Anyone that’s had a home renovation that went on well beyond the projected completion date and ran over budget will find it easy to relate to the problem that motivated Jeff Booth to start BuildDirect.
“The building industry fails the consumer all the time,” he says. “We wanted to create a technology company that would solve that.”
Now the CEO of the Vancouver-based e-commerce platform he co-founded with Rob Banks, Booth is fresh off closing a $50 million financing round for his business. That money will fuel a year of expansion for the platform that seeks to cut out the middle man and connect the people that need materials directly with manufacturers. BuildDirect is Booth’s answer to a distribution channel that he says is broken – one in which big box stores dictate what building materials consumers have access to and what manufacturers are able to sell.
Booth points to the music industry as an analogy for the way he’s hoping to disrupt the sale of building materials. Before iTunes, artists had to be selected by record labels to be successful. Consumers bought what was available on record store shelves, basically voting for how good record label’s selection of artists was. But after iTunes, consumers can just buy music directly from the artist. So the wisdom of the crowd brings the best artists to the top.
The distribution of building products is working in the old model, Booth says, and he’s bringing in its iTunes.
“There are certain merchandisers that make a product available in a specific market and that is what’s available,” he says. “It works really well when they’re right. But when they’re wrong, the whole supply chain has to pay for it.”
Beyond just providing a shopping window for DIY home renovators, BuildDirect also provides valuable data back to the manufacturers selling with the Home Marketplace. When a buyer uses the site to load up a virtual cart and then request the cost and shipping rates, they must enter their postal code. That is taken by BuildDirect and amassed into a real-time signal for demand for a given material in regions across North America.
“It gives manufacturers a glimpse into the future of what they will sell,” Booth says. “That prediction of the future always comes ture, and that’s what is driving manufacturers into our platform so fast.”
Building a different sort of network
For the buyer, the precise cost and shipping rates are what compel the shopping experience. It was no small feat for BuildDirect to tap into every freight network of materials transportation across North America – a web of trains, flatbed trucks, and cargo vans. It’s a network involving hundreds of thousands of regional carriers, and BuildDirect has integration into each one of them, Booth says.
“That network allows us to break the traditional network and it allows manufacturers to access the data,” he says.
Right now, BuildDirect uses 12 distribution facilities to help the flow of materials through its channel. Right now it’s stocking it based on a “test and learn” methodology, Booth says, but that can change as BuildDirect collects more data from the users on its platform. Analytics is a key focus for the company and it plans to spend a portion of its new funding on building forecasting tools.
Its Demand Rank and Product Rank tools will be the proprietary brands that will eventually inform of a product or service’s demand in specific locations. Sellers will be able to use a dashboard to probe “what if” questions and simulate how their business would be affected by a move, a change in inventory size, or a change in margin.
The site’s also moving ahead with trust metrics that are based on feedback scores from consumers. Buyers will also be able to take advantage of a Q&A tool on each product page.
“It’s about engaging the customer in the journey,” Booth says. “We’re going to give the customer more voice into the marketplace.”
If he can do that, Booth may solve the problem that inspired BuildDirect in the first place.