Wednesday, 2 April 2014

How to sell your products to the independent trades - the plasterer's view

In the second of our series on selling and marketing to the small independent building trades, we speak to Justin Phipps, Owner of JP Plasterers and find out more about his relationship with manufacturers and distributors of the products he uses to ply his trade.

As we know, the collective of the small independent or family run business is a vital part of any merchant’s or manufacturer’s sales and their value cannot be ignored. However, communicating with them and knowing their buying motivations can be difficult, but like all sales and marketing it is about building a trusting and long-term relationship with your audience, truly understanding them and fulfilling their needs.

There is never a one size fits all approach, but once companies and sales teams start adapting their behaviour to suit their audience, it usually results in an improved and long lasting relationship with better sales. One way in which you can find out what they really want, is perhaps the obvious one: ask them!

We discussed these very topics with Justin and we hope his views will provide you with some useful guidance. 

JP Plasterers mainly buy Siniat and Gypsum plasterboard products, insulation backed plasterboard, Gypsum plasters, drywall screws, Spax screws, scrim tape and various adhesives. They also buy quite a lot of timber and loads of dustsheets and basic tools that you’d expect a plasterer to use.

How do you find out about new products? 
We often hear about new products in merchants through point of sales displays etc., I am often in and out of merchants, so it is usually the best way to catch my eye and also through some of the trade magazines available within the merchants.

However, the internet is an area which I am using more and more to find out about products, but I usually pay more attention to independent recommendations and views before seeking information on manufacturers’ websites. I read and participate in a number of plasterers’ forums and building communities. I also sometimes Google any issues I am having, either with a particular problem or product and both often result in useful suggestions in the results found.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Having a visual message which is easy to understand and relevant to your audience is vital. Displays in merchants are very important as you have a captive audience who are likely to be interested in your product; it is not like having a billboard on the roadside and hoping for the best. 

Peoples’ opinions are key and with the Internet these views can be quickly and easily spread, helping or hindering you in equal measures. So, make sure you have a good on-line presence and offer your customers what they need in terms of support and quality. Monitor forums and react accordingly, your reputation is at risk, but with the right strategy, product and support services the Internet can be one of your biggest sales and relationship builders. However, make sure it is not purely a transactional relationship, as you need to build something stronger than that, where people will feel the need to say nice things about you.

Which trends have changed the type or specification of the product you buy? 
Yes for sure. We find that the average customer these days is a lot more clued up in what they want. Knowledge of factors such as soundproofing and thermal insulation etc. - probably due to the ease of search facilities on the Internet – is much higher. We often try and follow these needs, but obviously cost is normally still the greatest guideline to use. 

Trends also change the way we work, for example, in kitchens, rather than tiles under cabinets as in years gone by, it is now mostly all splash backs; up-stands with a plastered wall behind.  

Ten years ago, house builders used to just tape and join, thinking this would save them money, but now taping and joining is not considered robust enough for day-to-day living, only plaster has the strength - tape and joining should really be left to shop fitting only. 

We have also found that new adhesives have changed how certain jobs are now done. 

Regulations for fire and acoustics are forever changing and will continue to, so as tradesmen we need to keep ahead of the game and constantly be informed with new products to make sure our work meets these standards and hopefully quicker, easier and cheaper too.

However, sometimes we find a new product comes out that is trying to solve a problem that is simply not there. If it is not broke why try and fix it?

KEY LEARNING POINT: Make sure you communicate with the householder, as they are increasingly becoming the specifier in private work of this nature. The advent of home improvement TV shows, the Internet and home improvement and self-build exhibitions has helped educate the householder.

Make sure all improvements to products that make life easier are effectively communicated; otherwise your great new product will sit on the shelf gathering dust.  It is equally important to ensure that the improved product is solving a real issue, not a made-up one.

Of course, it goes without saying how important regulations are to product enhancements and new product development.

What makes you decide to try a new product? 
It can be for a number of different reasons, but usually to solve a problem, to provide an improved finish or by customer request.

Also, if we feel that the product we use has a better alternative or if the product has let us down, a bit like one particular fire proof plaster product, which is really the only product on the market for this job but is expensive, hard to apply and has a high failure rate. It is not very good all round and we need another product that’s easier to use, if this happened, we’d definitely try the new product. 

It is not often we try a new product purely down to lack of availability of our regular products, as this is not normally a problem and we can also order from the Internet if need be.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Talk and listen to the users of your products to find out what would really help them and focus your sales and marketing on how your products solve these problems. 

Evaluate gaps in the market - where your experience and expertise could provide a better solution - in your product development plans. This might mean you move into a related product field you’re not currently in, but already have trust with the appropriate audience.

What keeps you loyal to a product? 
For it to do the job properly followed by price and finally consistency. We have had products in the past that have changed and for the worse.  If a product works perfectly, the price doesn’t get too expensive you stay loyal to it, it’s as easy as that.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Reliability and consistency are vital and you are more likely to retain customers if you don’t let them down. Treat them as you’d expect to be treated. It should be a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand.

Read part two here for his opinion on the building trade press, trade events, the internet and the support he expects from manufacturers and merchants.

If you're looking for a job in the building products industry, please take a look at our latest sales jobs. Or if you're looking to recruitment find out more about one of the leading construction sales recruitment agencies.

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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