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Management And Training

Working With Distributors, Suppliers, Representatives And Manufacturers

September 19, 2010
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Question:

What services and support should we expect from our local JanSan distributor, and would this be different if we were a school district instead of a building service contractor (BSC)?

Griffin''s Answer

Your distributor should provide you with whatever you need — and it shouldn''t make any difference what type of business you work for.

However, the reality of the situation may be totally different.

If you are a large-volume buyer, you''ll probably get better service than a gallon-at-a-time buyer; it''s not personal, it''s just economics.

Service and support from your local distributor should include such things as personalized training when and where you need it, product samples, equipment trials and free delivery to the far corners of the Earth.

What you have to keep in mind is that such services cost money and drive prices up at a time when many buyers'' first question is, "How much does it cost?"

The JanSan distribution industry has completely changed over the last 20 years, and most people wouldn''t say that the changes have been for the better — at least not as far as service is concerned.

A large number of distributors and manufactures have closed, merged or been bought up by other companies.

As this was happening, many of the older, more knowledgeable sales representatives who had been around for years, knew answers to technical questions — and how to do the work — and were willing to come out to a jobsite at any hour to provide on-the-job training, have died, retired or moved to other jobs.

What you have at many distributors today are order takers who only know what the computer screen tells them, and unless you place large orders on a regular basis, they may not even return your phone calls.

The industry has also been affected by the widespread availability of information over the Internet — in the past, the JanSan distributor was the only source of information regarding chemicals, supplies and equipment.

Distributors now face increasing competitive pressure from new players in the marketplace, such as mail order, catalogue and Internet firms as well as specialty stores and big-box retailers like Home Depot, Lowes and Wal-Mart.

My advice is to find a good distributor that meets your needs and continually supports those needs.

Krafft''s Answer

How can you, as a distributor, become more important to the end user?

Answer this other basic question: Are you promoting ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) and offering basic CIMS training sessions as a way to gain the respect and loyalty of the service providers in your area?

You cannot justly complain about failing contractors, unpaid supply invoices and under-priced, poor-quality workmanship if you are unwilling to extend the invitation to learn to do better to all who work in our industry.

Since ISSA developed CIMS, savvy manufacturers have had many of their sales people become certified experts.

This tactic is the basis for a plan of action to help the distributor to become an industry-advancing supplier.

First, ask your manufacturers'' representatives if they have ISSA Certified Experts (ICE) available to help you conduct CIMS briefing sessions for your end users, contractors and in-house customers.

If you are a sales representative reading this, resolve to alert all of the supply houses you deal with to the many ways ISSA and CIMS can help improve operations for their customers and sales for themselves.

Both the manufacturer''s sales representative and the distributor have future sales at stake.

Second, you will have to work hard to get people to pay attention and attend the briefing sessions.

Personal contact to explain the value of CIMS is essential if hardworking, time-pressed contractors are expected to respond.

Third, the CIMS briefing sessions need to be inexpensive — dare I say free?

The supply house should make a no-strings-attached offer because most contractors don''t have a lot of free time or cash, and to get them into a room for a few hours to listen — to what they are sure will be a cleverly disguised sales pitch — will be a major achievement in itself.

The ATEX questions we see daily indicate that there is a real thirst for knowledge in our industry and, additionally, that the thirst is still largely unslacked.

Can the distributor change that? We at ICAN believe so.


The International Custodial Advisors Network Inc. (ICAN) is a non-profit association comprised of industry consultants with a wide range of expertise in building management, indoor environmental and service disciplines. This network provides free janitorial and building maintenance consultation service to the industry through the Cleaning Management Institute®.

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