A Business Marriage of Choice

Dec 3, 2009

This is no Oprah, Dr. Phil or Barbara Walters take on relationships because this is business. But business is personal, too, in understanding the rules of business engagement, and what each party needs to understand about the other.

Restyling asked a select group of suppliers and restylers just three questions about their mutual give-and-take relationship, because sometimes, like in a longtime marriage, neither always clearly hears what the other is saying.

Well, here is what some of you are saying to each other.

First, what do restylers have to say?

RESTYLERS
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What should retailers expect from their suppliers/distributors?

We want suppliers from where we can have personal contact for problems and that have a minimum of back-orders. And, of course, we expect the lowest pricing available.

Steven Wallace
Auto Trim Design of MTGY
Montgomery, Ala.

Knowledgeable sales staff (they need to be trained with their entire line); quick response times (if you need an answer for a customer, you do not have time to wait for your salesperson); quality parts; quick delivery time and priced to be competitive (we all have to compete with the Internet – you can be a little higher for the service, but it is too easy for them to order it themselves if the price is too high). The biggest problem we have with distributors is billing- they all have to be watched way too much.

Clay Locke
Truck Treats
Farmington, N.M.

Customer service, product that is in stock, no-hassle returns and easy billing -30 days.

Mike Midence
Car Boutique
Chicago

[Excellent customer service, consistent product quality, easy billing, personal attention, quick resolution of any problem] are givens in this day and age. How about a website library that allows me to go in and “cut and paste” an ad together that allows me to put on sale what I want. I would then print it on my paper and at my expense. Currently we can buy several programs that give us universal fliers; we can mail them or have them mailed. The problem is a customer always wants the parts the warehouse does not even stock that they put inthe flier to please a manufacturer. Regarding current catalogs and price lists: Do you have any idea how frustratingit is to call for current a catalog or price list and have one sent that’s older than the one you have? Happens all the time. If we call the manufacturer, they tell us to call our warehouse. Regarding salesmen that comein and give a features and benefits talk to counter staff- not in the middle of the day. How about a phone call letting us know a salesman is coming so we can plan time to listen? Pictures of other willing shop owners of their displays that look good and work for a given product line.

Jerry Panek
Predator 4WD LLC
Colorado Springs, Colo.

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What should your suppliers, etc. expect from you?

No late payments and as few returns as possible. They [we] need to be low-maintenance.

Steven Wallace
Auto Trim Design of MTGY

Planning ahead. It is not their problem if you do not have your parts [inventory/ordering] together. Also to keep a good relationship, payments need to be on time. You also need to know your parts and not rely on the warehouse to get it right all the time. Order the right part the first time.

Clay Locke
Truck Treats

Fast payment, accurate ordering, e.g., fax or e-mailing orders; and [have] courteous phone manner.

Mike Midence
Car Boutique

Loyalty – don’t beat up a supplier. Calling three warehousesto see who will beat whose price. Truly have a first-call warehouse. I believe the saying, “To get good customer service you have to be a good customer.” Paying on time is a given. Be understanding when a problem occurs – not every shipment will go on time and complete. We all still work with humans and mistakes happen.Don’t call [a supplier] for every question; it’s part of our job to know the products, too -¦ the more we call, the less time they have to answer questions completely. (Sending out a trained sales staff [to inform us about] features and benefits would help with new product lines. See my answer above in [the first question].) Let [suppliers] make money; if they give you a price break on brand A, don’t bend them over for a product line you buy one of a year. [Offer] feedback on how [suppliers] could help us buy more product from them.

Jerry Panek
Predator 4WD LLC

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What one or two things do you think could improve the pipeline of commerce between retailer and supplier?

The biggest source of irritation to me is the fact that I have to pay a fuel surcharge every day the truck delivers to me. Three trucks delivering five days a week at approximately $10 per truck per day really adds up at the end of the month.

Steven Wallace
Auto Trim Design of MTGY

Get people on both ends that are exited about what they sell. People that are not into the industry are not going to care how your customer’s vehicle turns out or if it’s the right part. People that customize vehicles themselves will have an easier time knowing what works and what does not.

Clay Locke
Truck Treats

Sales reps from the manufacturer that actually go out on sales calls to meet their customers.

Mike Midence
Car Boutique

Is now the time to say honesty and integrity? It works both ways;talking to warehouses or manufacturers and to hear that they don’t trust what some of their customers tell themsays a lot about our industry. We have always been fair, and ask the same; because of that we have always been treated fairly. Stories we hear of others who aren’t so lucky makes we wonder why.If that doesn’tanswer your question, how about this: We have been involved with several “councils,” sitting next to competitors. Straight talk and an exchange of ideas at these meetings is unbelievable-much like these question you ask, it gets us thinking and building off others’ comments.

Jerry Panek
Predator 4WD LLC

SUPPLIERS
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What should retailers expect from their suppliers/distributors/subcontractors?

Product should always be in stock. Quality should be reliably consistent. Knowledgeable sales staff is vitally important, as well, so updates in availability of new models and product should be readily available. If there’s a technical question that relates to the product being sold, available and immediate answers go a long way.

Julian Maimin
CEO
BAK Industries
San Fernando, Calif.

First of all, retailers should expect products that install easy, fit right and provide great value to their customers. Excellent customer service and consistent product quality are things we’re regularly told by our retailers that we deliver and, frankly, are pretty much the price of entry in today’s market. Extang also prides itself in our retailer relationships: This is so important because the retailer is where the decision to purchase our product vs. a competitor’s is made. Our retailers should expect to see us at the various trade shows to demonstrate new product or answer any questions they may have. They also should expect regular visits by our sales managers and our sales reps to ensure that their staff has the latest knowledge of our products, POP items and training. It’s the personal attention and relationship that is the key to our mutual sales efforts.

Steve Kelley
Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Extang Corp.
Ann Arbor, Mich.

In business, generally, it is always important to make priority the continuation of improvement in all areas of business, customer service, product quality and delivery – but in today’s competitive marketplace, it is essential. Retailers have several choices of distributors and they will work with the distributor who, first, has the product on hand, who is easy to work with, and who responds to their issues with a quick and fair resolution. Retailers should expect their distributors to service their needs in all aspects of business, and they should remember it must be a win-win relationship.

Debra Holdampf
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Stampede Products
Camanche, Iowa

Retailers should expect creative marketing campaigns that drive business to their stores and websites, along with efficient business systems that use resources wisely. Wasted time and energy at any step in the distribution chain either inflates prices or reduces margin.

Mark Heintskill
Marketing Director
Steffens Enterprises Inc./Fold-a-Cover, Style Step & Personal CaddyCaledonia, Mich.

First, let me explain that our seat heater kits are not sold through retailers; they are sold to trimmers and installers who then install them in their customers’ vehicles. These people and anyone who deals with Check Corp. already know they can expect excellent customer service, consistent product quality, easy billing, personal attention, quick resolution of any problem and more. We give them new products and new ideas to give them the edge in the marketplace. We are always looking down the road; our customers know that Check Corp. means innovative thinking, future planning and the financial stability to make it happen. We also know they have come to expect innovation from us, and that keeps pushing us into the future.

Bob Check
Check Corp.
Troy, Mich.

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What should you as a supplier expect from your restyler shop clients?

Consistent payment, accurate lead times, an open understanding of what their products are being used for and how they might be improved to further support our needs.

Julian Maimin
BAK Industries

Retailers should ensure that their entire staff is as knowledgeable about the products they sell as possible. They should keep the latest literature and applications guides on hand (removing those that are outdated) and maintain displays in good, clean working order. They also should have excellent after-the-sale service – knowing how to order service parts and handle all warranty concerns promptly and courteously.

Steve Kelley
Extang Corp.

As a manufacturer it is our responsibility to educate the customers on the products we offer, and to supply them with clean data, to aid in their success. In return, we appreciate annual or biannual projections, prompt payments and open communication from the customer, as it allows us to service their needs in an active mode instead of reactive. In today’s plastic market, where resin suppliers are discontinuing certain types of plastics, forcing manufacturers to search out alternatives and allocating other resins, it is more imperative then ever to have good communication at all levels of distribution.

Debra Holdampf
Stampede Products

Suppliers need accurate and complete vehicle application information to process orders efficiently and avoid shipping the wrong products. Retailers need to provide suppliers and manufacturers with up-to-date e-mail addresses and contact information to take advantage of electronic ordering, acknowledgements, ASN and tracking information.

Mark Heintskill
Steffens Enterprises Inc./Fold-a-Cover, Style Step &Personal Caddy

We look for installers and trimmers who think like we do. Are they innovative, are they committed to using and selling our products, and do they run a financially sound business? We also look for feedback from our accounts as our eyes and ears in the field. They tell us what people are looking for and what is new in the marketplace. Their input is an essential element in our product planning and forward thinking.

Bob Check
Check Corp.

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What one or two things do you think could improve the pipeline of commerce between retailer and supplier?

If the retailer was fed with more information and was trained correctly by their respective supplier, it would likely constitute improved overall sales and confidence. A retailer will sell what they’re comfortable selling and installing, even if it’s not the best or most profitable product choice.

Julian Maimin
BAK Industries

Extang has been focusing on expanding our authorized dealer program to improve the pipeline of commerce. First, we’ve grown the number of authorized dealers we have in place. Our authorized dealers are selected retailers within a territory and we provide them top billing on our dealer locator, and load them with POP items and literature. Extang authorized dealers receive quarterly promotions, e-mails and a monthly outbound phone call from our customer service department personnel. We’re now focusing on a higher level of overall service we provide to them and implementing an evaluation process to ensure that the ongoing level of sales and service they provide to the customer is very high. We believe that a strong authorized dealer program will improve the pipeline of commerce.

Steve Kelley
Extang Corp.

It is necessary for both the retailer and supplier to understand what the consumer wants and what it takes to create and cultivate those wants. The suppliers must develop new products to spark the desire of the consumer. At present, distribution does not stock anything new unless the retailers, via the consumer, request it. Every buyer goes to SEMA looking for that exciting new product which they feel the consumer is looking for. If the world were perfect, every new product could be pushed in front of the consumer. Because of the expense of national advertising, it limits new product exposure. This is an advantage of eCommerce retailers – products can be presented at much less expense. It is up to the supplier to have the required supporting information and images available. Currently, brick-and-mortar retailers must be kept on top of what is available. Distributors need to improve the communication methods of delivery of information and new products to their retailers.

Debra Holdampf
Stampede Products

Suppliers and retailers need mutually beneficial relationships for their respective businesses to grow. Working together to resolve consumer issues is very important. There is a cost of doing business for both retailers and suppliers; if either party assumes it is not their responsibility to correct the end user’s problem, they will both lose a customer. Correcting consumer complaints is costly; ignoring them or passing the blame to someone else is more costly in the long run.

Mark Heintskill
Steffens Enterprises Inc./Fold-a-Cover, Style Step &Personal Caddy

I think there are two things, communication and trust, and they really go hand in hand. We strive to build personal relationships with our customers that are built on mutual respect. When we have that, we can both work together and be stronger. It’s really a win-win situation.

Bob Check
Check Corp.