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Manufacturer-Distributor Partnerships

What is the most important characteristic distributors look for in their manufacturing partners?
                                                         Tim True, VP of Sales and Marketing, Borroughs Corporation (Kalamazoo, MI)

Participating Board Members
Chuck Frank, President
Jerry Weidmann, Treasurer
John Faulkner, Director
Mark Milovich, Director
Duncan Murphy, Advisory Board
Jack Phelan, Advisory Board
Steve Strifler, Director

Chuck Frank: The key is ongoing communication. We want an open relationship with our business partners. We appreciate the chance to be part of their growth strategies and for them to be part of ours. We want a manufacturer committed to product enhancements and providing competitive product and services for us to take to market. We seek long-term relationships with partners that have defined go-to-market strategies, who are focused on providing tools to better serve our customers and reducing product lead times, which ultimately positions us to represent them and close more business.

Jerry Weidmann: I addressed this in an article I wrote in the Fourth Quarter 2009 issue of The MHEDA Journal, “Sense of Urgency,” which is available at www.TheMhedaJournal.org. The gist of that article was that success goes to the agile competitor. Both the manufacturer and distributor must respond at today’s speed of business. Our key suppliers in the lift truck industry participate in our business on many levels, including sales support, strategic pricing, technical support, product deliveries, product problem resolution, and warranty policy decision-making. The speed of our response when resolving problems can greatly enhance or diminish our reputation. The four areas where urgent response is most critical by us and our partners are: new product introductions, product issues in the field, technical issues and warranty issues. I urge you to read the article for more specifics.

John Faulkner: For me, on-time delivery of product is the most im-portant characteristic.

Mark Milovich: We look for an OEM that treats its dealers as its customers. Our view is that the dealer, not the ultimate end-user, is the customer to the OEM. When we call the OEM with questions, comments, concerns or problems, we want whatever issue we have to be handled as we would handle the same coming from one of our customers. We want to be treated with respect and have a sense that our issue is important and needs to be addressed. When we have been treated as the customer and have a relationship built on mutual respect and honesty, we have been very successful. When we have been treated as less than a customer, our success has been limited. We look for products that make sense in our overall product mix. We will not take on a product just for the sake of “getting it off the street” so no one else has it.

If you have a question for the Spring 2011 issue, please contact Rebecca Hein at MHEDA by phone at 847-680-3500, by fax at 847-362-6989, or by e-mail at rhein@mheda.org. Distributors who submit questions and the responding Board members have agreed to have their names published. If you would like to ask the Board a question and have the participating directors respond directly and confidentially to you, please indicate your preference for privacy when you submit your question.

Duncan Murphy: The most important word in the question is “partner.” As a distributor, I understand we have some common goals with our suppliers and some that are polar opposites. Suppliers want market share and inventory on hand to keep the factory humming, and we want margins, quick delivery and customer service. What Riekes looks for first in a supplier partner is a dedication to moving its product through distributors, preferably with limited overlap in our marketplace. We require our partners to be recognized among the best in their products group for quality so their products never leave a bad impression that can label all our goods and services as inferior. Everyone can make a mistake, so having the support staff to deal with end-user issues is critical. Finally, the manufacturer must be financially sound and capable of partnering with distributors on financial considerations as they occur.

Jack Phelan: I look for a manufacturer that goes to market using a distributor network and supports the distributor’s effort with product training and competitive pricing.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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