Are Your Suppliers True Partners?

In a rare Sunday afternoon free, I decided to start my holiday shopping. Like many people feeling the impact of the recession, I don’t spend much time at the mall anymore, so I was excited to be out shopping.

But my enthusiasm quickly turned to frustration when I realized the jewelry counter was abandoned, the clothing department had locked dressing rooms with no one around to let anyone in, and the children’s department looked like a tornado had hit it, with items haphazardly tossed everywhere.

It occurred to me that, while this would have bothered me three years ago, I probably would’ve kept shopping. Instead, I decided to scrap the shopping trip and go biking instead.

As I headed through the shoe department toward the exit, I heard a woman complaining that the salesperson had taken 10 minutes to return with the boots she wanted, only to bring back a pair that was both the wrong size and wrong color. “We’ve got 9.6% unemployment and this is the best they can hire?” I heard her mumbling as I headed out the door.

I understood her frustration. It seems we all have less patience with poor service these days. In a challenging economy, where people need a little extra encouragement to part with their hard-won dollars, we don’t just desire good customer service, we expect it. And if we don’t get it, we’re much faster to walk away.

Kitchen and bath dealers know this, and many have revamped their firms to better focus on customer service over the past 24 months. Yet when the tables are turned and they’re the customers, are they getting the same high level of service they’re providing?

According to the results of an exclusive survey conducted by the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) for Kitchen & Bath Design News, and presented at KBDN’s inaugural Kitchen & Bath Industry Leaders Conference in late September (see Industry Barometers), the answer is, “not as much as they’d like.”

The survey, which looked at supplier services in the kitchen and bath industry, showed that while suppliers score strong marks for their rep knowledge, delivery services, responsiveness to questions/concerns and product warranties, dealers and designers are far less satisfied with suppliers’ marketing/advertising assistance, purchasing incentives and sales or business management training (see What Dealers Want).

So, while kitchen and bath dealers and designers may be getting the basic services they need, they do not feel like they are getting the little extras that transform a simple business arrangement into a true partnership.

And that’s a problem.

In fact, one of the most disturbing results of the survey was that the majority of dealers and designers felt that manufacturers do not see them as valued business partners, but rather are just interested in selling product to them.

At the very least, this suggests a major communication problem in our industry. And it may suggest issues that go far beyond communication, to the basic core of how we do business.

Either way, this is a major red flag that needs to be addressed – not only by kitchen and bath dealers and designers, but also by product manufacturers.

Because the simple truth is, we are all interdependent in this industry. Dealers and designers need products to sell, but they also need information and training and marketing assistance to help them sell these products profitably.

Manufacturers need dealers and designers to sell their product, but they also need them to display them, understand how they work and be able to communicate their FABs to consumers.

The survey also showed that, as business improves over the coming year, dealers and designers are planning some major product changes. And it makes sense that they will – and should – choose products from those who will not just provide quality products, but also partner with them to help ensure their continued success.

In challenging times, we need every tool at our disposal to be successful. And strong business partnerships are one of the most valuable tools in our arsenal. If yours aren’t as strong as they should be, it may be time to do something about it.