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The Distributor-Contractor Relationship: Building a Strong Foundation

By Bridget McCrea

Strong distributor relationships are of utmost importance to Bruce Seilhammer, electrical construction services group manager at Camp Hill, Pa.-based SECCO, Inc. Without these strong, lasting bonds, Seilhammer says being an electrical contracting firm in today’s competitive business environment would be extremely challenging. “Our distributor relationships are hugely important,” says Seilhammer, “and something that we definitely value very highly.”

Using payment contract terms as just one area where distributors add value to SECCO’s projects, Seilhammer often has to confer with suppliers when those terms come into question and/or are altered in the middle of an active project. “In today’s economy, the owners or generation contractors are extending 30-day terms to 45 or 60 days,” says Seilhammer. “We have to work with vendors who can manage those kinds of changes.”

Some distributors step up to the plate in these situations, says Seilhammer, and others don’t. Those that fall into the former category are often remembered and called on to supply products and services on future jobs. “We need suppliers that are willing to go the extra mile to help us do our jobs. When that doesn’t happen, it’s time to move over to a replacement source.”

Tackling Technology
Seilhammer says a distributor’s tech-savvy and e-commerce capabilities can also help strengthen (or some cases, diminish) the contractor-supplier relationship. “All of our foremen have laptops and smartphones now,” he says. “They’re firing off purchase orders all day and night, and asking our distributor partners to deliver the goods to our jobsites.” Most distributors are answering the call, says Seilhammer, and keeping their web presences and technology capabilities up to date and enabled. “Most of them are on the ball and paying attention to trends.”

Inside sales reps can also help strengthen distributor-contractor relationships, according to Seilhammer, who says many SECCO employees have formed close ties with individual reps – to the point where when that rep is out of the office the employee may call on an entirely different distributor for help. “Our guys know who the helpful, knowledgeable reps are,” says Seilhammer. “When those reps are on vacation or otherwise unavailable, their employer may be bypassed in favor of an entirely different distributor.”

When it comes to stocking products, Seilhammer says distributors could make themselves even more valuable to electrical contractors like SECCO by cutting down on and/or avoiding altogether the number of backorders that his firm deals with. “When we put in an order for materials we usually need it right away to be able to complete a job,” says Seilhammer. “When a backorder rears its head, it puts a challenge on us and a burden on our guys out in the field. In most cases we have to go to Plan B – with another supplier.”

Troubleshooting Problems
At Tera-Byte Technologies in Aloha, Ore., distributors have to prove that they’re capable not only of fulfilling orders, but also of offering outstanding service and working hard to develop long-term relationships with the contractor. They also have to be troubleshooters that are armed with the tools and solutions required to help the contractor through rough spots. “In most cases it’s not about whether they have the materials,” says Dave Gilson, owner. “It’s about whether they are there to help us when things go wrong.”

And boy do things go wrong in the construction field, where even a minor mix-up or part failure can hold up progress on an entire project. “If I get the wrong part, I need to know that my distributor can fix the problem quickly,” says Gilson. “That’s how the company earns our business.” In fact, Gilson says such troubleshooting is infinitely more important than any sales calls and new product presentations that his distributors can provide.

“I don’t need a salesperson to call on me, but when something goes wrong I want someone who responds quickly and gets me out of the situation,” says Gilson. “Some distributors do this very well and others don’t.”

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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