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September 1, 2002

6 Min Read

What if purchasing a steel self-storage building was as easy as buying a CD off the Internet? No trading phone calls with a sales rep or waiting several days for a quote. What if you could even choose color schemes and unit configurations and make the down payment from the convenience of your own office? Steelbuilding.com is the first company to make this possible.

Scott House, CEO

By taking advantage of the Internet craze, the North Little Rock, Ark.-based company has found a niche in the self-storage industry, offering pre-engineered steel buildings via the web. The interactive online system allows customers to design, price and buy custom-designed commercial buildings from 900 to 30,000 square feet, self-storage buildings up to 200 feet long, steel garage kits, metal-building insulation, commercial overhead doors and home-garage doors directly from the site.

Steelbuilding.com went live Sept. 29, 2000. The company is the brainchild of Scott House, CEO, and his brother Byron, both metal-building industry veterans. Although considered primarily a metal-building company, Steelbuilding.com is making waves in the self-storage industry, selling its first building one week after going online, and it's first self-storage building in August 2001. Since then, the demand for this unique service has increased. "We sell several mini-storage systems each month in addition to many commercial buildings," says Tom Hockersmith, the company's director of marketing.

Custom Design

The process is similar to purchasing a steel self-storage building through any other company. But rather than working with a sales rep, the customer is guided through the purchasing process by a software program. The software, designed and run by Steelbuilding.com employees, takes customers through the process step by step. After entering an e-mail address (a requirement to use the system), the customer selects a state and county where the building will be delivered. The interactive software automatically calculates shipping charges. It also advises the customer on building codes based on published information from the Metal Building Manufacturers Association's "Low-Rise System Manual."

Once past the technicalities, the real fun begins. Customers can choose the building dimensions and roof pitch; size, number and locations of framed openings; color schemes; layout of units; and accessories such as overhead doors by brand or type, windows, and other features like insulation. Gutters and downspouts can also be added. The computerized design and pricing system performs the calculations, generates drawings and specifications, and coordinates every element of the customer's order. Customers can obtain a bill of materials, engineering-design calculations, shipping and packing lists, and erection drawings.

The software also produces a color image of the building and an itemized price including delivery charges. The image and itemized pricing can be printed or downloaded. This makes it easier to present the proposal to a financial institution, investor, partner or even building inspector. "It's got all your codes and loads and everything," Hockersmith says. "In many cases, the building inspector will be able to tell you just from this whether you're going to be all right or if you need something else."

Just 20 percent down gets an order started. "When we get your credit-card payment or your check arrives, we are able to produce the erection drawings and the reactions of the building within 48 hours," Hockersmith says.

If a customer does have questions, Steelbuilding.com has product information specialists who can walk them through the system. "They're not commission salesman, and they don't do any out-calling," says Hockersmith. "They're purely here to provide product information and help people get through our system."

The Steelbuilding.com Team

The low-pressure sales strategy is attractive to many buyers who may be put off or intimidated when it comes to working with a salesperson, Hockersmith says. "They're not going to get a sales pitch from us."

Customers can also cut the purchasing process dramatically when buying directly online. "Typically, with any other company, it would take a week to get a quote," Hockersmith says. That could include several phone calls back and forth between the buyer and the sales rep. Also, the salesperson may have to go to other departments, check building codes in the buyer's state and county, or is only able to give a ballpark estimate. With Steelbuilding.com, the online price is the price the customer pays.

Another feature the company offers is a special quote form. "If you wanted something we don't offer or you can't configure through this program, we can give you a quote just like anyone else," Hockersmith says. "We have a form that is more sophisticated and comprehensive than what you normally see on any other website. We can quote just about anything. And even when we have to do it by hand, so to speak, typically, we're still much faster than anyone else."

The site also enables customers to save multiple designs and price quotes for up to 30 days. They can revisit the design, make changes or purchase the building. Orders can also be tracked via a user code. "Things like your delivery date are posted as soon as they are available," says Hockersmith. "You can get that information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You don't have to get in contact with anyone or play phone tag."

The pre-engineered buildings are ideal for new operations as well as existing ones. "Our service would be attractive to anyone who is considering investing in a self-storage facility," Hockersmith says. "But the more someone knows about self-storage facilities, the clearer the advantages of our system would be to them. They would know how to take advantage of it."

Steelbuilding.com also sells self-storage doors manufactured by U.S. Door & Building Components Inc., Clopay® and Doors & Building Components Inc. (DBCI). Customers can choose the size, quantity, color, mount and location of the lock all online. "We do very well with the doors online," Hockersmith says.

In April, Steelbuilding.com christened an 8,000-square-foot headquarters. Although the company ships merchandise from 15 plants around the country, the North Little Rock location is considered the hub. Steelbuilding.com now employs 30 people--including web programmers, with plans to hire additional personnel. "All of this is designed by people who, in addition to being outstanding web developers and computer programmers, are also extremely well-versed in our industry," Hockersmith says. "We're fortunate the people we have have been at this a few years now, and they understand the product we're selling and the market that we're selling it to. That makes a big difference."

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