The Professional Channel Offers What Retailers Can’t

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Let’s face it. The way that Americans shop has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon to online retailers and delivery services. Consumers who are leery about walking into a store will buy online for delivery or order it for curbside pickup. You and your family members probably ordered something online today. There’s a temptation to let that drift into your professional life as well, but it may not work for securing the brands or quality of products that you are used to securing and providing to your customers.

Plumbing wholesalers must acknowledge that home improvement retailers are not going to go away. But both plumbing wholesalers and plumbing contractors must realize that they, themselves, are offering their customers so much more than a product. Anybody can offer a product for sale but wholesalers and contractors succeed by offering services that the competition either cannot or will not offer.

The big box stores are doing their best to offer services and incentives that mimic those offered by plumbing wholesalers. The issue for now, however, is they can only offer these in a general, corporate way, while the local wholesaler takes great pride in knowing the personality and needs of its contractor customers. A wholesaler knows who those contractors are, what their specialties are, what they want. They know what their customers buy, and they don’t have to look it up in their computer records because they and their counter people have an ongoing business relationship with their contractors. They interact with contractors and their plumbers all the time and deliver to their shops or jobsites.

Another avenue for wholesalers to create relational equity and provide value is to provide on-site training, by leveraging manufacture resources. Heating and plumbing manufacturers and wholesalers realize that one of the best ways to form lasting relationships with contractors is to offer technical training. Contractors will sell products with which they are familiar and comfortable; that’s how they make a profit. If a product is difficult or confusing to install or results in call-backs, they won’t sell it. Homeowners are doing their homework online on space and water heating systems and, while they are well-informed, they certainly don’t know as much as contractors. Contractors must be able to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of their products so that they can discuss, with confidence, why their customers should want to buy what they’re selling.

The way to get that recommendation is through training. Plumbing wholesalers should be set up to offer training, both in-person and virtually. Most training has become virtual because of COVID-19 and we will undoubtedly see some of that continue in the years ahead. It’s incumbent on wholesalers to have the equipment to record video training or to livestream training to their customers. But they should also invest in a proper classroom setup in their facilities in which manufacturers’ trainers and reps can conduct in-person training.

Distributors should emphasize the inventory management and financing services that they offer. They can help contractors keep up with code changes and changes to licensing requirements in their area. They can inform contractors about manufacturers’ rebate offers or give them advice on postcard mailings and other marketing tactics. Everything you do and every bit of information you can provide to help your contractors creates that level of “stickiness” that makes it hard for them to want to go elsewhere.

When thinking about the differences between a local plumbing wholesaler and a big box store, contractors should think about the differences between themselves and a big box store. Any homeowner can walk into a big box store and buy plumbing products. Some will install what they buy on their own and others will reach out to their handy friend.  The biggest trend here, however, is that consumers are walking into the box store to buy their plumbing and HVAC needs and the installation that goes with it.  It’s one-stop shopping for the consumer.  The box stores have swung away to a degree from the DIYers and have now positioned themselves as the seller and installer for today’s consumers.

But what wholesalers offer is individualized support and personal relationships. When one of a contractor’s customers has an emergency on a Saturday night, the contractor has the cell phone number of the wholesaler manager who’s going help them get the replacement equipment they need. Some wholesalers even have formal 24×7 programs to address both residential and commercial emergency installations or repairs. Try doing that through a big box store.  And when it comes to a homeowner installing his new bathroom or kitchen, some wholesalers have showrooms they can walk through to find unique fixtures that they will never be able to get in a retail environment.

Bradford White continues to count on wholesale distribution to support the professional specification and installation of its products. Our distributors bring a level of service and support to the equation that keeps contractors coming back and helps them better serve the end-user.

GUEST BLOG BY:  Matt Kozak, Vice President – Sales for Bradford White Water Heaters. 

A graduate of Loyola College in Baltimore, Matt joined Bradford White in 2007 as a regional sales manager in the southeast.

He progressed to become director of sales for the Eastern U.S. and now oversees sales management and business development teams as vice president of sales for the U.S.

Matt has been actively involved in industry organizations such as the American Supply Association (ASA) and the Association of Independent Manufacturers’/Representatives, Inc. (AIM/R).

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