The Makings of a Valuable Partnership

Distributors should be members of and actively support the associations on national and local level

The role of distribution has evolved dramatically over the years. Much more than a mere product source, a distributor, in order to meet the growing and changing needs of its customers, also must grow and adapt to stay current with the changing face of the supply chain market. Serving installing dealers and integrators not only as a distributor of products, but as a truly dedicated distribution partner, is a key to a distributor’s success and that of its customers.

The value proposition that distributors can and should bring to the channel is huge. Not only should they offer a vast and comprehensive inventory of products, they should constantly strive to expand the value-added services they provide to customers as well. A distributor should never lose focus on what the changing needs of the customer are in the marketplace. The menu of value-adds that Tri-Ed/Northern Video offers is extensive, and serves as a point of reference for outlining these critical value-added services every customer should be able to expect from its distribution partner. They include:

Customer service, technical sales support. Good, old-fashioned customer service will never go out of style. Although many dealers use the Internet to look at pricing and inventory, most prefer face-to-face interaction at the branch level for personalized service and technical expertise. Trusted relationships are important to helping dealers make their product purchases.

Keeping sales staff knowledgeable and trained in all the technologies is the duty of a valuable distribution partner. This involves sending staff to manufacturer facilities for product training on an ongoing basis. Distributors need to make sure they have the best people on staff who can talk to the customers in the most educated way to ensure their success when they’re laying out their projects.

Free and ongoing dealer training. Keeping customers competitive also is crucial. Training customers in new technologies and helping them compete in new arenas, such as the exploding IP sector, is key to their success. At Tri-Ed/ Northern Video, for example, we are training at any given time in the branches with our IP Road Shows, and with our vendor partners to help customers transition to that next space. One of the services we provide for our customers is programing IP cameras and sending them to the jobsite.

We have the technical expertise to configure the cameras and put together the switch or router the dealer needs to make the configuration happen. It’s important to deliver the same high level of technical expertise at the branch level as on the national level, and have a dedicated IP specialist at each branch, along with ongoing manufacturers’ demos. Delivering the best possible service and technical expertise to dealers must be part of the value proposition a strong distributor provides to its customers.

Credit. Dealers should be able to look to their distribution partner for much needed credit lines and flexible terms. While that has always been the case, in these challenging economic times, it is perhaps more critical than ever.

Next-day delivery. Getting customers the products they need, when they need them is crucial to their businesses. Warranty support. Dealers and integrators should be able to look to their distributor and leverage their strength to handle warranty issues quickly and efficiently.

Customer appreciation. The desire to meet and exceed customers’ expectation should drive the distribution business day in and day out. Appreciating your customers—showing them how much you appreciate them—is not just good business, it’s the right thing to do. It should go beyond the everyday things like prompt and friendly service, hot coffee, refreshments, Internet access at the branches and the like to make their day more pleasant. Hosting special events at the branch level such as customer appreciation days with special pricing, door prizes, barbeques and entertainment brings home the message to customers that they are valued.

Customer loyalty programs that reward purchases are another great way to give back to the customer base. Our Great Expectations program is a prime example of that. You never want to take your customers for granted. They are the most important part of your business, and are to be valued and appreciated all the time.

Aligning with strong vendor partners. While providing valueadded services are a pivotal part in the role of a distributor, providing the best possible product offerings remains at the core of a distributor’s value proposition. Partnering with industry-leading manufacturers to deliver the best product is priority. Offering a comprehensive line card is important as dealers and integrators want to have that one-stop shop. That means delivering to traditional security dealers what they need, but also expanding beyond security to data communications, and other, more high-end products systems that integrators need for full solutions contracting.

The industry is at a great point right now, both on the commercial and residential sides. Technology is driving much of the growth in the industry, especially with wireless technology and IP-based products. On the residential side, lifestyle enhancement features, such as streaming video so parents can monitor their children at home, are in demand. Touchscreen keypads are another important offering. The manufacturers have quality products that are really being driven on the technology side. But I believe a distributor should be careful not to carry so many of the same products that it becomes hard to distinguish one from the other. We try to limit the amount of partners so we bring a strong and meaningful mix to our customers. We’ve brought on several new vendors to round out the IP space of the market, as well as more video and intrusion products to make sure they get the right product for the job. We want to be a significant presence to our vendors, and we don’t carry every product line.

It’s important to keep a pulse on what’s happening within the local communities you have a presence in, know what is of importance and concern to your customers, what the pressing issues are and get involved. We are all in this industry and working together is so important.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Pat Comunale is the president and CEO of Tri-Ed.

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