Contractors, Wholesalers, Work as a Team

April 1, 2003
I was in the office of my familys supply house early one morning last week when the phone rang. This contractor, who had done one radiant floor job five

I was in the office of my family’s supply house early one morning last week when the phone rang. This contractor, who had done one radiant floor job five years ago, had received our bid for another radiant job and called to discuss it.

We package our bids to include the tubing, manifolds, pumps, controls, heaters and other accessories. We did the heat loss and the tubing design. We had done the boiler room plumbing schematics and the control schematics. This dealer doesn’t do any of the above. He wanted me to deduct out the tubing and the heater, tell him the design and provide the schematics.

I lost my cool. I told him we sold working systems. Our systems are complete and we guarantee their performance. I asked him to go buy a new truck, but tell the auto dealer to take out the engine, the tires and the seats, and to just let him know what their specifications had been and guarantee the truck performance. If he did his own design, I would be happy to sell him the items he specified. However, if I spend the hours on the drawings and design, I charge for it in the products I sell.

Radiant floor heating or other forms of hydronic heat must be seen as systems. It’s not a boiler and some tubing, it’s a heating system. Each component is significant, and one component mistakenly applied can keep the heating system from working properly. The system takes a bad rap for the problems from one component.

We sell hydronics through a team approach. This means more than being one of the players in the distribution chain. The wholesaler must play his part in order to support the contractors. We must be able to sell complete systems — everything needed for the system. As a team member, the wholesaler must be a valuable asset if he wants the loyalty of the dealer in return. If the wholesaler and the dealer can work together as a team, they will see exponential growth, especially with radiant heating.

Each wholesaler must be committed to a business philosophy that says we care about our customers. If the distributor isn’t committed to the dealer’s company, they both can suffer. I’ve seen too many trade articles and surveys that suggest that loyalty is a thing of the past. Dealers don’t trust wholesalers, wholesalers don’t trust manufacturers, and the distrust goes both up and down the distribution chain.

It seems that our industry has seen a definite shift in loyalty among the members of the chain, and a lot has been lost because of this shift. This is a bad trend and usually leads to less communication and cooperation. I’ve known of wholesalers who are afraid to train the dealers because they won’t "need" them any more.

Our company believes that we must develop mutual trust and mutual reliance with the contractors we serve. Wholesale distributors want and need the loyalty of their contractor customers and must themselves be loyal and act with integrity toward their dealers. There are several ways to develop and maintain loyalty from the dealer contractor. Dealers, see if you agree.

  • First, wholesalers must be genuinely concerned and interested in their contractors. We must find out what’s important to them, get to know them, ask them how they fared on a job. We must be willing to spend the time it takes to listen, try to understand their perspective on business and where we can best meet their needs. Owners and managers can’t rely on their sales staff being the only connection and communication with their current and potential customers.
  • We must support our dealers before the sale. If the contractor has never sold a boiler or a radiant floor system, we must offer to work with them through site visits and schematics to design and bid the job. Our company provides plumbing schematics with our material bid so our customers can safely bid the job. We ‘ll go with them to meet the consumer, if they wish, and answer questions about design, installation, and controls. In addition, wholesalers must give contractors installation manuals in advance.
  • We must support them during the installation by providing electrical and plumbing schematics to ensure the system will operate well and perform as designed. If it’s at all possible, we go out to their jobsites and train them on installation practices and make suggestions. On commercial sites, our team will meet with the general contractors and cover all the issues that need to be addressed during construction. Problems cost everyone money. Communication gives everyone the best opportunity to earn the profit they deserve. Both parties need to talk about what inventory is required before it’s needed. (We sell more than 6,000 line items.)
  • We must make startup of these systems reasonable. Our company strives to design systems so they can be purged easily, started up, tested, and balanced in the shortest possible time. We will go on site to assist the dealer, and because we thoroughly know the system, we can greatly reduce the time it takes to work out problems. Usually, we can prevent miswired controls or misunderstandings on the plumbing.

A valuable wholesaler must know the application and service of his products. The dealer should be able to get the answers to most questions about the proper application and installation from his wholesaler. We have more than one person to answer questions, hold training sessions, and share any tech bulletins when they come out. We pride ourselves on being able to troubleshoot our products.

When it comes to warranties, the wholesaler needs to be an advocate for his dealers. Every distributor walks the line on warranty. Many manufacturers take a strict stance on warranty, while the consumers expect a warranty to cover everything and last forever. A loyal wholesaler is willing to go to the manufacturer with special circumstances, history and information that will help the dealer to satisfy his customer.

Contractors will be loyal to a supplier with integrity. If we design and bid the job and, heaven forbid, we make a mistake or forget components, we admit it and provide the parts at no charge. We’re prepared to help the contractor with his labor costs.

We recently provided the second half of a commercial job at no charge because we left it off the bid. It wasn’t the contractor’s fault. It hurts and costs us money and sleep. We often times sell our teammate parts at or below our cost when the contractor misses something. If you’re a team and loyal to each other, you’ll both win.

Larry Lang is vice president of Heating & Cooling Distributors Inc. in Overland Park, KS. He can be reached at 800/255-4383 or at [email protected].