by Jim Williams
Just last week, the FAA granted Amazon permission to test and experiment with certain drones for delivery. But, the online giant is about much more than that, as it tries to dig into the electrical contractor market through AmazonSupply.com. In this edition of Contractors’ Corner, we talk with a contractor about what he knows about Amazon and the future of e-commerce.
Nispols “Nick” Solomon, Purchasing Manager/Sr. Purchasing Agent from Tri City Electrical Contractors in Florida took time out of his schedule to talk with us about AmazonSupply. He has a strong opinion about not only the shopping giant, but online shopping in general. Here is our conversation:
Nick: I use Amazon when I have to buy odds and ends, but it’s usually stuff distributors don’t carry. Some of the things I’ve been buying are air actuate switches for the garbage disposal – so, I will go through Amazon to get something like that, but as far as AmazonSupply, I really haven’t paid that much attention to it.
tED: Have you ever been to AmazonSupply’s web site?
Nick: Well, I’ve got Amazon and Amazon Prime on here, but not AmazonSupply.
(He pulled it up for the first time while doing this interview)
Realistically, their website looks all right. It looks like it should be. As far as navigating, it’s a no-brainer. They have the standard pull downs. You can filter out, sort out your search, but … buying from them for any type of electrical would probably be a big no. The important thing, just like everybody else, is communication one-on-one with companies and sales reps.
AmazonSupply is great if you are in a pinch, but for me, you have to build a relationship. There isn’t a relationship if you are doing it on a computer. I’ll be honest with you. As fast as the world is growing with online businesses – where you can buy just about anything, I think people need to realize that at some point and time there’s got to be a relationship built besides just another number.
tED: Do the distributors you use now have websites? If so, what’s the difference?
Nick: Yes, they do. And the difference? I don’t use theirs either!
I’ve been told by the distributors if I ever need something I can actually go to the website, create an account and place my order and it will get taken care of … but my point of the matter is, if that’s the case, why do I need you? I’m not a big fan of – it has its pros and cons – but when it comes to daily business, I don’t want to be doing somebody else’s job.
Do you understand that you are actually asking me to put you out of a job? I’ve got these companies wanting me to do their job taking care of my order, and I’m not getting any benefit out of it. I told one distributor straight up, you want me to use your website to place my order? How much of a discount do I get? “Well, you guys already have some of the best pricing there is.” And, I’m like, yes, if I’m going to do somebody else’s job, I want more money off my order. Again, when it comes to this stuff, it’s a great idea, in my opinion, to retail. Nobody has the relationship with any store or business, retail-wise – where you actually build a relationship. Whereas, when you look at these businesses like Home Depot, we do buy things from Home Depot. Again, I deal with sales people and we are building a relationship. If this was strictly online, there’s not a relationship and I would have no loyalty.
tED: Are you aware of the one day delivery/Amazon Prime/other special features that AmazonSupply offers?
Nick: Actually, I am. I was just on Amazon a week or so ago. I understand they do a one-day service. I’m just not going to pay for it. I’d just as soon take the free shipping and wait five to seven days. I just don’t have that much money to throw out because I need it tomorrow.
tED: What could they do – AmazonSupply, or your distributors, to get you to shop online?
Nick: Unfortunately with me, and I’d have to say with people over 50, I don’t think they are going to get anybody. I think their marketing strategies aren’t directed at us. It’s directed more towards the 20-year olds and the 30-year olds. Everybody today – I would tend to believe everybody 35 and younger – everything they do is done off their phone, or off a web site. I think that is why Amazon is looking at this, because they know in about 20 years, those people are going to be the money people.
tED: In five years, do you see yourself using more online services?
Nick: No. But, for the generation of 35 and younger? Oh yeah. There is no doubt. They are so in tune right now – my kids are a good example of this. They are so used to not having a personal relationship with anyone because they are either texting or playing on Facebook. The younger generation is becoming less social when you are dealing one-on-one with people. Actually, they are becoming more social, but the relationships are virtual.
That’s how I look at it when it comes to business – I get a new outside or inside sales rep, we work together for years. We’ve met. We talk. And I don’t mean talk via email, I mean we either talk in person or over the phone, and to me that is just part of the old way of doing business. In other words, your word becomes your bond. Of course, in my position, being the purchasing manager, everything counts on my word being good – and not necessarily in an email. Will I eventually do more online? Yeah, I don’t think I will have much of a choice as the years go on, but I will try to buck the system the best as I can to beat that, because you lose a great deal of experience and … when we deal with people on a daily basis, besides getting to know people, you actually create a bond.
tED: On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the best – how would you rate the websites of distributors?
Nick: In general, it’s about a five. I’ve been on some websites that are just horrendous. Then you have someone like Amazon. Amazon makes it almost idiot- proof. I like theirs. Other websites, Best Buy, easy to work with as well.
As far as distributors in general, 50-50 – and they are getting easier, but I still prefer a one-on-one personal relationship. I try to meet with factory people all the time. My door is open all the time to any factory rep or factory person – and I’m always up front and honest with them. I am, by far, no genius when it comes to web sites, I do know that some of them are harder than others.
About Tri-City Electric
For over half a century, Tri-City has provided a level of personal attention, professional experience, timely performance and genuine value that has become Florida’s construction industry standard for excellence.
The company offers unparalleled and award winning expertise in commercial, office buildings, hotels, government, schools, medical, special projects, industrial, multi-family, residential projects and more. Based on sound business practices and management, Tri-City provides vast bonding capacity and human resources for projects of all sizes. Whatever the assignment, Tri-City can handle every project phase from initial design to final warranty.
With over 600 field and support staff statewide, Tri-City can handle any project from start to finish, from wire to wire — locally and throughout the State of Florida. Find out more about Tri City Electrical Contractors at tcelectric.com.