What Should Your Distributor Do for You

April 1, 2005
To really find out what a distributor can do for you takes some research.

The role of the locksmith distributor has changed greatly in the last 30-plus years, since I entered the locksmith trade in the late 1960s. Back then, most locksmith distributors were mainly interested in doing local and regional business. When I or a local locksmith would call an order in to the distributor, the unspoken rule was that it would ship out in a few days or so, maybe by the end of the week. That would give the distributor a few days to process the order and a couple days for the order to ship. In the case of a broken lock, we?d put on a ?temporary? used lock to secure the door until the replacement lock arrived. Then we?d go back out and finish the job.

If a locksmith was lucky enough to be near the distributor?s warehouse, he might be able to pick up his order at the will call counter (again, usually in a day or two). If you really had a rush order, you could possibly pick it up that afternoon or maybe the next morning.

A locksmith?s loyalty to a given distributor was based strictly on price. About the only difference between distributors were their price and maybe the brand of locks they stocked most heavily.

Today we have the luxury of living in a global economy. Distributors in all parts of the country can ship nationwide overnight. A lock in a box is still a lock in a box, and discounted pricing is still important. But the products and value-added services set one distributor apart from another.

Each distributor is different. The perfect distributor for you may not be the right one for your colleague. To really find out what a distributor can do for you, you need to do some research, ask a lot of questions and compare one to another.

Although one distributor may get the bulk of your business, almost every locksmith needs to have a couple of alternatives. You may spend 80 percent of your dollars with Distributor A, but when you need something they don?t have or are out of temporarily, you need a backup source.

One good way to check out a distributor you don?t use now is to ?window shop? them. Pick out a specific window of time or product. For example, place all of your orders on Tuesday with Distributor B. Or, order all of your Schlage products one week with the supplier being tested. By doing this, you can directly compare prices, shipping time, customer service, fill rates, etc. If you like what you see, swing a little more of your business their way!

To compare different distributors, look at the following categories: Products, Places, People and Policies & Procedures.


Product Width ? A distributor should be able to provide a line card listing all the manufacturers they buy from. The variety of product will vary between distributors, and even from one branch to another. There will be a lot of overlap in the popular product lines and fewer distributors carrying the obscure brands.

Product Depth ? It?s good if a distributor carries products from hundreds of manufacturers. But if they only carry the top two or three items from each, that?s bad. Product depth means that in addition to the fast moving popular items, other less popular products or parts are stocked in some reasonable amount. If the distributor stocks a wide variety of popular finishes, alternate keyways and style options, your order can be filled and shipped as soon as possible.

Product Support ? Mounted samples, display racks and stands, product flyers, brochures and manufacturer?s catalogs can all help you move product. The more your customers can see and learn about a product, the better chance they?ll buy it from you.

Stock ? Do the items a distributor keeps in stock meet your needs? If they stock the brands you sell, do they carry the right functions, keyways and finishes?

Non-Stock ? When the distributor doesn?t stock the products you need, how easy is it for them to get it for you? Are they willing to get it for you or do they even offer? Tied to non-stock items are special orders. When an item is specially ordered, is it handled in an efficient manner? Do you get your order in a reasonable time?

Product Catalogs ? Does the distributor have their own catalog? If so, how easy is it to use? Is the catalog available on a CD? Online?

Other ? Several other things will determine how useful a distributor is to your business. Do they offer private/restricted keyways from various manufacturers? By providing a restricted keyway available only to them, the distributor ensures that you will come back to them for additional product. It?s the same idea you use to sell it to your customer, to get the repeat business!


Warehouse Location ? Is the warehouse location in your geographic area? If it?s not physically close to you, is it within one shipping day for standard ground shipments? As long as you can receive the product the next day without paying extra charges, does it matter?

Will Call Location ? A will call counter can be an asset and a liability. While it is handy to ?run over and pick something up? when it?s absolutely necessary, it can become a time-wasting habit. If you visit will call frequently, how often have you called in an order to be picked up and not gotten there until the next day? In that case, if the order had originally been shipped out, wouldn?t you have it the next day anyway?

Branch Locations ? When a distributor has one location, anything not kept in stock must be ordered. When there are multiple branches, each branch will focus on the inventory that moves best in their region. Any shortages or outs can usually be transferred or shipped from an alternate branch. A nationwide inventory means that you can better meet the needs of your customer.


Inside Sales ? A good inside sales person should be knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. If a good salesperson can?t help you, he or she will know how to get you connected with someone who can. .

Outside Sales ? Does an outside salesperson call on you? The role of an outside salesperson is to be a liaison between the company and the customer. They should represent the company to you and represent you to the company. They should visit regularly and keep you informed about new products, special sales and promotions. They (or a company representative) should also be willing to meet you on a job site to give their input or advice on product application and be willing go to bat for you when there is a problem. They can also bring in the factory representative when you present a potential business customer with an access control solution.

Customer Service ? Other than placing an order, when you have a question or need a copy of an older invoice, you might deal with a customer service representative. How do they respond to you? Are your needs met in a timely manner? Are they polite and friendly?

Warehouse ? The warehouse crew pulls your order, packs it and ships it out. If they don?t keep their warehouse in order, you?ll get the wrong items. An efficient warehouse will minimize mistakes and correct problems quickly.

Credit ? Are your invoices and statements accurate? Are they easy to read and understand? Items returned for credit must go through a pre-defined process but it shouldn?t take forever. If your business grows, you may need to increase your credit line. If you get a little behind, will they work with you? The best way to work with any credit department is to keep the lines of communication open. If you have a payment problem, contact them first; don?t try to hide from them or ignore their calls.

IT ? More than ever, the Information Technology department of a distributor is important to you. Issues such as online ordering programs, online catalogs, dialup and broadband internet connection problems and more can run smoothly with their help.

POLICIES & PROCEDURES Mission Statement ? Your distributor should have a printed Mission Statement. This will give you an idea of what is important to them. Make sure that the company is headed in a direction that will ultimately benefit you.

Business Hours ? Are they open early enough to meet your needs? Do they stay open late enough? Some locksmith distributors open at 7 a.m., some at 9 a.m. If you have to stand around waiting for them to open, take another look at your alternatives.

Same Day Shipments ? Does your distributor ship the order out the same day it was called in? By what time? If an order is called in at 3 p.m., will it still ship? What about 5 p.m.? Find a distributor that works with your schedule.

Drop Shipments ? Will they drop ship from a manufacturer? Many special orders or large orders can be arranged to be drop shipped, getting the order to you quicker.

Returns ? When an item needs to be returned, what are the rules? Most returns are acceptable if they are in re-sellable condition. They must be in the original (unmarked) packaging, in the original condition they were received. Special order and some electrical components may not be returnable or the manufacturer may require a restock charge on a non-stock item. Get the specifics from the locksmith distributor.

Ordering ? When you place an order by phone, is it handled correctly? Does the distributor give an extra discount for faxed orders? If they have an online ordering program, is it easy to use?

Order Variations ? When you order six of an item they appear to have it in stock, but when your order is pulled, they only have four, that?s a variation. Do they call to let you know? Did they offer you an alternate product or shipping location? If there is a shortage or mistake on your order, how is it handled?

Discounts ? Generally, the more you buy, the better discount you get. Does your distributor have you on a buying program? If you promise to give them more business, can you get a better discount? To find out the answers, get in touch with a sales rep.

Freight ? Freight charges usually are tied to sales volume. You might be able to get reduced or free freight with a large order, or get free freight from a local warehouse by meeting the buying level requirements for a given distributor. Speak to your sales rep.

Educational Classes ? Does your distributor offer training seminars and educational classes on a regular basis? Do they offer trade shows to bring you in contact with the newest products and give you a chance to meet and talk to the manufacturer?s representatives? Trade shows are also a great place to get the latest catalogs and brochures from dozens of manufacturers.

Organization Involvement ? Does your distributor show up at to support your local locksmith organization? Do they pay an associate membership fee to belong to the group? Do they donate door prizes and offer to present informative programs?

By doing some research and asking questions, you can find out if your distributor is doing all it can for you. If you have problems with your distributor, communicate the details to them and give them a chance to correct the problems. If you don?t get satisfaction, consider looking elsewhere.

Another way to find a good distributor is to discuss it with your colleagues. Some locksmiths have loyalty to a specific distributor for personal reasons. Other will base their choice strictly on business matters. When you find a good distributor, they should do whatever they can to keep you satisfied and happy. After all, you are their customer. You already know when you have a satisfied customer, they?ll tell others. A distributor works the same way. Happy hunting!