Jon Goldfarb was growing tired of routinely having home improvement “aha” moments in the late evening hours but was stumped when he couldn’t research prices or buy supplies with many vendors closed for the day.
Feeling others shared such problems, Goldfarb, owner of Charleston construction company Riverland Builders, tapped friend Bill Rebey to help develop OrderOnSite.com, a James Island-based website for ordering construction materials.
“As a builder myself, I wanted an easier solution for creating estimates and placing orders,” Goldfarb said.
The two launched the site in 2011 with two building supply vendors in the Charleston region.
Today, the e-commerce business has added three part-time staffers and a dozen vendors helping supply customer orders in Columbia, Greenville and North Carolina’s Charlotte and Asheville regions.
The site offers lumber and other construction products from a pre-selected group of local suppliers in each area. OrderOnSite’s selections include lumber, decking, siding, drywall, insulation and fencing. The site, which touts free delivery, is largely geared toward do-it-yourselfers and small contractors, Goldfarb said.
The company makes its profits from a percentage it receives from each vendor’s sale from the website.
OrderOnSite.com owners are now hoping to expand the company’s reach into a few more regions before the end of the year, in addition to development of a mobile app.
“We team with local vendors in these areas and bring their inventory to the site,” Goldfarb said. “In general, these are small operations that don’t have a large web presence because they’re too busy selling materials and stuff like that to spend time and money for a big e-commerce site, so we built it.”
OrderOnSite.com is also seeking to break through the online barriers for construction supplies.
“Lumber and building materials has been something that people haven’t done well online because it’s hard to deliver, you’re dealing with cumbersome materials like drywall and such,” Goldfarb said.
The key selling points are next-day delivery from the vendor and some simplicity compared to shopping for materials in traditional brick and mortar stores, he said.
“This is just a few clicks and you’re done. It’s better than spending your whole day off in a store and then worrying about how you will get it home,” he said. “This is the same ease as ordering a book on Amazon.”
Goldfarb has ambitious goals for the site.
“Our goal is to cover the whole county and be in every city,” Goldfarb said. “We bring inventories to the web. Our goal is to be the Amazon.com for building and lumber materials.”
Staffers, who can work from remote locations using laptops, are charged with tasks such as maintaining each suppliers’ inventory updates for the site and handling returns.
OrderOnSite.com’s officially headquarters is part of a retrofitted former Piggly Wiggly storefront on Wappoo Drive on James Island. Fittingly, the motif is heavy on wood products.
The market conditions are highly favorable for the sales side of the building supply business.
After a long downturn, the construction business is growing as demand for housing snaps back.
The rise in residential construction continues a trend that began last year. Spending for single-family homes rose 1.6 percent while multi-family construction rose 0.3 percent in March, according to figures released this month by the U.S. Commerce Department.
Also, home improvement projects are expected to drive demand for supplies, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies predicted in a report last month.
“Existing home sales were up almost 9 percent last year, and house prices are increasing in most markets across the country,” said Eric S. Belsky, the center’s managing director. “This has increased the home equity levels for most homeowners, encouraging them to reinvest in their homes.”
Home Depot, the nation’s largest home improvement retailer, has been witnessing stronger sales in recent months due in part to improving home sales as well as demand for repair supplies from Hurricane Sandy. The company reported $18.2 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2012, up 13.9 percent from the same period a year ago.
Goldfarb said sales for OrderOnSite.com also are growing, and that the site competes only minimally with big-box stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, saying the home improvement giants are more geared toward “this multibillion dollar brick-and-mortar investment, and they want you in there.”
“They want there in the store to buy the bug spray, and they want you to buy lights and appliances because that’s where they make their money,” he said. “We sell what is in like three aisles in a Home Depot, it’s the lumber and all that stuff. That’s what we are going after.”
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.