You can read part one here on how he finds out about new products and what keeps him loyal to a product.
What support do you need from the stockist?
Colin: Support from the stockist is very important, as they are my main source of finding out about products and innovations as well as for first-line technical or installation assistance.
However, there are a number of other things I need. As well as needing the best possible price, I also view stock levels and availability of equal importance, as is confidence in delivery promises being met. Much of this comes down to communication and service - if my order is not going to arrive when advised, I need to be informed in advance with a revised date or an alternative solution. This gives me time to make other plans, so a project will not grind to a halt. In my mind, there is no excuse for not being informed of a delay to a confirmed commitment. Any delay has a domino effect and can cause disruption to so many other people involved.
I like to have a central point of contact at the merchants I use; you need to build a relationship and I’m more willing to trust their advice and recommendations. However, it shouldn’t matter who I speak to, I expect a friendly and professional service and someone who seems interested in helping me and who has good knowledge of the department they’re working in. I experienced this at a Travis Perkins’ branch recently when they went out of their way to help me, even though I’m not an account holder there.
Sometimes, I require assistance on-site, I get this from Ridgeons of Saffron Walden, as I have a dedicated person allocated for problems on-site. It makes you feel appreciated and helps build loyalty. They will also come and meet me on a job just for a general update – I welcome this, within reason.
I also require samples or swatches of products, especially on things like tiles and flooring, this helps my customers decide on finishes and style.
KEY LEARNING POINT: The stockist needs to communicate with their customers and focus on building relationships. Good levels of stock are also vital, as products are often needed on the day of the builders’ visit. Manufacturers play an important part too, as they must communicate with their distributors on these issues.
What support do you want from the manufacturer?
Colin: I rely on their support in many ways, but the focus should be to avoid problems in the first place and to quickly assist with problems which do arise.
It is vital any product is appropriately packaged for protection. If I open a product on-site and the item is broken, it can cause many consequential problems and could cost me a lot of money, especially when there are tight deadlines to meet or if I have other trades on-site to assist on the job.
I’d also expect there to be installation guidelines that are clear and concise, especially if the way it is fitted affects its guarantee or makes it not fit for purpose. For items that need on-going maintenance, spare parts or adjustment by the householder, I’d expect a user-manual to be included, so that I can give it to the property owner for their records, along with any guarantee information and certification. These might also need to be seen by Building Control.
One final, but very important aspect of support I need is a quick and easy way of contact. When on-site, I’d expect relevant and up-to-date contact information within the packaging or on the product and to be able to speak to a competent and relevant person as quickly as possible to help resolve the issue.
There are also occasions when I have to use a manufacturer’s website to access information, especially standards and performance data or guidelines for usage. I like it when I can get the answer I need without having to search for long or make a phone call, this is because on the rare occasions I use the internet it’s in the evenings.
KEY LEARNING POINT: Technical or customer service departments should be easily reached with people who are able to deal with the type of questions they will receive. Manufacturers’ websites should be easy to navigate with useful information designed to meets the needs of different audiences. Products need to be tested by people in real situations and feedback obtained before they reach the market.
How do you prefer to be communicated with by the manufacturer?
Colin: Most of the time, I’d rather not be contacted directly by the manufacturer, unless I have instigated the contact. I’m not interested in being bombarded by emails or mailings; I just haven’t got the time to read them.
On occasion, a manufacturer will see my van parked up and come and have a chat. Hilti sometimes does this, and in small doses, this can be quite helpful as it allows me to ask any questions directly and gives them an opportunity to let me know of any key developments or even give me some samples for trial. I certainly do not have the time to take lots of phone calls from lots of manufacturers’ sales representatives and would not welcome this.
KEY LEARNING POINT: It is best to try and communicate in non-pressurised situations with the smaller trades, impress when they contact you and impress in non-verbal communications, like packaging and installation guides. Manufacturers should always be aware of the time restrictions of small companies or one-man businesses.
How do you find out about changes in Building Regulations and legislation?
Colin: Although some of it comes from the literature I pick up and also from the staff at trade counters, my most useful source of information is through my local Building Control Officer. They can be very helpful.
KEY LEARNING POINT: Make sure it is clear your product meets the standards in literature, advertising and is clearly displayed on packaging and documentation. Communicate with Building Control offices so they are aware of your products.
As you can see from the two parts of our interview with Colin, there are many factors to consider, but being aware of the time restraints to allow effective communication and making sure it is conducted in the right environment and done so simply at the right time, appear to be key.
Next we will be speaking to a small independent plastering firm and after that an independent bathroom showroom to obtain their opinions on this issue.
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