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Contractor’s Corner: Why Purchase From a Distributor?

By Stan Walerczyk

Welcome to this week’s installment of Contractor’s Corner.

Today we will be discussing contractors deciding to buy from local distributors, online distributors, big box stores, online Googles and Amazons of the world or direct from manufacturers. This issue is not black and white, because different vendors and types of vendors may be the best for different projects.

If local distributors provide good in-person service, that can be optimal for many situations.

A few years ago, when I did lighting presentations for Holophane in Ohio to its distributors across the country, several distributors told me that they were losing considerable business to online distributors. As you probably know, several distribution companies have numerous distribution buildings and internet channels.

Now, there are also the big box stores and the Googles and Amazons of the world.

Big box stores include The Home Depot and Lowes, among others. They sell both in their ‘brick’ stores and through the internet. I know of numerous contractors and end-customers who buy from these stores, especially the on-site stores. It seems that most of these contractors and end-customers are relatively small, but their purchases add up.

Regarding straight internet buying, just Google search something like ‘F32T8s’, ‘electronic ballasts’ and some common non-lighting products, and as you probably have already seen, there are many listings. Although many of the listed prices are not that good, often those prices can be negotiated, especially for good quantities.

There are some manufacturers which sell to contractors, and sometimes even end-customers direct, as long as the contractors and end-customers have a good track record of paying on time. This can avoid manufacturer rep and distributor mark-ups. This is quite prevalent in the lighting retrofit industry with several manufacturers focusing the retrofit kits, fixtures and pricing that are required to make the projects cost effective. Most of the major and architectural grade lighting manufacturers, which distributors tend to carry, focus on new construction.  These companies that sell direct usually require 30 days and they usually cannot provide complete packages.

Contractors, you have so many choices on common products, and even some choices on niche products. You can compare:

  • Product range
  • Pricing
  • Terms
  • Availability
  • Delivery date
  • Shipping cost
  • Etc.

Good distributors can usually provide the best total package, especially with being able to sell a wide range of products, including niche and custom ones, stocking products, delivery of everything needed, and payment terms.

Payment terms can be very important, because often a contractor will not be paid for 90 days and needs those terms from the distributor. Most other suppliers will not do that. Often a contractor is willing to pay slightly more to a distributor than buying direct if the distributor will provide longer payment terms.

If a good distributor has noticed that a contractor has been purchasing less from them, that distributor will usually personally visit or at least call that contractor, ask why, and find ways to deserve upcoming business.

This column will greatly benefit from feedback and input from contractors. Email me at stan@lightingwizards.com.

Stan Walerczyk, LC, CLEP, HCLC

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