Building strong supply chain relations right down to the end customer is crucial for your business. In a period of time where quality customer service often lacks in many businesses across the country, a water treatment dealer has an opportunity to build sales through effective, helpful communication with customers. In recent years, manufacturers and others have ramped up support and incentive programs to help dealers maintain a competitive advantage.

Questions to ask frequently

If you are currently looking to switch lines or you are a start-up, it is important to do your research before selecting a supply chain partner, such as a manufacturer. According to the experts we interviewed for this article, a dealer’s list of questions should be extensive.

“Dealers need to look at the reputation of a brand and consider, in addition to providing product, what added value does their business partner bring to the table? Does your business partner provide you with product differentiation and innovation, application and technical support training? Are they staffed adequately to answer your call for help when the chips are down and you really need an answer from the jobsite? And, can they deliver day in and day out on that promise?,” inquires Jeff Hellenbrand, president of Hellenbrand Inc.

Peter Waelti, who is president of Rainsoft Denver, continues the inquisition with the following set of questions to ask:

  • Do they help you establish a start-up budget that is realistic?
  • Are they committed to investing in you as well by sending you active support for hiring and training?
  • Even during down periods, will that manufacturer be hands-on to help make target corrections and provide the support necessary to keep you on the path to success?

“Before committing to a manufacturer, I would recommend asking [these] pertinent make-or-break questions,” insists Waelti.

Other important factors

There are other important ways to help dealers gauge the manufacturer’s and other business partner’s level of commitment to the industry, its own company and your dealership. In addition to offering extensive technical and customer service, dealers should inquire about a product’s warranty and be familiar with the specifics. In fact, the warranty itself can tell you a lot about the manufacturer’s confidence in its equipment or product. Compare manufacturers’ warranties on similar products to set a benchmark.

“The dealer needs to have high confidence in the fact that the manufacturer is going to stand behind them and support the product they are going to market with,” explains Rob Dash, Viqua’s director of marketing.

In regards to the manufacturer’s commitment to water treatment, there are some factors that dealers may consider. For example, continues Dash, review the manufacturer’s sales and marketing materials and application support and see if it has the expertise needed. Also, he adds, check if the manufacturer is up-to-date on regulatory information.

“Make sure [that partner] is following all the regulations, including import/export, safety performance, etc., that really give confidence to the dealer that this manufacturer has the ability to protect the dealer from any issues that may arise in the future,” says Dash, adding that a quality manufacturer shows leadership in three distinct areas: Marketing, logistics and operations.

Training and support matter most

Many dealers have learned the hard way in recent years when it comes to selecting products and equipment based solely on price. Today, these dealers are looking at overall value beyond the initial price tag. In fact, there are several variables that should now be considered ahead of price.

“Price is just one component in the value proposition and probably not the most essential factor in building a long-term relationship,” adds Dave Taft, senior vice president of business development for Canature USA Inc. “Product quality and experienced, responsive support in the field and in customer service is probably the most important criteria. You also want a manufacturer who is forward-thinking and investing in new meaningful product innovations. Today’s dealers are in search of value in their water treatment product offerings. Innovative quality products along with competitive pricing equates to value.”

And, Taft ponders a very critical question: “What will set you apart in what has been a ‘same old’ industry?”

Certainly a cheaper product with minimal support and expertise will not be a competitive differentiator. Manufacturers who sell based on volume, lack of product differentiation and low price are typically minimally staffed, adds Mike Barone, Hellenbrand’s northeast regional sales manager. Dealers in those situations are then left with a lack of application, technical and troubleshooting support, which oftentimes emulates that very same model.

“The lack of product differentiation typically results in lower margins and, in many cases, lesser quality, impacting profitability. A manufacturer with a good reputation and support services can help the dealer make some sound choices in their business and have more customer satisfaction using a quality brand,” explains Barone.

A sound business partner will offer training and support in several formats today. The experts we interviewed for this article offered the following ways their companies are supporting their customers, including dealers, in the field:

  • Start-up training
  • Loyalty and rebate programs
  • Certified installer programs
  • Technical and sales and marketing training
  • In person and video conference training
  • Webinars
  • National and regional training
  • Continuous education in periodic visits or monthly conference calls
  • Engineering assistance and lab support
  • Exit strategy support.

Poor support could equal poor business  

Almost as important as evaluating what a good business partner can bring to the table is realizing how much a bad partner can hurt your business. As Taft reminds us, the dealer is an extension of the manufacturer. If the manufacturer delivers poor quality products and unresponsive support, he continues, it will hurt the dealer’s ability to serve its customers and, ultimately, damage the dealer’s reputation.

Therefore, selecting your manufacturers and business partners is probably the most important aspect of your business’ future. Secure it with reputable partners that have an interest in growing their profits with yours. If you are currently not provided with the tools outlined in this article from your partner, you should seriously consider a switch before it is too late.

Today’s end customers are more mindful of water quality as well as service and installation flaws. Quality customer and technical service outcomes are decided up the supply chain, regardless of your own level of business expertise.