A weekend do-it-yourselfer, I was recently visiting the website of a major hardware store looking for a certain product. As I found products that matched my query, I noticed something I had never observed before. Along with considerable product information, product images, specifications and installation tips, reviews and testimonials, as well as pricing, to the right of the screen the site also provided the following:
- A listing of nearby stores in this chain that had the product in stock
- Where it was actually located in each store—department as well as the aisle
- Contacts and customer service personnel in that department who could be of further assistance.
I have to admit, I was quite impressed. This mega retailer is now making it so easy to purchase products – either online or going the brick-and-mortar route—that you begin to wonder: Does anyone need people anymore when purchasing products?
That’s a question many building owners and managers have asked themselves in recent years. As our example indicates, this ease of ordering is now, or becoming, just as readily available to consumers as it is to facility owners and managers. So who needs the local distributor any longer to help in making building purchases?
The Value of Distributors
While building owners and managers are no longer in “the dark” when it comes to purchasing products for their facilities due to ecommerce advancements, most realize that distributors are still needed and for many owners/managers they are needed even more today than they were years ago. As an example, let’s look at the cleaning and maintenance of your facility, a major concern and cost for any building owner/manager.
Let’s say you and your contract cleaning service have decided to replace traditional floor finish with green-certified floor finish. Visiting the website of a major green certification organization, you find there are 127 different green-certified floor finishes listed manufactured by more than 40 different chemical manufacturers.
As we know, just because a product has been green-certified does not mean it is the same or works the same as its competitors. Green-certified products have been proven to have a reduced impact on the environment, but this is where the similarities end.
For instance, some finishes work better on traditional VCT (vinyl composition tile), while others may work better on terrazzo or ceramic tile. Furthermore, some finishes provide a higher gloss; are more slip-resistant; work better in damp and cold climates or are more effective in dry and warm climates; wear better; last longer; can only be buffed; can only be burnished; are designed for areas that become heavily soiled; are designed for areas that have only light to moderate soiling; are intended for high-traffic walkways; are intended for low-traffic walkways; work best with other chemicals made by the same manufacturer; do not work well with other chemicals; and the list of differences can go on and on.
As you can see, not only are there more than 100 green floor finishes to select from, produced by scores of manufacturers, but many are also designed for different purposes and specific types of settings and conditions. It would be quite difficult—also extraordinarily time-consuming—to make a product selection in such a situation.
However, this is where a knowledgeable distributor comes in. Most likely, a well-versed jansan supplier is cognizant of several brands, how they work, and what types of floors, conditions, and settings are ideal for each one. But, even the most astute distributor does not have all the answers. This is why they too must turn to new technologies, and many are taking advantage of Web-based analytical tools, specifically for distributors, to help clients elevate the buying process and make what are often called “thought-based” decisions.
So, what do we mean by a “thought-based” decision?
A “hope it works” decision is trial and error. A thought-based decision, on the other hand, is the result of using analytical tools that allow distributors to match the needs of the customer with the most suitable green floor finishes, continuing with our example, which will best address those needs. Trial and error is eliminated, along with what might turn into many hours of online product analysis and the possibility—and potential costs—of making a poor product decision.
New technologies are helping us all in many different ways, including purchasing. However when it comes to many of the products used in a commercial facility, these advancements do not always answer all the questions we need to make the best purchasing decisions that meet our needs. Managers and owners should not minimize the value a knowledgeable distributor brings to the table. Distributors, with access to their own new technologies, can help owners/managers make wise purchasing decisions that save time and costs.
Michael Wilson is Vice President of Marketing for AFFLINK.
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