Joe Cardin plans to combine the years of experience that he has working for CLS, Inc., Hartford, Conn., with a fascination for the online universe to create a Web community that will change the electrical world.

The conventional wisdom in Web World is that coming out first counts for a lot, because Web surfers tend to be creatures of habit. Once they find a site they like, they tend to return and hang out a lot. They don't mess around much with me-too sites. Sites like www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com are cases in point: first out in their chosen niches, and first in the hearts of their devotees.

Joe Cardin hopes to make buildingsuppliesweb.com the primary site on the Web for electrical companies to buy and sell electrical supplies in an auction format similar to that of ebay.com. The concept uses a "reverse auction" format, where buyers of building supplies, materials or products (of any quantity) can post requests for bids (RFP's) and where sellers of those products can submit bids in response. The www.buildingsuppliesweb.com site itself does not sell electrical supplies, and instead focuses on facilitating the buying and selling of electrical equipment by bringing interested buyers and sellers together.

His concept is to develop the site into the electrical industry's first vertical community, an online bazaar where electrical professionals can buy and sell electrical products and find the information they need to do their jobs. The site will launch in the near future, once all of its components are bulletproof.

Cardin sees the day when distributors and contractors handle all of their bid requests over the Web, and he sees the www.buildingsuppliesweb.com site developing into the electrical industry's bidding center and quickly growing to 25 million hits in just 12 months. Cardin bases that projection on the fact that his other electrical site, www.electriciansweb.com, is on track to tally 4 million to 6 million hits after being on the market for not quite two years.

This site offers electricians chat rooms, links to suppliers and a space to hang out an electronic shingle to market their services. Cardin started up www.electriciansweb.com without a formal mission statement. "We didn't know what it was going to be. It just evolved. A lot of it was, 'What's a new market space that we can develop on the Web?' It was really to develop a service for our customers. It evolved to where we created a service for the whole industry."

The Electrician's Web is similar in concept to the "vertical community sites" that Cardin runs in other construction trades, including carpentry, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and floor covering. He also is working on virtual communities for roofers, masons, landscapers and other construction trades.

"It's usually the first 10% of the market that goes with this new technology," he says. "They will be the beta users. It's going to benefit both sides of the industry-distributors and contractors. Distributors will be able to increase their sales per salesperson and gain new customers, and contractors will be able to lower their costs on their jobs."

There will be no registration fees, only a fee when the transaction takes place, and there is no fee to place a bid. "There is only a transaction fee and it is going to be nominal," he explains. "We are looking at anywhere from two to three percent, but that is not set in stone."

Cardin says www.buildingsuppliesweb.com will be unique in the electrical industry because it will provide distributors and their customers a way to conduct business electronically with no upfront cost, and it does not limit who the companies can buy from or sell to.

"It will only cost them if they make money off of it. It is a win-win situation. That's why I am determined that this is going to be probably one of the most successful e-commerce solutions in the industry.

"Grainger brought on Corporate Express to sell office supplies and some medical company to sell medical supplies. They are not giving their customers a choice. That's a big leap of faith. We are confident that by providing customers and electrical distributors with the choice, it will increase their profits and lower their transaction costs as a whole."