35 years later, your value is still front-page news

By Bob Miodonski Publisher and editorial director The headline over the lead story on the front page of our May issue states that manufacturers should pay attention to contractors. More, perhaps, than they are doing today. Who says so? Two industry consultants speaking at the spring meeting of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute. They have good reasons for saying so. Clark Ellis of FMI observed that

By Bob Miodonski
Publisher and editorial director

They have good reasons for saying so. Clark Ellis of FMI observed that many manufacturers are concentrating their marketing resources on their wholesalers when it is contractors that are adding more value for manufacturers and consumers. He agrees with Carl Cullotta of Frank Lynn and Associates that plumbing contractors, particularly on the residential side, are poised to pick up a substantial amount of work due to the changing demographics of the U.S. population — aging baby boomers, fewer do-it-yourselfers and a growing immigrant population.

The consultants encouraged manufacturers to get closer to plumbing contractors by cultivating collaborative rather than adversarial relationships. A couple more suggestions are for manufacturers to provide more training for contractors and to involve them earlier in the product-development cycle.

You're reading this now and maybe thinking the same thing you thought back in May: This is front-page news?

Funny what you find when you pack up your old office and move into a new one, as we have done very recently. An over-sized binder flopped out of a moving box onto my new desk and spilled out its contents — a collection of CONTRACTOR "Spotlight Issues" from the 1970s. Each is labeled as a "Special Promotional Issue" and focuses on a single manufacturer in its copy and advertising. The one devoted to Eljer doesn't have a date printed on it, but I'm pretty sure that it's from the ‘70s because one story describes a "splashy new color from Eljer" for its bathroom fixtures — "Sunnygreen."

Yet of the three Spotlight Issues that I read, all three carried front-page articles that make very similar points that the two consultants shared at the PMI meeting. Here's the top headline from the Eljer issue: "Plumbing Contractor Is Key Man in Marketing." The lead paragraph states: "Despite all that has been said about change in the plumbing business ... the man who still has the strongest influence on the selection of plumbing fixtures — who, in fact, usually makes the selection — is the plumbing contractor. That's the opinion of Lawrence B. Dore, vice-president-marketing of Eljer."

Another special issue devoted to an HVAC manufacturer has this top headline: "Heil-Quaker Aware of Contractors' Value." The story's lead: "The contractor is the one who ultimately sells heating and cooling equipment. He is the keystone of any manufacturer's success. That's the way Heil-Quaker Corp. of Nashville sees things."

Back on the plumbing side, a 1972 issue with Moen in the Spotlight says this in a front-page story: "Analysis of the guarantee cards returned by Moen users shows that more than four out of five Moen faucets sold for replacement or modernization are the result of action by a plumbing contractor in recommending and installing Moen."

What's happened between then and now to make it necessary for manufacturers to be reminded publicly of the value that you provide? Certainly consumers are much better informed today thanks to the Internet and an endless stream of home-improvement TV shows. Look at the graphic on our front page this month: More women today would rather spend their leisure time on a home-improvement project than either shopping or cooking.

And consumers today have many more products from which to choose — although Sunnygreen bathroom fixtures are not among them.

Much of the change can be traced to the impact Home Depot and other big-box retailers have made on the relationships among contractors, wholesalers and manufacturers in the traditional supply chain. Of course, Home Depot has experienced change of its own, as detailed in our front-page story this month on its decision to sell its HD Supply wholesaling division.

While we certainly don't yearn to return to the "good, old days," we will continue to do our part to encourage collaborative relationships between contractors and manufacturers, as well as others in the distribution channel. We'll also continue to promote your value on our front page and elsewhere.

Cullotta told plumbing manufacturers: "The age of the big box is over. I hope you haven't burned too many bridges with your traditional customers."

The emphasis going forward must be on maintaining, fixing and building bridges.