Cut out the middleman; add a partner

Cut out the middleman. How often have we heard that phrase?
By Dave Grebowski, Kaman Industrial Technologies May 15, 2008

Cut out the middleman. How often have we heard that phrase? “Cut out the middleman” %%MDASSML%% as if this is the key to unlimited wealth; your path to the inner circle of procurement bliss. Well, let me give you a distributor’s perspective on this notion %%MDASSML%% do it.

Your distributor has an obligation to provide you with value that exceeds the cost that they add to the supply chain. And if they can’t, they have not earned their place as a conduit to the products and services you’re buying.

Studies have shown that distributors are somewhere down the list as a resource that end users turn to for plant maintenance assistance. A recent survey conducted by Plant Engineering magazine indicates that less than 30% of readers look to their distributors as a primary resource for plant maintenance advice. If you’re not pushing your distributor to step up and earn their keep, you’re missing out.

Too many buyers see the role of a distributor as simply breaking bulk orders from manufacturers into small lots for end users. At the simplest level, I suppose that’s correct, but if you’re letting your distributor get off the hook that easily.

Here are just a few things that you should be expecting from a distributor who’s earning his place in your supply network:

Objective advice

How many times have you asked a manufacturer for advice and have received a recommendation for something other than one of their own products? It’s amazing how often they have just they have “exactly what you need” right there in their own bag of tricks.

I’m not suggesting that distributors are going to be sending you down the street to one of their competitors on a regular basis either, but with a broad array of products and brands to choose from, your chances of being steered towards a product that works instead of a product that’s the only game in town are a lot better.

Collective viewpoint

Manufacturers are specialists in the products they make. The depth of knowledge that they generally have exceeds what most distributors can offer. But what about when you’re looking for help with a system or assembly? Your distributor understands how the products they sell work together.

Motors, drives, gearing, sprockets, chains, belts, valves, cylinders and lubricants; the way that these products come together to provide an effective manufacturing solution can be exponentially more significant than the function of each individually.

Trying to coordinate the input of all of those independent manufacturing representatives would be a daunting task for any end-user.

Customer advocacy

Your chances of building a relationship and importance with a distributor are much better than with a manufacturer. This amounts to “up-time insurance” or a trump card that you can play when you have critical breakdown situations. How many manufacturers provide you with 24-hour emergency access to a broad array of on-hand inventory, local service and door-to-door delivery?

Even when it takes a manufacturer to provide that unique item when the chips are down, the breadth and level of relationships that your distributor can employ on your behalf are generally much stronger than what you could achieve on your own.

Your thoughts?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ll be hosting a blog on PlantEngineering.com about the good and bad of distribution.

Log on and let us know your experiences. What’s the most valuable thing that your best distributors do for you? Or do you think I’ve been drinking too much of the company Kool-Aid? Sign in and sound off!

Author Information
Dave Grebowski is accessory products manager with Kaman Industrial Technologies, a nationwide distributor of power transmission and motion control products.