by Matt Michel
Big Daddy Manufacturer is easy to like. Big Daddy takes you on trips, buys you meals, invites you to meetings, and gives you plaques. Big Daddy gives you key chains, pens, caps, and tote bags with his logo on them. Big Daddy pats you on the back, pumps you up, and tells you you’re wonderful. It’s easy to like a guy who does all that.
Big Daddy doesn’t stop there. He sends people to your shop to share the latest jokes. He makes useful suggestions to help your sales. Big Daddy says he’s your best friend, your pal, your best buddy.
Big Daddy’s not a friend. He’s only a supplier. Big Daddy wants to move boxes. As long as you help him move boxes, you’ll get along fine. If he sees an opportunity to move more boxes without you, he’ll dump you faster than ESPN dropped Limbaugh.
Lots of contractors are seduced by Big Daddy. They think they’re married, but it’s really just casual dating. And Big Daddy likes to date around, though he wants you to date him exclusively.
It’s All About Boxes Out The Door. Manufacturers are motivated by two factors: boxes out the door, and quarterly earnings. The constant demand to move product and to dance to pipers on Wall Street exerts tremendous, unrelenting pressure. Time horizons are short. Long-term implications of policies are considered, but often discarded. Why should an executive worry about the five to 10-year impact of an idea when he’ll lose his job in six months if he fails to produce now?
As a result, HVAC manufacturers suffer from corporate attention deficit disorder (CADD). Promises are sincerely made, but written in sand. A corporate reversal is possible with every change at the top, and some manufacturers flip executives so fast that people joke about the president of the week.
In the past, manufacturing executives didn’t suffer from CADD. They were industry insiders. Executives came up through the ranks. At some point in their careers, they sat belly-to-belly with contractors in their shops. They understood the contractor is where the rubber meets the road. They understood the contractor determines the brand of components (i.e., condensing units, heat pumps, and furnaces) that go into an installation. They understood that end quality is a function of installation, not component construction.
Big Daddy Doesn’t Understand You. Lately, an industry inferiority complex has led many manufacturers to seek talent outside the industry. This new breed may understand big box retailing, but they don’t have a clue about the problems, attitudes, and needs of an independent contractor.
Thus, Big Daddy’s judgments and policies are set by people who may have never crossed the threshold of a contractor’s shop or ever met a real, honest-to-goodness service technician. As a result, Big Daddy gives little (if any) thought to the contractor. The contractor is not seen as a “customer.” The contractor is abstract, an intermediary step in the distribution channel. “Customers” are either distributors or consumers.
Big Daddy sees contractors as children who must be managed, disciplined for bad behavior, and rewarded when they do well. Like a parent considering a cross-country relocation, Big Daddy assumes that his dealers may grumble, but will be forced to go along with any move Big Daddy makes. The dealers will adjust. If some don’t, if some rebel, then Big Daddy will simply change them out.
Face Reality. Big Daddy thinks nothing of promises made in the past. Big Daddy sets up your competitor down the street after promising not to. Big Daddy reassigns extended warranty customers to your competitor after promising not to. Big Daddy buys your competitor and starts competing directly with you. Big Daddy tries to open new channels, selling to utilities and retailers.
The answer isn’t to get mad at Big Daddy. He doesn’t care. Getting mad helps your cardiologist’s business, not yours.
Instead, see Big Daddy realistically. You can work with Big Daddy, just like other suppliers. But remember, no matter what he says, Big Daddy puts his short-term interests ahead of yours. Don’t be seduced when Big Daddy whispers sweet nothings in your ear. He won’t remember them in the morning.
Think your manufacturer is different? It’s true that all don’t act like Big Daddy. One or two seem to get it. One or two seem to understand that the surest path to long term success is through a strong, successful, and loyal dealer base. However, Big Daddy used to think that too.
It’s not Big Daddy’s responsibility to ensure you succeed. It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t depend on Big Daddy. He’s not your friend; not really. Depend on yourself.
This rant is solely the cynical opinion of Matt Michel, CBW (chief bottle washer) of the Service Roundtable and author of Comanche Marketing, a widely read marketing e-zine. If you’d like to respond to this rant, send your email to [email protected]. The Service Roundtable is a large private contractor group. For more info, visit www.ServiceRoundtable.com.