When I wanted to open my own home improvement business, I was advised to find a supplier that really understands this industry.
It was good advice, and I did.
That supplier — let’s call it Supplier A — sold me windows and siding as well as coil stock, J-channel, gutters, downspouts, and all manner of accessories.
That’s just the beginning.
Supplier A set me up with bankers and finance guys, connected me with the right insurance people, helped me get state licensing, let me open a credit account, afforded me co-op discounts on volume purchases, and helped me find installers — installers are big time.
Supplier A helped me grow.
But it did more. Supplier A brought in different manufacturers’ reps to train me and my people. It provided assistance with marketing, selling, financing, installation, and customer service. If a supplier can help you do those five things, you’ll succeed.
So what does a supplier want for all this? Two things: The first is on-time payment. The supplier wants its money and wants to be paid on the agreed upon schedule.
I found out how crucial this is when I went over the deadline on the 30-day payment period. The whole attitude changed overnight. The supplier was still cordial, but I could tell the difference. I knew I had to get that straightened out immediately. And I did.
The second thing is loyalty. Loyalty matters — almost as much as paying on time. I found that out when I succumbed to the flirtations of a competitor. Call him Supplier B.
Supplier B had lower prices but nowhere near the level of customer service. B took me out to dinner and bad-mouthed Supplier A. “Why are you still buying from them? You know our prices are cheaper,” Supplier B said.
And B’s prices were cheaper, by 20% to 30%. But Supplier B offered nowhere near the same level of customer service or executive access. Soon after that dinner I casually mentioned to Supplier A that I was buying from his competitor. I swear he would have come across the desk and choked me. It took a while to wiggle my way back into his good graces.
I Can’t Promise You Anything
Here’s what I found out: You pay a little more and you get a lot more. This was especially true when it came to installation. As far as Supplier B was concerned, when I had problems with installation, B couldn’t help me. That supplier was interested in being at the lowest price and in making sure that I got the materials I had ordered. Once I had sold the job and ordered the materials, B’s interest waned.
For example, say I sold a job and needed to find a crew to install it. Supplier A would say: “We’ll call so-and-so and you can meet him here at my office,” and then followed up by making sure the job got installed properly.
Supplier B would say: “I can give you a couple of names, but I can’t promise you anything.” When you work out the logic of that sentence, I can’t promise you anything means I am promising you nothing. And nothing is what you often get.
Or say I had a problem getting a customer financed at a 640 credit score. Supplier B: “Have you talked to so-and-so at such-and-such?” versus Supplier A: “Who are you talking to and where? OK, let me make a call.”
I’m not saying that one company is necessarily better than the other. But the quality of the experience was on two different levels; it’s two different ways to do business.