The Benefits of a Good Contractor-Distributor Relationship
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Both contractors and distributors know that the roofing business may as well be called the relationship business. And the best ones know that mutual trust is something that must be earned and maintained — not taken for granted — especially today.
Dick Ezold of D and R Roofing understands this well. His distributor, fellow Massachusetts business owner Steve Field of Heritage Wholesalers, believes that trust is what drives their mutual success.
Trust is developed when another business goes out of its way to see that yours achieves success. Trust is paid off when both companies achieve their financial goals. In any relationship, no one will argue that trust can be a long road. Sometimes literally. Ezold and Field recall a particular jobsite eight states away that needed material delivered on a tight schedule with little time to spare. It is during those times of providing service above and beyond the call of duty that the long road begins to be paved.
“To meet D and R’s needs, we were required to extend ourselves beyond our normal service area — which posed significant challenges in terms of both timing and logistics,” Field said. “At that point, we had something to prove to that contractor. And we did it. Sometimes we know that the demands of our business mean last-minute deliveries or working outside of normal business hours. But we must be willing to do whatever it takes to help our customer get the job done.”
Sometimes helping customers get the job done goes beyond stocking and delivering materials. It can include sharing product knowledge or offering training sessions to be sure contractors are up to date on the most recent industry trends.
Because distributors are often the connection point between manufacturers and contractors, they typically are the first to hear about new products and techniques. Many contractors rely on the distributor to be a collection point for new information from manufacturers and industry experts, making a visit to the distributor’s showroom not only the destination for a shopping trip but an educational session as well.
“It’s very simple. The only way I make money is by being on the job,” Ezold said. “I need Heritage to be the eyes and ears of the industry for me. The key guy is my Heritage Branch Manager, Seth Lyons, who is terrific. I have to trust that Seth will have done the research for me, bring in the products I need to build my business and ultimately get me where I want to be — on the roof.”
Product Expertise, Training Opportunities
Intense competition in the marketplace intensifies the need for collaboration. Field points out the importance for any business to diversify to ensure viability long-term. He believes a good distributor can assist with that as well. As the contractors’ primary outfitter, it’s mutually beneficial for a distributorship to bring in other products, like siding, gutters, insulation, and photovoltaic products, that will increase the profit on a job.
Those opportunities extend beyond products, including product knowledge or training for new technologies. “Those hands-on training opportunities are invaluable, whether it’s a refresher on safety to keep my crews out of harm’s way, or the latest technology to do the job more efficiently,” Ezold said. “My distributor acts as that information-sharing contact with the manufacturer. He looks out for me.”
To that end, both Ezold and Field feel that it’s necessary to trust the manufacturer behind the scenes — and they understand the unique opportunities and the constant challenges that the contractor and distributor are presented with day in and day out.
“We have been very visible with our commitment to helping distributors differentiate themselves in a difficult market,” said Marty Jolly, Sales and Marketing Manager for GenFlex Roofing Systems. “A manufacturer that empowers a distributor creates a positive ripple effect across the industry.”
Jolly believes that working primarily through a trusted distributor benefits everyone.
“The truth is, the distributor is better equipped to service the contractor on a daily basis than we are. They’re local, they’ve got feet on the street, they can troubleshoot and make deals on the turn of a dime,” Jolly said. “What we can do is give our distributors the products, knowledge, tools and support that give them an edge — an edge they pass to the contractor.”
Of course, price is still going to play a significant role in the dynamics of how projects are awarded.
But the financial dealings of a strong and trust-based distributor-contractor relationship go much further than product cost. In fact, maintaining an established relationship under sensitive circumstances is the difference in many a business deal.
“Sometimes I rely on Heritage like I would a bank,” Ezold said. “If a customer is going to pay only after the job is complete, I need a distributor to provide a line of credit, because I can’t complete the work until I have materials.”
That arrangement requires a high level of trust.
“We need to trust that our contractors will be comfortable enough to keep the lines of communication open,” Field noted. “When we all do our part, it makes the process work smoothly for all of us, and it continues to bring business back to us and the contractor.”
So while cost will always be a dominant subject in any market, it’s clear that the dollar signs we see on a piece of paper don’t always tell the whole story.
“Sometimes contractors choose a distributor only for cost,” Ezold concluded. “You need to look beyond that to see who can produce what your needs require. And you need to know that the best distributor will always meet your needs. Those elements are more critical today than ever before. Trust me.”