Adrian Forbes, Sales Director at the Keystone Group discusses the concept of “partnership” between manufacturers and merchants — suggesting that the time is right for the industry to engage more closely.
So what’s the real value of the “P” word? Partnership is a word which is possibly seen as one of the most overused in discussions between manufacturers and merchants. Of course, many suppliers have been talking about it for years so it is no surprise that it often now fails to generate excitement when a manufacturer slips it into a presentation. Like many merchants you could be forgiven for thinking, “oh dear, we have heard it all before”.
But, at the risk of flogging a dead horse, I would like to suggest that we do, in fact, all need to re- consider the concept of partnership in an industry where the success of manufacturers and merchants alike is inextricably linked.
Thankfully the outlook for the industry looks rosier than it has for many years; already we can see issues such as brick shortages pointing to the need for merchants to prepare for an upturn. I mention brick because as a steel lintel producer, the brick shortages are already affecting how our merchant customers order lintels — and by working closer together we could both be more effective.
Indeed, the current market conditions could actually be the catalyst for manufacturers and merchants to work closer together rather than just paying lip service to the concept.
So what are the areas where partnership might actually deliver real value to a merchant’s business?
Let’s start by remembering that the merchant is essentially in the service sector. When we look at other service industries, such as hospitality and retail, we can see a lot of evidence that training enables staff to deliver great customer service which impacts positively on the bottom line.
The quality of a merchant’s customer service will be greatly enhanced by having knowledgeable, well-motivated staff with an understanding of the end user’s needs. The best manufacturers will fall over themselves to get the opportunity to train merchant’s staff, because they know that investment in this type of partnership will always deliver mutual benefit.
Gaining success by avoiding the mistakes of others is a wise move in any walk of life and when it comes to stock management there is clearly an opportunity for co -operation. Merchants can adopt the optimum stock profile by engaging with an enlightened supplier to learn which items are fastest moving in the wider market and what project quantities are essential as minimum stock levels. Partnership on this level should improve stock turn and strengthen customer retention by merchants.
From my viewpoint as a manufacturer, I see partnership opportunities to help merchants turn data they already have into profit they currently can’t access. Why not use your manufacturers to help you convert more business by engaging fully with their specialist technical support or quote conversion services?
In other words, choose your suppliers carefully and you can get extra team members chasing business for you, at no expense to your business.
The best manufacturers are regularly introducing completely new opportunities to work in partnership. Take for example the case of a certain roof window producer which has established a consumer e-commerce website which takes online orders from consumers but feeds them directly to its merchant network, generating significant additional business for their merchants. Now that really sounds like serious partnership.
Perhaps merchants seeking the best supply deals should increasingly give serious consideration to a manufacturers’ track record in innovative partnership arrangements as this will be a good indicator of the real value which will be added to the merchant’s business.
So you see, the “P” word really can be relevant to the industry for both manufacturers and merchants as we strive together to make 2015 a year to remember.