Last August, NCI Building Systems Inc. of Houston purchased Little Rock, Ark.-Steelbuilding.com, one of the largest Internet providers of engineered steel buildings for self-storage. The company attributes the website’s success to an underlying philosophy: Provide solid customer service. Inside Self-Storage interviewed NCI Managers Tom Perry and Steve Johnson about e-commerce and the new direction of the online storefront.
What led NCI to purchase Steelbuilding.com?
Perry:NCI had a 20-year customer relationship with the previous owners of the website, Heritage Building Systems. As the relationship grew, we developed a strong appreciation for the tremendous passion and vision behind Steelbuilding.com and its employees. Most impressive was the growth of the site because of a sound business model and extraordinary marketing. We fully expect this acquisition to contribute to our growth and expansion into new markets.
Is this NCI’s first foray into e-commerce?
Johnson:Yes, and Steelbuilding.com is a true e-commerce venture. All transactions and communication transpire via the Internet. The company is one of the largest online providers of pre-engineered metal buildings and single-story, self-storage structures. The website’s innovative technology allows for online ordering and purchasing unequaled in the industry, allowing customers to design, price and buy all in one place.
What changes have been made to Steelbuilding.com?
Perry:The cornerstone philosophy has not changed. NCI purchased Steelbuilding.com because of the successful business model its employees brought to fruition. We decided it would be in the best interest of the corporation to adhere to the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Hence, no changes have been made as far as the self-storage industry is concerned. The site still offers online pricing of simple structures through a point-and-click selection module and special quoting requests.
How is the company positioning itself in this industry?
Perry:As a collaborator instead of a competitor. The company has strengths that can benefit NCI and its customer base while continuing to offer sales opportunities in self-storage. We will continue to market and sell to customers who typically do not need help with site layout, financial/feasibility analysis, design, etc.
What will be your marketing approach?
Johnson:Steelbuilding.com has historically limited its advertising efforts to search engines, and we will continue to advertise via the Internet.
Has the increase in steel costs affected your products and service?
Johnson:One of the most exciting aspects of the approach developed by Steelbuilding.com is steel-price increases seem to have virtually no effect on sales. While our competitors were languishing, we continued to grow. The convenience offered by the online pricing system, coupled with quality products and outstanding customer support, helped us prosper in the face of escalating steel costs.
What are your future plans for the company?
Perry:NCI plans to use Steelbuilding.com to add marketing reach to its primary service offerings, using its highly developed technologies to take full advantage of online distribution channels and enhance sales. We plan to pursue incremental growth without compromising our strong relationships with existing customers.
Johnson:We will continue to review our product offerings and add or change products to provide customers a diverse mix of offerings while increasing existing revenue of adding new revenue streams. Our continuing goal will be to provide quality products at a fair price and a convenient purchasing method.
What do you see as the future of e-commerce in self-storage?
Johnson:We see e-commerce as integral to development in an ever-expanding base of Internet-savvy consumers. There’s ample room for growth in the sales of self-storage structures, especially when targeted toward the “mom-and-pop” customer. This market segment has been somewhat neglected and is ready for online service. A recent market survey indicated Internet-based companies enjoyed 30 percent to 40 percent more profitability than their non-Internet counterparts. This potential success is exciting to us at NCI.