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What distributors love about the manufacturers they work with

By Bridget McCrea

In an ideal world distributors and manufacturers would work as streamlined units, seamlessly navigating new and existing customer bases together. They’d ferret out opportunities, share resources, and enjoy the benefits of the partnerships. The scenario may be far fetched in some cases, but in others the unity actually shines through. When that does occur, both entities benefit from the mutual participation and support.

Jeff Rogers, vice president and sales manager at http://www.holderelectric.com/”>Holder Electric Supply, Inc., in Greenville, S.C., says he’s seen vendor cooperation improve somewhat in light of the economic conditions and the fact that all industrial firms have been negatively impacted by the downturn. “We have some great vendors that really understand that the market has changed forever,” says Rogers.

Some of those manufacturers have stepped up to the plate and are providing more value to the distribution channels that they rely on heavily to sell, market, and service their products for end users. Rogers says this extra level of service is vital during a time when, “customers can place orders online, in their pajamas, at 10 o’clock at night, and without the need for a distributor.”

One of the ways Holder Electric stays relevant and valuable to its end users is through “lunch and learn” training sessions. Held twice a year at the firm’s headquarters location, the sessions involve the company’s inside and outside sales reps, manufacturers, and/or multi-line reps. Rogers breaks the day up into two sessions and focuses on intensive training on one or two core products.

“We get the manufacturer or multi-line rep to talk about the product, features, benefits, and the market opportunities,” says Rogers. “My team comes away from these day-long sessions better educated and ready to hit the road selling.”

Getting Feet on the Street

http://blog.rockinghamelectric.com/”>Rockingham Electrical Supply Co., Inc., of Newington, N.H., is also seeing increased support levels from its top vendors.

“They’re coming to market with their planning processes, marketing tools, and training mechanisms lined up and ready to go,” says Jim Pender Jr., president. “They are also sharing more industry and strategy account data than ever – in the name of equipping us with the tools that we need to sell their products.”

And while some vendors fall short when it comes to fulfilling those promises and providing the necessary tools, Pender says that in most cases manufacturers do realize the vital role that they play in his firm’s success.

“Thanks to the economic conditions and subsequent cutbacks there aren’t very many ‘feet on the street’ anymore; getting support in the field is tough,” Pender says. “For the most part, however, we’re in pretty good shape and happy with our manufacturers.”

Realizing that their distributors were also hit hard by the recession, some manufacturers have adopted more flexible payment and return policies, according to Brad Van De Sompele, president at http://www.frontierelectric.com/”>Frontier Electric Supply in Chicago. “They’ve become much more adaptable and willing to work with us in new and innovative ways,” says Van De Sompele, who points to cooperative and transaction funds programs as two options that vendors are now using to help their distributors.

The same vendors have also strengthened their distributor policies by, for example, speeding up the returns and refunds processes. This helps distributors like Frontier Electric more effectively manage their own cash flows, knowing that returns will be processed and credited to their accounts more expediently.

“Things are taken care of much faster than they were, say, five years ago when business was still booming,” says Van De Sompele. “This is a positive trend because weak distributor policies just don’t make for good, long-term relationships in our marketplace.”

Van De Sompele says manufacturers are also paying closer attention to their web presences and upgrading them regularly to reflect the needs of the market. “Most manufacturers are now on the third or fourth generation of their websites,” he explains. “These modern sites put quite a bit of product, company, support, and sales information right at our fingertips. That’s a real plus for us.”

Putting Their Heads Together

Manufacturers that make the time to go on joint customer calls with http://www.tacomaelectric.com/”>Tacoma Electric Supply, Inc.’s outside sales reps make a lasting impression on Charlie Silva, president of the Tacoma, Wash.-based distributorship. “By working together with us the manufacturers become an extension of our sales force,” says Silva. “And besides, who better to promote and explain these products than the vendors themselves?”

The efforts are particularly valuable in areas where Tacoma Electric lacks in-house expertise. For example, vendors that send their gear experts out on joint sales calls have proven their worth on more than one occasion in the last few years.  “We’ve had large projects where the gear manufacturers have come along on the sales calls to help educate the end user and provide support,” says Silva. “In some cases this means the difference between getting the order or not getting it.”

In all cases, the distributors interviewed for this article were most enamored with manufacturers that do put “feet on the streets,” and that aren’t afraid to pick up the phone or send a personalized email on a regular basis. “We don’t need a lot of attention,” says Rosalee Dyer, branch manager at http://www.stokeselec.com/”>Stokes Electric & Lighting in Knoxville, Tenn., “but we do want our manufacturers to recognize that we’re out here and to be there for us if and when we do need them.”

Dyer says many of her firm’s top vendors are taking the time to educate her team about individual products, overall product lines, and all ancillary services that the vendor offers. “They don’t just show us the product. They guide us through the process of how to use it and all of its features and benefits,” says Dyer. “Being able to take that knowledge out into the field helps tremendously.”


Bridget McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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