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Management And Training

Is Your Distributor Just A Vendor Or A Valuable Partner?

September 19, 2010
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Distributors can assist custodial professionals with equipment selection, training and technical support.

A good rapport with a knowledgeable distributor can save service providers valuable time and money.

While this statement is certainly true in regard to equipment purchasing decisions, a responsible distributor can offer many options to assist service providers.

In these uncertain economic times, sales and marketing efforts have created an abundance of information that often adds to purchasing confusion instead of reducing it.

Sifting through this information can be a daunting task.

Where can a service provider turn for assistance in determining the best options for their operation?

Manufacturer representatives are a valuable resource for service providers, but their views can be and often are biased.

After all, their livelihood is based upon the sales of their products.

Generally speaking, these individuals are both knowledgeable and ethical.

Their expertise, however, may be limited to their particular product offerings.

Representatives of equipment companies certainly know their equipment lines, but they may not be as strong in their knowledge of chemical lines.

The same is often true of chemical company representatives.

They know the chemistry, but are less familiar with the operation of equipment.

A distributor, on the other hand, is cognizant of trends pertaining to both chemicals and equipment.

This is just one example of the endless benefits a knowledgeable distributor partner can bring to your operation.

Because of corporate downsizing, acquisitions, mergers and setbacks, many manufacturers have fewer representatives than they did just five years ago.

The representatives that remain are covering larger territories with higher performance or sales expectations.

Scheduling a demonstration of a piece of equipment can become a logistical nightmare of endless phone tag.

To investigate other options, you have to repeat the process with each equipment line you are interested in exploring.

Not only can a qualified distribution organization answer your questions about what equipment type and size is best for your specific situation, they can also offer several options from various manufacturers for your consideration to ensure a proper match with your chemical lineup.

If properly qualified — and given the meeting is planned — most distributors can offer a demonstration of several models of recommended equipment at one time.

Now you''ve made your decision.

In today''s environment, no one is taking a purchasing decision lightly.

You''ve put your reputation on the line.

Any organization that does not understand, respect and support your position doesn''t deserve your business.

So, what happens next? The manufacturer representative will usually support the sale with in-service training.

But, how long does that take to schedule and how easy will it be to schedule refresher training?

Again, it is not that these folks are unwilling — they are simply spread very thinly and are in greater demand.

A reputable distribution firm will support the sale with in-service training, follow-up training, preventive maintenance programs and warranty support — and that''s just for starters.

So far, we''ve been looking at this from an equipment purchase angle.

There are many other areas where a strong distributor partner can — and really should — support your operation.

Evaluating A Partner

When considering a prospective new distributor or when looking at your current vendor, you should know what they can do for your organization in addition to delivering cleaning supplies and equipment.

Let''s face it — getting the order to your loading dock is the minimal bar of expectation.

What other indicators point you to a potential partner?

Consider the answers to the following questions when evaluating a distributor''s ability to meet your needs.

Not all of these topics may apply to your operation, but you should be comfortable with the answers you get to those items of greatest importance to you.

  • How long have they been in business and do they have a track record of helping you or operations like yours?

  • Can they provide you with a list of references to corroborate their claims?

  • Do they understand your operation and the challenges and issues you face daily?

Whether you provide in-house or contracted services, you need to work with people who fully understand your business.

Ask if your distributor employs anyone with operational experience who can offer insight on tackling issues similar to the ones you face.

Many distributors represent more than one equipment or chemical line, so inquire about the brands they carry and why.

Question whether the brands they carry are national or if they stock brands that are local or have a limited, regional reach.

  • Are they part of a national network of distributors authorized to participate with certain group purchasing organizations (GPOs) that affect your operation?

  • Do they have access to or do they participate in any state pricing or other programs that may benefit your organization?

  • Do they have their own service department and are their technicians factory trained?

  • Can they offer road service technicians able to repair equipment at your location and can they service equipment they don''t sell?

By sending a technician to service ill-performing equipment where it is used — rather than forcing you to bring it in for servicing — a distributor can save you money and lessen costly downtime.

Check if your supplier estimates repair costs and lets you know the total before the work is done and if they offer a preventive maintenance program for your equipment.

If they do, what is and what is not covered and what fees apply?

  • Does the company have a training department and what topics can they cover?

  • Can the distributor help with your regulatory training and can they support your operational training needs as well?

You should examine your distributor to gauge if he or she is knowledgeable enough to help you with emerging or "hot" industry trends such as green cleaning, cleaning for health, the H1N1 influenza A (swine flu) virus, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), etc.

  • Do they offer diverse ordering options such as telephone, fax and/or Internet?

In this age of identity theft, it is prudent to inquire as to whether or not their options include placing budget caps on Internet orders so you are contacted before a budget-busting order is shipped.

  • How knowledgeable are their customer service representatives and what qualifications — if any — do they have?

  • What delivery options and charges apply and can the distributor ship to multiple locations where you need the products?

  • Is there a fee charged if your order does not meet minimum spending requirements?

With fluctuating fuel prices and mounting "hidden" fees, you might want to also ask if they are still administering fuel surcharges.

Question how often they deliver to your area and what time their cutoff for next-day delivery is.

  • What billing options are available?

  • Do you receive an invoice for each order you place, or can they send you one summary invoice for the month so you only need to write one check?

  • What are their payment terms and what payment methods are accepted — company checks, cash on delivery (COD), credit cards, electronic fund transfers, etc.?

Finally, ask what industry organizations they support or sponsor.

Are they members or sponsors of ISSA, the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI), the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA), the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) or any other reputable organizations within our industry?

Finding a distributor that can provide all of these things may be difficult — if not impossible — in your area; but, of these things, which ones are most important to your operation?

A distributor in today''s market should be a partner — or at a minimum a consultant.

Hopefully you received a proud and reassuring "yes" to all the questions you marked important.

If your distributor were given a report card, how would you grade them?

If their score was anything less than spectacular, it might be in your best interest to find a distributor partner that can help you with more than just lessening the weight of your wallet.

Bill McGarvey is the director of training and sustainability for the Philip Rosenau Company, a JanSan distributor in suburban Philadelphia. Bill has over 30 years'' experience in the cleaning industry and is a Cleaning Management Institute certified trainer for the CMI Custodial Technician certification program as well as being certified as an official ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard and CIMS Green Building certification expert. He can be contacted at

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