Aug. 11 2021 10:26 AM

Team up with distributors to tackle tough supply and price issues.

Landscape and irrigation industry professionals faced multiple challenges in the past year. Whether it was due to the pandemic or an increased workload, two trends held steady for almost everyone: Prices were rising and supply was getting tight.

When faced with the struggles of increased costs and vanishing product, contractors should remember they have an industry ally that can lend a hand: the distributor.

Strong distributors are going to maintain a keen sense as it relates to the global commodity supply markets and production trends with product manufacturers, acting as eyes and ears for what’s happening in the supply chain, says Brian Rowan, vice president of category management for SiteOne Landscape Supply, Roswell, Georgia.

“Some things are going to be difficult to forecast precisely,” he says, “but the distributor should really be working hard on behalf of the contractor to provide guidance on timing and supply issues before they actually happen.”

The goal is to communicate about issues before they happen so the contractor can discuss those concerns with clients. Rather than just listing the new increased cost to customers as they come in, there’s a conversation in advance with insights about the market’s outlook, he says. The best distributors are always looking for more updates to help keep customers informed, leveraging strong relationships with manufacturers.

“A strong distributor is going to have the resources to bring in more inventory to stay ahead of any pending issues that might come down the road,” to take care of customers in the case of a supply shortage, he says. That can be especially helpful if contractors don’t have the space to keep extra supply on hand.

Brainstorming together

When working with a distributor, keep in mind that they don’t like price increases any more than you do. “Those are out of our control,” Rowan says. “This isn’t something that’s fun for anybody, and supply and pricing issues often evoke strong emotions in any business environment.” While it’s no picnic, there’s no better time than a price increase to develop your relationship with your distributor. Be clear about your problems, and a good distributor will go out of its way to try to help. That could mean suggesting different products or more efficient practices. “They might have solutions or things they could do to help you that they otherwise wouldn’t present to you unless they understand what you’re trying to do.”

For instance, a price increase is a good excuse to calibrate your equipment to make certain that you’re getting the most out of your purchases, he says. With some equipment like a spreader or sprayer, if you haven’t calibrated it, you might be putting out more product than necessary. Pulling that output in line could offset the price increase. A reputable distributor won’t just help calibrate the equipment, but also lend a hand in figuring out how much product you actually need to do a job well.

Another way that distributors can assist contractors is through innovation and connecting contractors with new technologies that can save money, Rowan says. That can mean products that reduce the number of visits necessary to a customer’s property to improve on fuel costs or finding a more efficient chemical or equipment that will increase the number of properties a crew can handle. “This is really a good time to look at innovation so you can keep your product costs and labor costs down, as well as other variable costs such as fuel,” he says.

A strong distributor relationship always starts by talking, he says. Especially during the first few times you work with a distributor, make the conversation less about product and price and more about what you’re trying to do.

“The more a good distributor knows about what you’re trying to accomplish, the more different approaches they might be able to take,” he says. At some point, you have to talk about cost, but starting at the stage where you’re working together to solve a problem will let the distributor know which options will be best for you to choose from. “Start off with the understanding where the distributor can add the best value and help you understand what your needs are.”

The author is the editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine and can be reached at kylebrown@igin.com.