Why you should be evaluating your distributors

Finding partners that align with your company is good for business.
Thursday, July 20, 2023
By Michael Wilson

Most commercial facility administrators have an evaluation process for their vendors to ensure that they are getting the best service for the best price. For instance, even if an administrator is happy with the cleaning company contracted to maintain their facilities, they may still take bids every few years just to compare janitorial services and see how their current contract compares to what other cleaning contractors would charge them.

However, one type of vendor evaluation that is often overlooked involves distributors and the products used on their properties every day. As it applies to a janitorial or sanitization distributor, this could include cleaning supplies, sanitizers, and disinfectants, as well as touchless dispensers, paper towels, and more.

Administrators must realize that having a strong and dependable supply chain – starting with the distributors that administrators work with – is the backbone of efficient facility operation. These distributors can help reduce costs, streamline ordering processes, ensure the facility has the products it needs when needed, and make the administrator’s job much more manageable.

So, how do we go about evaluating a distributor?

The first thing administrators must do is create a list of key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are a set of expectations. These could include expectations related to the distributor’s ability to:

  • Deliver products on time.
  • Maintain proper inventory levels in the facility.
  • Select the most cost-effective products for your facility.
  • Meet the facility’s – and your – quality and performance needs and standards.

From here, administrators should consider looking into the following:

The financial viability of the distributor

Some independent distributors are struggling as clients have downsized, reducing the demand for their products. This can start a chain of events, including reducing the purchasing power of the distributor and threatening their long-term viability. The result is that their customers may not be purchasing the most cost-effective products, causing them to turn to other suppliers. While administrators can ask for financial statements and credit checks, a more straightforward and effective evaluation of a distributor’s economic viability is to ask if they are part of a network of distributors. If so, they can take advantage of the purchasing power of the entire network, maintain product cost-effectiveness, and leverage the strength and marketing skills of that network to generate sales, find leads, and close deals.

Product mix

Some distributors may carry only a few product lines from a limited number of suppliers or manufacturers. More prominent distributors, or those part of a network of distributors, typically have a more comprehensive range of products to select from, from a wider range of suppliers. Always remember that products that work well in one facility may not work well in another; a broader selection of products helps ensure that the most effective products are selected for your specific location.

Trends in service and support

Many distributors encourage verified customers to provide testimonials about their service and support. But don’t expect every testimonial to be five stars – look for the trends instead.  If most testimonials tend to be positive overall, that’s a good sign, and if a customer testimonial is unfavourable, check to see if the distributor responded with a reasonable solution. Look for remedies, rather than excuses, as a cautionary tale. If you have a problem with a distributor’s products or services, the way that they address another customer could very well indicate how they handle your issue.

Cultural fit

Typically, a cultural fit refers to how comfortably administrators, distributors, and the distributor’s staff work together. However, in recent years, this has expanded considerably. For instance, if your organization is sustainability-focused and the distributor is not, they will likely not be the best distributor to work with for your facility. In the same way that you want to build like-minded relationships with your clients, you want to ensure you work with distributors that share your organization’s values and goals and align with what’s important to you and for your business.

Don’t be just another customer

Administrators want to work with distributors committed to their company’s or facility’s success. You want someone that is part of your team. As so many facility managers are having difficult times with unusually high vacancy rates, ask current and potential distributors if they are committed to your organization’s goals and success. You need to be a priority, so watch for a commitment to your success. ,. Remember: distributors can be the backbone of your facility’s entire operation.

Additional evaluation tips

It’s important to take the time necessary to evaluate your distributors and make sure they are a fit for your business. Do your research and learn as much as possible about your distributors. In addition to how long they have been in business – longevity is often a reflection of a distributor’s quality of products and services – ask for customer references.

Don’t be shy about calling references, maybe even visiting those facilities. In many cases, these are your peers. Not only may they share their views on distributors, but what they have learned about operating their facilities might help you.

Also, don’t hesitate to ask tough questions about the distributor’s experience and capabilities. Their answers will help you determine if they are a good fit for your organization.

Finally, look at the way your distributor dresses. While dressing down is now acceptable in virtually all industries, that does not mean under-dressing or being poorly dressed in a business situation is acceptable. How people dress is often an expression of their competence and how well they will work with you and your staff. Dressing appropriately shows respect for you, your team, and your facility.

Finding a distributor that aligns with your company in as many ways as possible increases your efficiency and the success of your business.

Michael Wilson is the CEO of AFFLINK, a distributor membership organization made up of more than 300 distributors in North America. He has been with the organization since 2006 and provides strategic leadership for distributor members around the country. He can be reached through his company website at www.afflink.com.

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