The World Wide Web can bring you new customers and new business at a much lower cost.

If you're a regular reader of my column, you've likely noticed that I list an e-mail address for your use in contacting me. That's my preferred method of communication today, other than talking. I'm not home much, so I'm hard to contact by phone, and like most folks, I don't like the hassle of writing and mailing letters. I'm happy to hear from you, but I'd prefer it if you'd use e-mail. That shouldn't be too much of a problem for most of you since almost every company is computerized, and Internet service providers are usually quite inexpensive.

Yes, computers are complicated but sending e-mail isn't, and that's the main use I have for mine. I've been sending my columns -- and even photos -- to this magazine by e-mail for several years. What's so good about e-mail? Well, I can never find stamps, and my computer keeps up with the addresses. Just send me a message, and I have your e-mail address on file. Plus, I don't have to pay for long-distance phone calls or worry that you won't be in when I call. I turn on my computer every evening when I get home, read all my e-mail and send return messages right away. It's the main method of communication for the new millennium.

If you buy a computer just for e-mail, you'll find many more uses for it later on, as I have. You can instantly send messages to any Internet-connected computer in the world for a monthly service provider fee and the cost of local telephone service. I do all my banking by e-mail. Sound radical? You'd be surprised to see how many companies use this method. I have most checks paid to me direct-deposited, the bank sends checks out to pay my bills (I write them by e-mail), and I balance my checkbook online every evening.

I shopped for houses on the Internet before I moved to Florida. I startled one local resident whose house was for sale when I called him up from Cleveland to ask a question. He was surprised to find that his house was listed on the Net on the local newspaper's home page.

Other uses for the Internet

Of course, e-mail isn't the only thing I use the Internet for. The HVACR industry has a slew of interesting sites that are well worth a visit. There are Internet HVACR magazines, shopping locations, even some of my articles in this magazine are posted every month (www.supplyht.com and also www.contractormag.com). Just use one of the search providers and type in the key phrase HVACR, HVAC, refrigeration, air conditioning or whatever. If you?re looking for my past articles, search under Jim Wheeler HVACR.

Two industry sites that have contacted me recently are:

The Internet is the world's fastest-growing marketplace. So should your company have its own Web site? Yes! Every company in the supply-house business, as well as all manufacturers, should be on the Web to better serve their customers and to cut their business expenses. Forget the hype. What your customers want is a page with an updated catalog, pricing and a secured site so they can place orders. They should have a password that they can update periodically to access certain ordering and pricing areas. Assign someone to monitor incoming orders and requests throughout the day. If you have several branches, you'll need only one person to handle the orders for all offices.

If you do this right, you'll soon find that a large portion of your business will come over the Internet at a much lower cost to you. And you'll pick up a lot of new customers.

How do customers get your Internet address? Post it on everything you send out and on all your advertising. If you're "trolling" for business outside your normal sales area, get involved with a group listing such as the HVAC Mall to make it easier for customers to locate you.

You really need the Internet if your company has products or services that might interest people outside your local sales area. Do you sell at discount? Do you specialize in a particular product line? Do you have rare parts? Do you have special deals? Do you offer a special service that may appeal to a national or international audience, or do you manufacture something that meets a special need?

What will it take to get your company on the Net? One of the fastest-growing businesses today is a company that designs Web sites. Tell the designer what you want the site to do. Ask for an estimate on how long it will take and the cost, and include a provision that your people are trained and all bugs are worked out before final payment is made.

You say you're too old to learn to use the Internet? My 81-year-old uncle just bought his first computer and he's having a ball.