Panel Discusses Distributor Relationships With Contractors At WRC

NAED’s Western Regional Conference hosted an incredible education session during the first day of the Western Regional Conference.  A panel of two contractors and two distributors took questions and talked about relationship building, new product launches, and new business.

The panelists were Mike Duffield, and contractor for Greenway Electrical Services, Timothy Young from Interstate Electric Supply, Scott Sulkotte, a contractor for K & F Electric, and Jim Schindler of Wholesale Electric Supply of Houston.


On what it is like to be a contractor:

Michael Duffield switched over from distributor to contractor. He says he now realizes that there are a lot of pressures from contractors to perform a certain way or to hit a certain number.  Contractors then go back to the distributor to get some of that help.

Contractors who are very open with that kind of information about their business usually have a better relationship with their distributor.

Duffield adds that he primarily uses just two distributors.  He is extremely loyal to them.  The value added they provide him is a huge help, including allowing him to have flexible terms, because some of his customers don’t pay every 90 days. So having that flexibility helps him stay in business.

On How Distributors Can Get Their Foot In The Door And Build Relationships

Duffield: “Its tough, and I tell them up front, get in touch with me electronically. I want an e-mail.  Also, if you have a new product, bring it to me directly.  Show me how it works.  Also, know who I am and know my business before you come see me.  Pull my information and don’t waste my time.  Also, if you have a product specialty and specialty people, you have a shot at new business.”  

Sulkotte: “We don’t want to do business with everybody in town. There are 3 main guys that I use.  And then there are a few others around town that I will use for their specialty.  I don’t have a need for another guy.  You have to give me an extra service that helps my company. There are some distributors that I don’t hear from for weeks unless I call on them.  And they are probably missing out on a lot of business because they are not calling.”

Schindler:  “When you go see a customer, know what you are good at. Know what you are better than everyone else at.  Whatever it is that makes you special, make sure everybody knows that.”

Duffield: “When a guy walks in the door and I don’t know who he is, is he hoping to catch me on a bad day?  He has to know what his specialty is.”

Young:  “Go and see 4 or 5 of the companies you want to work with, and see how you fit with them. Then you can focus on those things.”

On Buying From Amazon of Grainger

Sulkotte: “The only thing that I buy online is something that I can’t get locally. But most of the time I don’t have to do that.  Just because I think it is more about the relationship thing.  If they have it in stock and they have been taking care of us, that is the way I prefer to do it.”

Duffield: “Online purchasing is a small part of our business, but it is a part of it.  And as online keeps getting better, we are using it more.  I would say the percentage is around 10%, but it’s growing, and as websites get better, it will grow.”

Young:  “My viewpoint on online buying and selling is we must do a much better job of winning the market.  If someone is looking for a product, the first place my customers go is Amazon, and then Google. Distributors and manufacturers have to do a better job online because that is where people are getting their information now.”

On What Is The Preferred Way to Learn About A New Product And Get That Information Out To Contractors:

Sulkotte: “Sometimes a distributor will set up a short demonstration at a contractor’s office to show a new product.  But it is really hard to send someone to a job site and get everyone to stop working to show off a new drill.”

On What Are Distributors’ Top Value Added Services

Young: ” We will bring all of the materials into our warehouse, stage it and deliver it however you want it.  We try to be leaders in the market on new products.  We are always trying to find what we can do for our customers that others can’t do.”  

Young:” We do a lot of credit training and business training, sometimes one on one to try to help them keep in business.”

On Trying To Make A First Connection By e-Mail

Schindler: “The subject line and the first line of the e-mail better be great.  I don’t have the time to read through the whole thing.”

On If Distributors Do Any Vendor Scorecarding:

Schindler:” It is not a formal process, no.  At this point I am trying to hear from the top tier of my sales staff, and the comments are pretty consistent about what we are good at and what we are not good at.  We have not done a formal process, but the information we have is pretty consistent.”

Dufield: “One of the best questions I have ever been asked is how are we doing for you, what can we do better.  And I thought these people really value my business.”

On Training Contractors

Sulkotte: “Training is very important, especially with new products.  I am always willing to learn and stay on top of the latest and greatest invention to get the job done on time and at the lowest cost.  But I do not have a lot of time.”

On What Is The One Piece Of Advice For Distributors

Schondler: “Differentiate yourself.”

Sulktte: “Don’t waste my time,”

Young: “Know what your market is and what you do best.”

Duffield: “I’m busy, but I am not busy all the time.  But find out when I am not busy and you can get some time with me.  If you respect my time, I will respect your effort and try to make something work.”

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