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Blog: Improving Relationships Across the Supply Chain

By Bridget McCrea

As vice president of Thomas & Betts’ distribution channel, David Dean has a bird’s eye view of how the company’s electrical distribution network interacts with other entities across the supply chain. And while many of these distributors focus heavily on developing strong customer relationships, some take a more holistic approach and create robust ties up and down their supply chains. “Not only are contractors involved,” says Dean, “but distributors also have end users, specifiers, and suppliers that all play critical roles in the electrical distribution supply chain. Companies really need to be able to cover all of the bases.”

Using Thomas & Betts’ own supply chain as an example, Dean says this designer and manufacturer of connectors and components not only has to build product, but it also has to get someone to specify it, buy it, and deliver it to the end user. “We go to market by trying to drive specs and work with contractors to help them save time and energy, find better ways to install, and figure out how to reduce their labor requirements,” Dean explains. “This is all done through the introduction of new and innovative products that help contractors manage their biggest expense:  labor.”

Achieving that goal isn’t always easy for the manufacturer, which is consistently challenged by the ongoing need to get new products into the hands of contractors. “Getting them to test out new products or break old habits is never easy,” Dean points out. “Some will take this step, but others won’t. They’d rather stick with what’s been specified.” This is an area where distributors can provide value, says Dean, and form even stronger relationships both with their suppliers and with their customers.

Acknowledging the fact that a distributor’s biggest investment lies in its inventory, Dean says Thomas & Betts also works to help those firms move product “off their shelves” in the most seamless, fastest manner possible. “When I look at distributorships, it’s amazing how many products that they have to be knowledgeable on,” says Dean. “As manufacturers, our role is to help create demand for our products. The more we do that, the stronger the manufacturer-distributor-customer relationships will be.”

Tapping into the Internet  
Dean says electrical distributors can also up their value and tighten their bonds across the supply chain by ramping up their e-commerce and mobile capabilities. Let’s face it, he says, contractors want and expect to have information at their fingertips via their mobile phones and tablets. If they can’t find what they’re looking for on your website – or, if the information is buried or otherwise inaccessible – they’ll click over to another site that does provide the desired product information, pricing, or installation instructions.

“Some manufacturers and distributors do it well and others don’t,” Dean points out. “Just like consumers are using Google to find things out and search for products, contractors are doing the same thing. The company that can help customers solve their problems quickly online is the one that is able to shore up the strongest relationship with those contractors.”

Dean sees the e-commerce aspect of electrical distribution gaining ground over the next few years and says that expansion could also impact companies’ ability to form strong supply chain relationships.

“As an industry, if we don’t watch out we’re going to have new, online competitors coming at us from every angle; that’s going to present even more challenges for all of us,” says Dean. “We’re all used to getting instant information and gratification, thanks to the Internet, and we have to continue to work together to take care of the customers – both online and offline. That’s going to be the key.”

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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