CabinetMaker asked CIDA members what advice they'd give small shops about how to get the best service from a distributor. Not surprisingly communication plays a big role.

Speak up

CIDA distributors ask shops to speak up and share their concerns about all aspects of their business. The variety of resources available through a good distributor could surprise you.

"We're interested in not just being a vendor, but in helping our customers grow their businesses," says Joe Kearns, sales manager, C.H. Briggs. "When we understand what their needs are in terms of product, supplies and business initiatives, we can help them avoid surprises and ensure consistent supplies."

Kearns has been in the cabinet manufacturing business and knows intimately how painful it can be when surprises occur through unforeseen demand, or changes in customer preferences. "Our job as a good distributor is to be three to five steps ahead of the cabinetmaker so we're already recognizing what the demand will be in the future," Kearns says. "Through close relationships with our manufacturers and the design community we're able to provide insight into trends for our customers."

Show and tell

Kearns advises shops to "let us know where you struggle in marketing or technology and we can turn you on to creative solutions." Kearns also says shops should expect flexibility from their distributor in delivery times and the willingness to work with them on credit issues.

Many times when a distributor visits a cabinet shop owner there is a lot going on at that moment, and the owner doesn't have much time to talk. "My advice to the owner is to find some time, an hour or two perhaps, to set up a formal meeting with the distributor sales rep," says Greg Rewers, vice president of marketing, Louis and Company.

During that meeting, talk about the direction you are taking your business. Talk about your current needs and the needs you think your business will have six months, one year or two years in the future, Rewers says.

"Open the door, so to speak, for the CIDA distributor sales rep to describe all the ways his or her organization can assist you to meet your own business goals. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the meeting.

"It has been my experience that many shop owners do not take advantage of all we have to offer," Rewers says.

Get out more

Drew Grant, vice president of sales and marketing, Darant Distributing, advises shop owners to do what they can to get away from the shop environment and form a strong relationship with the distributor that calls on them. "Go to lunch or go golfing and pick the salesperson's brain to stay updated on new product. You can save a lot of time looking through catalogs and searching for new items."

Grant says a good distributor can explain, for example, how laminate is delivered to the distributor and the time required to receive stocked and non-stocked product. This information helps customers plan their business a little better, Grant adds.

"The more communication a shop has with us, the more satisfied they'll be," says Hearty Philips, sales manager, National Builders Hardware. He believes it's the salesperson's job to find out the company's needs and how they are changing.

"If they see a particular wood species or hardware finish is becoming more popular, they should let us know," Philips says. "The sooner they communicate that to us, the sooner we can respond with more options."

Philips also advises the customer to "Hold us accountable for the services we say we're going to provide." To get the very best service, Philips says, "Expect the best from us and if we ever fall short, let us know so we can fix it."

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