I RECENTLY WAS invited to spend a week with wholesalers and manufacturers representatives who were attending training at Watts Radiant in Springfield, Mo. During the week's classroom and factory training sessions, I had the opportunity to address the group and present issues from a contractor's perspective. What evolved was a fascinating look behind-the-scenes regarding issues wholesalers and manufacturers reps face. I'm not sure who learned more from the experience, but my eyes were opened wider by the lively giveand-take we shared.
One of those issues revolved around why we (contractors) buy from wholesalersand why our customers buy from contractors. I've always felt a sense of loyalty to my local wholesalers for the services they give us, which enables me to offer my customers a level of service I'd want if I were the customer. Things you can't get from the "big-box" stores or by shopping on an Internet site.
The reality, however, is that wholesalers and manufacturers reps are competing with those big-box stores and the Internet for your business and they've felt the impact. If price is the only consideration for where you purchase and you're not the least bit interested in the value additional wholesaler services add to your bottom line; if you're the type to let your supplier do a complicated takeoff and then take his lengthy list of materials along to shop price; and if you have your customers tie up a wholesaler's showroom personnel and then shop-till-you-drop to find a lower number, then you might not recognize the value wholesalers and manufacturers reps deliver.
Your local supply house waits on you and loads your trucks — big-box retailers sit back while their customers self-serve and load their own materials! If your employees are shopping at the big-box stores, do you think they're heading straight for the needed materials, or will they divert to cruise the aisles to window-shop or maybe pick up a few personal items?
Much of what we use in the trades is located at the back of their stores, which requires you or your employees to walk past all kinds of other goods. It's human nature to be distracted by attractive displays. Non-productive time wasted waiting in line while prices are checked, questions are answered and check writers procrastinate eats away at your profits — silently.
Your local supply house has employees with, in most cases, a great deal of product knowledge. The wholesaler often sends them away for advanced training where they are exposed to the manufacturer's products, install them in settings designed to mimic actual jobsite conditions so they'll understand the challenges you face and obtain training in the art of properly designing systems so that they can, in turn, help you make a good living.
Your local suppliers have outside salespeople who will drive to your location, hike through hip-deep mud to meet with you on the jobsite, and help do material take-offs, HVAC calculations and complex hydronic designs as well as train you and/or your employees regarding new or existing products.
Your local wholesalers also have inside salespeople who take orders, meet with your customers to sell fixtures out of showrooms and then deliver the goods anywhere you'd like while protecting your profit margins. When's the last time a big-box store protected your profit margins?
When contractors have a product problem, the local supply house will typically dispatch its employees — at no charge — to help resolve the issues, even when it's a flubbed install. Same goes for manufacturers who knock themselves out to help installers who purchase through wholesalers — even giving away equipment at times, even when it's an installer error! I've seen this happen far more often than I'd tolerate if I were the manufacturer. Not that there aren't products with defects or poorly conceived designs. There are, but fortunately they're the exception.
All of which reveals a major reason those big-box stores can sell their wares for a bit less on many items: The huge overhead reduction they enjoy by not giving you the same level of service.
It's worth it to support your local wholesalers who give you great service — even if the big-box outfits offer better pricing on some items. Why not buy from the place where everybody knows your name and greets you as a friend? On the business side of that equation, they too need to turn a profit so that we can all survive and thrive.
That's not to say we ignore prices. Like anyone in this business, we continually check on specific items. I've never played the price-game by pitting suppliers against each other after getting a quote — it's a one-shot deal for both of us. From there, we give the sale our best shot. Price isn't everything!
There's hidden gold in good relationships with wholesalers who provide excellent service. An intangible, but very real asset, that's often overlooked for a penny, nickel or dime. Teamwork works.
As Kojak would have said: Who loves ya, baby?
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