on the 25th of the month."

John Mondloch, owner of John Mondloch Remodeling in St. Cloud, says he uses the website constantly to pay bills and check invoices. "I get invoices and credits the next morning," he says. "I really like that. I used to have to call and bug them and wait to the end of the month for them."

Mondloch also likes that he can pay his bill online with a credit card. "I can pay for individual jobs instead of making one large payment at the end of the month," he says. "I'm a freak about paying people on time."

Preferred Payment

Tama Theis, vice president and chief financial officer of Greg E. Theis Remodeling in St. Cloud, prefers the online bill-paying system to writing a check. "Before, I'd have issues with mail and I'd have to go there to make sure it was there on the day it was due because I don't take chances," she says. "This way, I feel a little calmer about it. I hop online and make sure it's done."

Theis uses the website to check invoices and to do job costing. "I go in quite a bit to do the job costing part of it," she says. "Before, if there were jobs we needed to job cost right away, we had to call someone, get the invoices and have them fax them to us. Now I can do it myself, whenever."

She particularly likes that she can use the system 24 hours a day.

"I don't want to take the time during the day; it's busy and I'm answering phones," she says. "It's nice to do it later when it's quiet. It's nice that I can tell the guys, 'I can't do it right this second, but I'll do it later.' They know I mean it because I can."

Marty Reker, president of Reker Construction Inc., near St. Cloud, says he logs in to his account on the website every day. "As invoices are charged, I check them so I do not have to wait to the end of the month to do billing."

By checking his account from his smart phone each day, he's eliminated a task that used to take him a half day at the end of the month. Plus, if he finds a mistake, he can call his sales rep and fix the problem before something he didn't order gets delivered to a job site or gets charged to his account.

Rapid Response

"When you get your invoice, it's all corrected," Reker says. "That's the biggest time saver. It's immediately dealt with."

The employee section is set up to provide self-service, Ruether says. Workers can log on to access forms, such as time-off requests and benefits information.

"It's just a more efficient way to work," Ruether says. "We don't need employees leaving their desks and bothering the people in the office to get a piece of paper out of a cabinet."

The website also provides a way for Mathew Hall to build community with its customers through its events page. For example, it runs the "Biggest Buck" contest on the site each year during deer hunting season. The first year, the contest drew about 20 entries.

"We stumbled on to that one by accident," Hall says. "A customer came in with a picture of his buck, wearing our jacket and hat. I showed it to Holly. She said, 'I see a contest here!' We try to have fun, while always being professional."

Ruether also builds community with Mathew Hall's Facebook fan page (which can be accessed through the company website). Recently, she engaged customers in a conversation about Hall's intention to cut down vines that were covering the front of the store.

"I thought it was part of the character of the building," Ruether says. "So I took it to Facebook and asked them what they thought."

Customers overwhelmingly voted against cutting down the vines. Hall left them.