Thursday, 3 April 2014

A plasterer's view on sales, marketing and service in the building industry

In part two of our interview with Justin Phipps of JP Plasterers we discuss his opinion on the building trade press, trade events, the internet and the support he expects from manufacturers and merchants.

You can catch up on part one here - where he discussed what makes JP Plasterers stay loyal to a product or try a new one.

Do you read any trade press?
I do read certain ones but not many, I haven’t got the time, but they can be useful, especially if they are aimed directly at the tradesperson, rather than the merchant, which in my opinion most of the trade press is normally for.  Trade magazines are great when the have product reviews and practical and independent guides and reviews.  

I do find catalogues etc. useful though too, especially when I am selecting products for the job or seeking greater understanding. 

KEY LEARNING POINT: The trade press is still important, so remember there are magazines aimed at the installers of your products too and use them. 

However, the trade press aimed at the merchants is vital too, the people on the trade counter are an extension of your sales team, so make sure they know about your product and have a favourable opinion.

Do you ever go to trade fairs or events at merchants? 
Yes, if we have interest in the product, we will go on courses specific to these manufacturers. I have found more and more of this happening and I think it’s a great idea and would actively encourage this kind of event.  It is very useful for the manufacturer to supply courses for trade at a reduced rate to show how their product works when correctly applied and used etc. It would definitely make me more likely to use the product and have trust in its performance.

KEY LEARNING POINT: This is perhaps one of the most interesting ways of reaching the independent trades, you can meet them, talk to them, watch them, listen to their opinions, communicate your messages and help them. It is a two way relationship and running courses can only assist with this relationship and reduce the risk of them having a roving eye.

What type of support do you expect from the stockist? 
If a product fails for no fault of your own, I’d expect the merchant or manufacturer to come and see the failure and to make good, either by supplying free of charge or by making it right. This is not always as easy as it sounds in our trade. 

Communication is essential, as is good information flow and knowledge.  Delivery is not an issue as we normally collect our goods.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Communication is vital, remember that many of the smaller trades are under great time and financial pressure, with little human resource to invest in sorting out major product problems, so make it easy for them, understand their issues and react quickly to resolve their problem. Otherwise your reputation could be at risk, and remember, how you act when there is a problem, can be relationship defining.

What support do you require from the manufacturer? 
The manufacturers’ support is key and their literature, usage advice, information on products and technical support are very valuable for my job.

I expect them to be fair in their pricing with no price hikes just because a product is selling well and demand goes up. We have seen this happen with a number of products and in the end we steer away due to cost, it is short sightedness on the manufacturers’ side. When demand goes up, they should be able to reward their customers with a stable or even reduced price due to cheaper production costs.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Again, it is all down to relationship building and understanding your audience’s needs. Don’t take advantage of their custom and make sure you know what support and information makes their life easier. 

Do you purchase via the Internet and what are your reasons if you do?
Yes, more and more, although only on products that have no shelf life.  In plastering many products have a shelf life and we have found that you have no gauge on the Internet on how much life a product has left, when you buy via a website. 

Tools, tape screws etc. are much cheaper on the Internet and we are more likely to buy on-line for these products than plaster.

It is, therefore, normally either down to price or ease of ordering. Our preference is always to see what we are buying and to be in control of the purchase, so most of our products are still purchased from a merchant - you get more support and as long as it is in stock, you can have the product on the same day you need it.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Makes sure that as either a merchant or a manufacturer you provide good service and have options off-line and on-line to purchase your products. 

The on-line relationship is different but should have the same aims in mind, so be as helpful as you can with the information and level of communication they need. It might even mean the packaging quality and information contained within needs to be changed accordingly.

If you are a merchant losing business to on-line trades, you need to consider making the in-store experience more valuable to the tradespeople. You might need to step up your game in terms of support and service to justify a higher price.

How do you prefer to be communicated with by the manufacturer? 
Normally by phone, we do not really have the time for emails etc. – we are out working! Talking to a person is always better in the long run. Emails do have their place but I don’t think there is anything more frustrating than awaiting email responses on a failed product from a manufacturer. I need technical support quickly and with the ability to have an actual conversation.  Great technical support is a wonderful thing.

KEY LEARNING POINT: The key point is to be customer friendly and if someone requires technical support, they should be able to quickly get through to someone who has the required knowledge to help. When you can provide a high level of technical support, the installer will have peace of mind when selecting your product.

We hope this interview has provided you with useful information - for sales people, merchants and manufacturers – to ensure you retain and grow your business with a sector which has always been difficult to reach and influence. If you are looking to recruit in the building products sector, call us on 01480 405225.

In the final part of our series on selling and marketing to the small independent trades in the building industry, we will be speaking to a bathroom showroom/retailer to gain their views. Keep visiting the Pin Board blog, so you don’t miss out.

If you want to catch up on the first part of this series, where we interviewed an independent building and construction firm, you can do so here.

JP Plasterers is a family run business based in Saffron Walden, offering both modern and traditional plastering services. They provide customers in the domestic and commercial markets with the highest standard of service.

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