Brent Nance, Pinnacle Countertop Solutions
Chuck Gerdes, North Star Surfaces
Terry Spencer, Nustone Distributing
Mike Perkowski, BPI
Taken at face value, the role of the distributor appears straightforward: moving material from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. The reality is a bit more complicated.
We have a three-fold mission as product distributors in the surfacing industry," said Terry Spencer of Nustone Distributing, a surfacing products company that covers an 11-state area headquartered in Nashville. "First, we are a marketing organization. Second, we concentrate on the logistics of warehousing and delivering product to our customers. Third, we provide training and technical support to our fabricator customers."
By definition, the distributor is positioned in the middle between the materials manufacturer and the fabricator, each of whom has distinctive goals that sometimes appear to contradict one another. Thus, the distributor's challenge is to mesh these wants and needs of his customers and suppliers, while at the same time providing a timely delivery system and generating end-user interest in the product offering with a consistent marketing message.
And make a profit.
"It's tough," said Spencer, "but it's a great business to be in. The people in the surfacing industry are some of the best you will ever meet anywhere."
AN EXTENSION OF THE MANUFACTURER
In very real terms, the distributor is the face of the manufacturer in his market area. As such, he must implement policies and programs instituted by the manufacturer, while tailoring his efforts for maximum effect at the local level. It's a business that relies heavily on personal relationships, and which can only survive and thrive in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
"We have built our company on the relationships we have between our manufacturer vendors and our customer base," explained Mike Perkowski of BPI, which is a 45-year-old distribution company specializing in high-end building material products. "We are an extension of the manufacturer, not only in selling the integrity of the product, but also selling the integrity of the manufacturer to our customers."
To help facilitate that goal, distributors arrange visits from manufacturer representatives with fabricators to foster better communication through all segments of the value chain. They host product knowledge seminars for fabricators and specifiers. And, they promote their manufacturers' products at the local level, with the goal of getting more customers through the fabricator's door.
"Some manufacturers have an emphasis on manufacturing only and do not understand marketing," said Brent Nance of Pinnacle Countertop Solutions. "There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but many of them do one thing well, which is manufacturing, not marketing to the general public. A big part of our job as the distributor is to help drive the consumer to the fabricator."
On the commercial side, distributors promote high-end surfacing alternatives to the specification community, usually through the use of specification representatives. While the correlation between the cost of a specification representive's salary and improvements to the bottom line might be difficult to track, those companies that have made the investment are the beneficiaries in today's climate of burgeoning commercial sales vs. the recent slowdown in residential growth.
"We spend a lot of time away from the actual purchase of the product and a great deal of time on specifiers and end users selling them on the entire concept," said Perkowski. "In each of our 10 locations we have a full time specification representative. They deal with the architectural design community, promoting our products, getting them specified and doing CEUs [Continuing Education Units]."