Dec. 9 2011 05:07 PM

What makes contractors choose to shop with one wholesaler versus another?

In the old days of exclusive territories, new innovations were available only at one or two distributors in each market area. If a particular distributor had access to the best items, he would get the contractors’ business.

Today, most product lines are available across multiple distributors in each area. Distributors have had to adapt their sales and service models to maintain contractor loyalty. Having the “right products” no longer guarantees a distributor a loyal base of contractor customers. Those who better tailor their selection, customer service and value-added support are better equipped to win the business.

Similarly, today’s contractors realize that low prices aren’t everything. If the distributor is a poor partner in supplying products reliably without hassle, the contractor ends up spending a lot more in downtime and lost opportunities. In a post-recession industry, smart contractors are beginning to tally the hidden costs in dealing with poor performing suppliers. They are beginning to shift preferences to those who make the entire relationship a breeze. Many have realized that choosing based on low prices quickly leads to problems.

Recent surveys by Strategic Force, Inc., point to some opportunities for distributors to better serve their customers.

Availability – Some distributors reduced inventories during the recession.

As business has picked up, they’ve been slow to adjust. Contractors report that they are shifting purchases to suppliers who consistently have core items. The costs of waiting can be especially painful.

Access – It’s no longer just about having locations that contractors can drive to.

Convenient access to supplies also means faster service at the counter, expedited delivery directly to the jobsite and even web-based access to pricing and inventory status.

Contractor expectations have increased dramatically.

People – Distributors with competent people continue to win contractor loyalty.

Professionals want suppliers who bring them new ideas that can help them capture more business and more profits. Contractors also expect distributor sales representatives to be instantly accessible by phone, email and even text message.

Training – Distributors who help the contractor train his employees and educate him about new trends continue to emerge as leaders. Those who offer the same tired educational programs (or none at all) are missing a chance to engage their most progressive customers in meaningful dialogue.

Communication – Distributors who have active efforts to engage and inform their customers with regular communication are consistently rated higher than those who don’t. Good communication should be two-way; the best distributors continually seek constructive feedback from their customers.

When distributor/contractor relationships work effectively, both parties prosper.

As you’re planning for 2012, don’t miss the chance to find win/win opportunities with your partners. EDITORS NOTE: Jeff Carowitz leads a landscape industry marketing agency. Find him on LinkedIn or at