Understand the benefits and challenges of purchasing direct

I’m sure every remodeler, at some point in time has considered purchasing direct. The learning curve for working with each manufacturer takes time, and if you cannot control the products used, then the benefits will be marginal unless you want to be set up with every viable manufacturer. But, if most of your projects are one-of-a-kind restorations with architects and interior designers involved, this may not be the route for you.

However, if your projects are design-build and have some product similarities, you may be a good candidate for direct purchases. The benefits of direct purchasing include lower product costs, timelier deliveries and quicker answers to your product questions because you are going directly to the source. In the economic downturn, we needed to close as much as we could, as quickly as we could for the best possible price. Before the downturn, we relied on local vendors for all of our selections and purchases. Once the client had approved a design, it was off to the local showroom to get everything selected. But we weren’t navigating through selections to the final contract very smoothly.

Many showrooms had too much for the client to view; there often would be six or eight faucets by different manufacturers that look almost the same. When we had questions about technical details, product availability and pricing, we often were waiting days for answers because the local vendor had to go to the manufacturer or distributor for answers.

So we started purchasing cabinets directly from the manufacturer a few years ago, and from there it grew into other products such as furniture vanities, plumbing, lighting, ceramic tile, bath accessories, closet systems and decorative hardware.

Some of the products are purchased directly from the manufacturers. Some of the products are purchased from wholesale distributors, which probably are the same ones your local suppliers are purchasing from now. We have selected the core products we feel add the best value for our clients, and stick with those products.

It doesn’t make sense to represent every available product. If a client wants something outside of our product offering, we still purchase that through a local showroom. For instance, if we are replacing door hardware throughout the house, we buy through our wholesale channel. If we are replacing only one lockset that needs to be matched to the existing adjacent hardware, we still purchase that locally.

As an established dealer for all of the products we represent, we know at any given moment what our cost for the products will be and when we can expect delivery.

We work off a manufacturer’s suggested retail price book with pre-established multipliers for everything we buy. In most instances, we are purchasing for 25 to 35 percent less than what we can buy for locally. Most of the products we purchase through the wholesale channel are immediately confirmed and arrive within a few days.

But don’t go into this thinking you’ll be up and running tomorrow. Finding and establishing the relationships takes time, and many manufacturers and distributors will not sell directly to a contractor. These suppliers have to contend with the issue of answering to their existing showrooms who have committed a significant investment in those spaces. Having a separate kitchen and bath showroom or cabinet company is usually what is needed to satisfy the new relationship.

Once you decide which manufacturers you are going to work with, you then need to learn the product. You no longer have the sales rep in the showroom to help with the sales presentation and answer questions. Part of the economics of the system is that you become an expert on their product; your sales/design staff will need to attend training sessions to accomplish this.

You also will need to decide which products you want to display and start setting up your showroom or selections area. We decided to showcase a few key items for each manufacturer and then supplement that with digital catalogs and images on our iPads. At first our options were somewhat limited, but throughout time we have developed a very comprehensive product offering.

For us, it was a lengthy journey, but the benefits are well worth it. We have improved the selections process, accelerated the sales cycle, reduced our costs and improved on-time deliveries. QR