Industry warned not to miss out

Technology is the buzzword at trade show

March 26, 2000|By Martin Schneider | Martin Schneider,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As more than 8,200 builders and contractors inspected, poked and prodded at numerous new designs and gadgets aimed at their industry, Rick Showalter stood at last week's Builder Mart at the Timonium Fairgrounds and issued a warning.

"As an industry, we've had problems with change, especially technology. The customer is too smart and there is too much information out there that if you don't get involved in this technology stuff, you're going to miss the boat," said Showalter, vice president of sales and marketing for Virginia-based Van Metre Homes.

Sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Maryland, the trade show, which was closed to the public, chose a theme of "Business in the 21st Century." And, according to Showalter, technology dominated the event.

Representatives from architectural design software company Softplan Systems Inc., building management software company BuildNet, Homebuilder.com and other high-tech businesses were represented, trying to attract professionals from an industry that has been criticized for not keeping up with technology.

Kevin Lemay, of online lumber supplier e-wood.com, said the building industry has fallen behind the times when it comes to the Internet and other technological advancements.

"A lot of the builders are not computer savvy, and this will no doubt hurt them in the long run if they don't learn the ropes," Lemay said.

Showalter, who participated in a seminar designed to help homebuilders use the Internet to their advantage, said it's important for builders to react to the changing marketplace and target potential buyers over the Internet. "People want things on their time, when they want to do it," he said.

"They don't have time to fight the traffic that we have in the Baltimore-Washington area only to [visit] a community that didn't meet their needs in the first place."

More tangible products

But talk of the Internet wasn't the only thing. There were more tangible products.

Many industry contractors got their first look at an oven by General Electric that uses light to cook food in one-fourth the time of a conventional oven. The oven, which costs $1,300, uses halogen light bulbs that require no preheating and the unit can convert to a microwave oven.

Adrienne Hogan, a GE spokeswoman, said many builders had heard about the oven but were surprised to learn that it was available to the public.

Home wiring package

American Smart Homes featured its total home wiring package that integrates cable, Internet, telephone, security and satellite systems into one control panel.

Tim E. Horan, president of American Smart Homes, says the price of such systems has dropped dramatically in the past few years from an average of $35,000 to $12,000 to $15,000 for a simple integrated wiring system.

"Billions of dollars are being spent by worldwide corporations to bring these products into the home," Horan said. "What our job is, is to take that product and distribute it through the house where the homeowner can actually use it and it's not scattered all over the place."

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