Distributors are the ones who can help make sure you have the equipment and supplies you need to get the job done on time and the right way. They also are known to give advice and offer training. To take advantage of that, you have to be willing to take the time to build a good rapport with them.Distributors across the country can lament the woes of having to deal with unprepared landscape professionals who expect the distributors to magically move mountains for them. We thought it would be helpful to hear directly from one of them how you can have an effective working relationship with a distributor and get the most from your experience.
Turf Equipment and Supply has been in business since 1979 and has four branches serving the Mid-Atlantic market. “We work with contractors, engineers, consultants, landscape architects and end users,” says Tim Cleary, manager of the landscape products group.
Prior to becoming manager, Cleary worked in the field performing irrigation installation and service for a contractor. He then owned his own irrigation contracting company for a while before getting into the products distribution side of the green industry.
Cleary has 35 years of experience, which he draws on when his customers come in with needs and questions about the projects they’re working on. Every segment and subcategory of the green industry — irrigation, landscape lighting, drainage, water features, outdoor living and more — fall under his purview. We asked him how contractors could maximize their experience with their local distributors, and Cleary answers our questions in this Q and A.
Turf Equipment & Supply snapshot:
Year started: 1989
Locations: Jessup, Maryland; Fairfax, Virginia; Frankford, Delaware; and West Chester, Pennsylvania
Products distributed: irrigation, lighting, water gardening, drainage, fountains, aerators, tools and allied products
No. of employees: 115
Q: How can a landscape contractor get the most from his visit to a distributor?
A: Plan ahead — two words that can mean a myriad things, but they’re so important for a contractor/ distributor partnership to work. Find a distributor you can trust and whose company culture aligns with yours. Partner with them and they can be a valuable resource for your company.
Q: How important is it to have a good rapport with your distributor?
A: It really depends on your size, level of experience and type of business. For some, it’s more important than others. Experienced contractors with large operations can be very self-sufficient. But small-to-midsized companies can really use the resources of a distributor. Having a great business relationship with a distributor will help your company be successful. Distributors really want to provide the best service possible as contractor success and growth is key to distributions’ success. Develop a relationship of trust with your distributor so you can share what is ahead for your company and they’ll be better prepared to help.Q: What are the most common reasons for landscape contractor visits? Are they usually planning for the entire season or on a project-by-project basis? Is one of those approaches better than the other?
A: A large percentage of what we see is last-minute chaos and a scramble to fulfill project needs — whether it be for a design, submittals, products, operations and maintenance manuals or record drawings. Distributors can be much better resources if they have advance notice.
Q: What are some common misconceptions landscape professionals have about their local distributor?
A: Funny true story — one day I was on-site with an irrigation contractor on a very hot, humid summer day. He says, “One day I want to have a job just like yours!” I’ll bite — I ask, “Why is that? What do you think I do all day?” The contractor responds, “You drive around all day in an air-conditioned truck and smoke cigars.” I still laugh about that to this day.
Other misconceptions: they think we have all products at all times; that we’re just sitting around, waiting for their call or that we have all kinds of lucrative projects we’re doling out. So yes — sometimes their expectations are unrealistic, but many times, that’s a result of equally unrealistic expectations coming from their clients. We’re now living in an “on-demand” world and that has affected our industry just as it has other industries.
Q: How involved do you get in helping contractors plan out their needs for a specific project?
A: We can be involved as much as necessary with the contractor. Every contractor has his or her own method of estimating and installing, so the conversation needs to focus on products, processes and techniques that are comfortable for the contractor.
Q: Do you find some contractors are more knowledgeable than others? What do you do to help educate your customers?
A: There is a gap in knowledge many times stemming from lack of industry experience or a lack of opportunity to grow in the business. We try to host training events in response to customer requests or what we think the market is needing. The best people in the industry are the ones who make the commitment to come to training — it’s usually the same group. The ones who should be there, the ones who need to be there, are the ones who make the excuses and never attend.
Q: What are some growing trends you are seeing in terms of product demand?
A: Manufacturers are creating product demand by concentrating on the contractors, specifiers and end users. There seems to be less loyalty to brands. With electronic media, customers are doing their research before they even inquire about purchasing a product. But distributors are still providing local access to the products as well as the support needed.
Q: When are you the busiest and how do you handle those busy times?
A: Our season usually starts in March and runs through December. March can be dicey weather-wise in our area, but people have so much cabin fever by then that they just have to get out and start working.
As far as the days go, it’s busy early in the morning, as customers are trying to get products for that day’s work. Another run comes midday when customers break for lunch.
There’s another rush at the end of the day when they’re grabbing a few forgotten items to finish a job or planning for the next day and grabbing materials.
Q: How is this season looking for you compared to other years?
A: The 2019 season is starting strong and looks robust. The weather can factor in as it did the last few years with all the rain the Mid-Atlantic area received.
Q: What do you during the off-season to keep the company’s doors open?
A: The off-season is one our busier times.
Between hosting training, planning for the upcoming season, attending industry events and most importantly, taking some time off, the off-season goes quickly!
Tim Cleary is manager of the landscape products group for Turf Equipment and Supply.
Do’s and don’ts for good contractor/ distributor relations
- DO build a friendly rapport with your distributor.
- DON’T think you’re the only customer that’s important.
- DO give your distributor advance notice of upcoming projects and product needs.
- DON’T assume that everything you need will always be on hand, especially at the last minute.
- DO take advantage of offered training.
- DON’T project your clients’ unrealistic expectations onto the distributor.
- DO share your future plans for your business with your distributor.
- DON’T fail to listen to the distributor’s good advice.