Distributor Viewpoint

During a recent conversation with an industry friend, he mentioned that locksmiths were going to Home Depot early in the morning to pick up supplies for jobs. He began to question what the role of the locksmith distributor in the future would be. I...

Then there’s the usual battle between suppliers vying for your business. Cost of the product is important but is usually meaningless if you don’t have what the locksmith needs. There are some standard discounts that are applied and in many cases room for negotiation does exist, especially if there’s a larger than normal quantity involved. All suppliers have customers who will ask for a better price regardless of how many times he’s bought it from you and how good the price is. On the other end of the spectrum we have people who trust 100 percent that they are getting a fair price and don’t try for anything better, ever. I’ve even had locksmith customers tell me he can pay more than what I’m asking them for! Now that’s a preferred customer! This is usually a businessperson who understands there is a limit to what we can do with price and doesn’t want us to run whenever we seem him coming. He is extremely rare.

So what would our perfect customer be like? He would be someone who knew exactly what he wanted when he called in an order. He has the exact part number and is okay if it takes two or three days to receive it. He doesn’t need to ask how much the item is and if he does, he’s okay with the cost without asking if we could do any better. If we’re too busy to take a lengthy order, he’s fine with us calling him back sometime that day. To top it all off, he pays for his order in time so our credit department doesn’t have to chase him for payment. This customer is rare.

Many distributors come up with an attempt at “value added services.” These services can come in the form of educational classes, marketing help, computer ordering websites, etc. While some locksmiths appreciate and take advantage of these services, most simply want to be able to order supplies and get them in a timely manner.

In the old days it was pretty standard to hear four to six weeks when something had to be ordered from the factory because nobody had it in stock. Now it’s different; everyone has items they can ship within a few days and nothing should take more than a few weeks unless it’s coming on a slow boat from overseas. I’ve gotten very good at locating and getting items quickly for my customers and aside from my warped sense of humor, that’s one of the reasons my phone rings as much as it does each day. If someone asks me for something I don’t have in stock, I make sure I’ve exhausted all options before I call him back with an answer.

At our Philadelphia IDN Hardware branch, I work with two gentlemen who spend the day answering calls from locksmiths who only want to speak with that person. Robert came to us after an 11-year stint with another supplier and brought along with him a bunch of locksmiths who now call us. This goes a long way in explaining how we choose which supplier we use. It’s all about the relationship between individuals, not companies. Value added programs are nice but will never replace the importance of the one on one between people. The manager of our branch, Brian, gets calls all day from folks who ask to speak with him as well. This happens because Brian has been helping his customers for years and is trusted. His sense of humor doesn’t show up in the sales numbers but without it the numbers wouldn’t be the same.

I’ve said this in past articles but I think it’s worth repeating. “If people like you, they will find a reason to do business with you. If they don’t like you, they will find a reason not to.” I’m not saying we need to be everyone’s best friend but it sure helps to be pleasant and sincerely care about the needs of the person you’re doing business with. Don’t lie to customers or fudge the truth because it will come back to haunt you in some shape or form. Call people back if you say you will. Be the best that you could be without worrying too much about what your competition is doing. These are very fundamentally basic ideas but you’d be amazed at how often they are violated by folks who wonder why they aren’t doing better.

So does the locksmith need distributors dedicated to serving him? Does it help to speak with a salesperson who knows the business who knows what you’re talking about and can help you make the right decision with your purchase?

Hopefully we will all be doing business with each other for a long time to come. There’s enough to go around for us all without having to put others out of business or stab each other in the back. Let’s continue to do take pride in what we do, promote the locksmith industry as a whole and celebrate success together.

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