"Want to go out for lunch today?" I asked Pete one morning.

"Can't," he said, frantically organizing a file on his desk.

"Why not?"

Tad Troilo "I've got a customer coming in."

"What time?"

"Nine," he told me, now anxiously printing out an estimate. "Now leave me alone."

"What does a nine o'clock meeting have to do with lunch at noon?" I asked.

"It's with a dot-com," he told me, grabbing some catalogs off the bookshelf.

"Why didn't you say so!" I exclaimed, jumping in to help him grab some catalogs. "You've got to prepare, man!"

Dot-coms are customers who spend more time researching products on the Internet than they do speaking to their family. Every waking hour is spent logged on to their favorite home-improvement sites, trolling for info on the latest project ideas. Once they decide on a project, they hit the product manufacturers' sites, comparing features, examining specs, and downloading installation manuals.

On one hand, a dot-com is a customer who is very interested in the project at hand and very invested in its success. No one stays up until 3 a.m. reading PDF files and watching online videos about cabinets unless that person is serious about making a purchase. Also, dot-coms often do a lot of the preliminary selection work. They walk in the door knowing what products and features they are looking for.

But it's not all roses and sunshine.

I had one dot-com customer who refused to buy anything that didn't have at least five positive reviews at some obscure Web site. No matter what products we suggested, if the reviews weren't there, he didn't want to buy it. He would suggest alternatives he'd found reviewed on the Web. Unfortunately, most of them were manufactured and distributed in Australia, where the home-improvement site was hosted.

When I explained that we can't do business with every manufacturer out there, and we certainly can't do business with manufacturers that only distribute their products Down Under, I was given a lecture on the global connectivity of our world. "You folks better catch up," he told me, threatening that he would find someone who would sell him the Australian cabinets he fancied.

I had another dot-com customer stop by with very grave concerns about a countertop we installed in her new home.

"Ohio Cheetah doesn't know why there is a seam in my countertop," she said.

"What's an Ohio Cheetah?" I asked.

"He's a friend," she told me.

"Is he here with you? I'd be happy to explain ..."

"He's in Ohio," she told me. "I guess."

"Is he really a cheetah?"

"That's his user ID on a remodeling message board," she said. "And he's a very knowledgeable person–he has more than 17,000 posts."

While that certainly is a lot of posts for a person who may or may not be a cheetah, it really doesn't mean he (or she, or maybe it) knows anything about building materials and home improvements. But I sure couldn't tell my dot-com customer that.

Somehow, the Internet gives credibility to people and things that sometimes don't deserve it. Who ever heard of a cheetah in Ohio anyway?

I helped Pete get set up in the conference room. He had stacks of catalogs so he could find a suitable product that we carried to match any obscure item the dot-com customer found on the Web. He had product specification books ready to help him answer any bizarre question prompted by a presumed knowledgeable poster on a message board. He had a pad ready to take detailed notes and a bottle of water to keep him hydrated and focused.

His customer came through the door carrying her laptop computer and four folders stuffed with printouts.

"Do you have wireless so I can log on to the Internet?" she asked our receptionist. "There are a few Web sites I want to show Pete."

Forget lunch, I thought. He'll be lucky to make dinner.

–Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600 E-mail: [email protected]