Editor’s Note: This is the third and final part of a series examining distribution. Part I covered distribution from the point of the manufacturer and Part II covered it from the point of the distributor. Both of these earlier articles can be found online at www.surfacefabrication.com.
As the final, vital link to the end user, countertop fabricators appreciate sampling programs, marketing assistance and favorable terms from their materials distributors. But they expect on-time delivery.
To Mitch Hires of Atlanta Kitchen, the role of the distributor is straightforward. “I tell our distributors we won’t sell their products if they can’t get them to us on time,” said Hires. “It is the first priority. If we can get the materials when we need them, then everything else is gravy.”
Atlanta Kitchen fabricates and installs natural stone, quartz surfacing and solid surfacing countertops for residential and commercial customers. It is located on a 13½-acre campus in Decatur, Ga., and is one of 10 companies owned by the Hires family that provide specialized products to the construction trade.
“We find that distribution is necessary to satisfy the wants and needs of our customers, especially in the retail market,” said Hires. “If I had all the cash and space I needed, I would buy my materials direct.”
Hires said his companies rely very little on distributors for marketing assistance, although they are happy to partner up with them on special projects when needed. “It’s mostly a function of the fact that we sell so many competitive products we don’t think it would be fair to ask a distributor to help pay for marketing that sells his competitors’ products at the same time.”
Asked if he could envision a world without distributors, Hires was quick to reply in the negative. Distributors play a vital role in a product’s route to market and are a great asset to fabricators, he said.
“I have good relationships with my distributors,” affirmed Hires. “We pay our bills on time and we give them the opportunity to sell their products through our system. If a product somehow gets through our shop with a quality issue, we share the responsibility, whether or not it is a manufacturer’s defect. In our minds, if it gets as far as the customer with a defect, then we are partly to blame.”
When it comes to all-around service, Hires said he has noticed a definite drop across the board from all his distributors. He attributes it to cutbacks in personnel resulting from changing markets and a sluggish economy.
The draw-down in personnel has also affected most distributors’ efforts in marketing to the specification community. “Spec reps are important for any manufacturer or distributor,” said Hires. “With distributors now handling more products, though, it seems the spec rep role is more incumbent on manufacturers. Also, I don’t think there is room for them in the builder market — the margins aren’t there to support them.”