Contractors need flexible products

There is an ever increasing trend towards more flexible products that provide a much wider application range and field variances while still providing performance.

Have you ever gone into a paint store, found the color swatch you like and have the store expertly mix the color only to put it on the wall and find it looks nothing like you thought it would. The color, now influenced by ambient light of architectural details, just looks different. I’ve purchased products online, received the product, have it be exactly as advertised and not like it. Perhaps the size, though clearly listed in the product description, seems too small or large once I see it up close. Maybe the manufacturer’s idea of brown is different from mine. Certainly neither the paint store, paint manufacturer, online retailer nor manufacturer of the product I purchased has any fault in these scenarios. But the end result is that the desired job didn’t get done.

Many plumbing, heating and cooling contractors face a similar dilemma. They don’t manufacture the products they are installing. In some cases the selection of the product was not even in their control, determined by homeowner choice, application specifics or even the existing product they may be replacing. But it is the contractor’s responsibility to get the job done nonetheless.

In our ever evolving industry, many times manufacturers force contractors to deal with these realities unnecessarily. We offer very specific products which fit a very narrow application range. These inflexible choices force contractors to carry many variants of a single product (if for example they are a service contractor) or require them to perform unnecessary related tasks to make the product they have fit and work. Of course these practices also increase the frequency of the dreaded “return trip to the distributor.” All of these factors reduce profitability, efficiency and the likelihood of healthy blood pressure.

Take heart however. There is an ever increasing trend towards more flexible products that provide a much wider application range and field variances while still providing performance. In my area of expertise — circulators — some manufacturers offer flexible or rotating mounting flanges on pumps. The pump industry is seeing a rapid introduction of variable speed products which allow contractors to influence the pump performance with simple field adjustments. Fitting packages, included with the pump, which allow for installation with an assortment of piping sizes and types. As well as modular accessories which make for quick plug and play adaptations to include timers or temperature controls.

Boiler control manufacturers have long led the way in this regard. Expandable, adaptable controls which work with a wide variety of thermostat types or add on features like weather responsive controls have been available for many years. These enable a contractor to carry fewer individual products in their stocks while still having what they need when they need it.

Many manufacturers have adopted small batch production philosophies. These adaptable manufacturing processes allow a wider range of product refinements without sacrificing delivery expectations. A product can be manufactured, in mass, to be applied to a broad spectrum of application fields. It can then be easily “fine tuned” for a very specific need, at the factory, very quickly and with high rate of repeatability.

We will never avoid the need for very specific products required to address very specific job requirements. However, where possible, the industry must continue to develop and offer products that enable contractors to maximize efficiencies and the ever deteriorating margins available to them.

Mark D’Agostino is president and CEO of Wilo USA. He previously served as vice president of sales and marketing and national sales manager.

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