Industry Ready to Embrace iPads

Manufacturers and dealers gearing up to take advantage of rapid developments in tablets and mobile technologies

About a week after Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, Geoff Roise at Lindsay Windows in Minnesota bought one for one of the company’s production supervisors to try out. “It’s impact immediately became apparent,” he states. “I would send him an email with a question and I would get an instant response.”

 
 Line leaders at Lindsay Windows now carry iPads with them throughout the day.

Given their low cost, Rouse decided almost immediately to invest in the tablet computers for all the vinyl window manufacturer’s production line leaders. “It enables them to access our Web-based production system for information and answer emails from customer service reps or others—all without having to interrupt what they might have been doing and heading back to their own computers,” he explains.

Apex Energy Solutions, a window and door dealer with operations in about a dozen markets, has been working on an iPad sales presentation since the company first learned about the device. Planned for launch this summer, the presentation will be a “game changer,” says Michael Foit, Apex president.

He points not only to the effectiveness of the computer presentation itself, but comfort factor that the iPad app will provide. “The sales person will no longer be faced with the formality of the kitchen table. Everyone can sit in the sunroom or on the front porch,” he states. “And the homeowner isn’t just listening to the presentation, they are a part of it.”

Ease of Use
Industry software suppliers foresee rapid adoption of tablet technology by other window and door manufacturers and dealers. “Tablets are more than a flash in the pan,” says Nathan Herbst, president of WTS Paradigm. “It’s taking off and it’s going to take off in business.” He predicts a substantial impact over the next five or 10 years.

Tablets are quickly becoming “part of everyday life,” says Ron Crowl of Fenetech Inc. “I do not see these as overrated."

"A whole generation has grown up with iPods for music,” he continues. “The iPad is the tool these people want to bring to work. They’re already comfortable with it.”

“For years, leading-edge firms have tried to use laptops,” says Tim Musch of MarketSharp. “But they’ve had limitations—starting with the time it takes for them to boot up. Tablets are much more instantaneous.”

From a software developer’s perspective, Crowl adds, “What we’ve always tried to do is reduce keystrokes required to speed various tasks. The tablet takes it to a whole new level compared to a laptop.”

“The mobility and ease of use are the key benefits,” says Herbst. “There’s a low barrier to learning with an iPad. The technology is just a lot more approachable.”

Mobile technology—notably emails via smart phones—is already “the normal course of business,” he adds. “That’s been the first phase of the change. With tablets, it’s opening up a mobile computing to much more. Virtually every meeting I go to now, there’s at least one executive with an iPad taking notes.”

Another factor encouraging rapid adoption is price, notes Musch. “That shouldn’t be underestimated,” he says. “Prices for laptops have come down, but $500 or $600 for an iPad is pretty easy to justify.”

 
  Apex Energy Solutions has created a sales presentation specifically for the iPad, which it plans to launch this summer.

Selling Tool
All these suppliers and tablet users agree that this technology will have a big impact in the selling arena. “First and foremost, what comes into everyone’s mind is estimating tool,” says MarketSharp’s Musch. “I see the greatest potential as a complete presentation tool. Tablet technology enables the creation of a program that readily engages the consumer. I think it will change the dynamic of the presentation dramatically.”

Apex’s Foit has always had his sights on creating a more engaging sales presentation, and therefore sees huge potential for tablets. “I didn’t want a PowerPoint. I wanted something more multimedia.” That led his company, prior to the launch of iPads and iPhones, to develop a presentation for laptops launched in 2007 featuring icons “begging to be touched.” It was also unique in that it was non-linear, he notes. “You didn’t start with the glass package, followed by the warranty,” Foit states. “You went to the areas the homeowner was most interested in. And you could see, the husband would go to the science portion of the presentation—with R-values and such—and the wife would want to go to the photo galleries.”

About the same time it developed its system, Dell launched tablet computers. Apex tried the tablets—with the touchscreen controls—and could see the potential. It ended up frustrated with the computers, however, as the battery life wasn’t long enough to make it through a presentation. Foit is confident those issues are addressed with the iPad “We already decided, this is definitely the future,” he says. “Now we’re ready to move forward.”

Musch expects many other window and door dealers and remodelers in general to try and develop consumer- and tablet-friendly presentations. The challenge is for software developers to create a program that works like Powerpoint, he says. But he expects such tools to become available that would enable a home improvement dealer or contractor to drag and drop its unique elements into the program to create a professional presentation.
“In the area of pricing, tablets will be helpful raising the level of professionalism too,” Musch continues. “A consumer seeing a price generated by the machine is likely to view the contractor as more reliable, more credible and more professional.”

Throughout the Operation
“The impact of tablet technology starts at the sales process, but it will go all the way to the shop floor,” predicts Fenetech’s Crowl. “Instead of walking around with a stack of papers, a line supervisor can have instant access to all sorts of data.”

At this point, he notes, many Web-enabled software products are able to take advantage of tablets, but industry software specifically developed for them is still forthcoming. (That will probably be soon. Both Fenetech and WTS Paradigm expect to show new products designed specifically for tablets at GlassBuild this fall.)

Roise reports that Lindsay Windows created its own iPad app for cycle counting in its production operations. Previously, information would be written down, and the person would have to go back later and enter the data. That always created a chance for transcription errors. “All that time and the mistakes are essentially gone,” he says. Not only does the program save time throughout the normal business day, it cut the time it took for year-end inventory in half, Roise reports. Noting that this was accomplished with a home-made application, he sees the potential for software custom designed to run on tablets as huge.

“Tablet devices and well-designed applications will provide real time data available throughout the business—and outside the traditional four walls of the business,” Crowl states. “This access to real time data will improve the customer experience for those companies who embrace this technology.”

WTS Paradigm’s Herbst suggests the tablet’s biggest impact will be on the sales process at least in part because mobile technologies—such as smart phones—are already being used in manufacturing and logistics. People are using such devices to scan bar codes to track products in the plant or when deliveries are made, he explains.

Mobile devices have many applications beyond presentations and estimates, Foit says. Apex, he notes, has been working in this arena—with iPhones, specifically—for the past couple of years. The firm’s marketing reps use the devices when they canvassing a neighborhood. The moment they set an appointment on the iPhone, it creates a ticket for the company’s system, which sends an email to the homeowner confirming the appointment—with a photo ID of the salesperson who will be calling. It also provides the homeowner with all the links they need to learn more about Apex. “From the start, we’re setting a high bar for professionalism,” Foit says.

That’s only the beginning of how Apex uses its iPhone apps, he continues. It uses them to track and archive past jobs. A salesperson can tell a homeowner about homes in the neighborhood with Apex windows and what the homeowners' experience has been with energy savings.

Roise says he hasn’t calculated how much his Lindsay Windows has saved with its iPads, but he doesn’t doubt it's lowered some costs and that there are more potential savings to be had. One measure of success, he notes, is his employees’ enthusiasm. “At first there were questions. They weren’t crazy about the idea of carrying them around,” he recalls. “Now, they love them. I don’t think they’ll ever give them up.”

"Customers are asking about them," Herbst says, talking about tablet-specific industry software products. "I definitely sense there's going to be strong demand."