You are here

Getting the Most Out of Distributor Relations (Part 2)

Will your distributor be there for you today — and tomorrow?

CHICAGO — In a resource-intensive business such as dry cleaning, being able to find — and trust — a distributor is crucial for both the day-to-day operations and the future growth of the company. Cleaners who know they are in good hands when it comes to the supplies and support necessary to keep the business running are able to think about tomorrow, rather than constantly worry about today.

In Part 1 of this series, we examined some of the factors that must be there to build a successful, long-term relationships with distributors; today, we’ll take a look at some of the benefits of working with a trusted partner.

Here Today, Here Tomorrow? 

Some of the tools dry cleaners use can last for decades. It’s important to know that the people they depend on for parts, supplies and servicing will be there for the duration of their equipment’s life span.

“A dry cleaner should look for a distributor who can deliver superior-quality drycleaning equipment, genuine parts, technical service and excellent customer support,” says Marc Katzman, president of Metropolitan Laundry Machinery Sales, headquartered in the borough of Queens in New York City. “They should also find a company that has been in business for many years and has a good reputation in the market of doing right by their customers.”

At the NCA-sponsored biennial TexCare Dry Cleaning & Laundry Show, Ann Hargrove, director of events and special projects at the National Cleaners Association (NCA), sees this longevity in action.

“Every year, you see the same people, but you also see about 10 or 15 new people,” she says. “And, when I do the show again, in two years, some of those new ones won’t be there. Now, what happens when you buy something from them?”

When researching distributors, the experiences of others can provide invaluable information when it comes to making the final choice. Great suppliers don’t fear word of mouth. 

“I like to encourage our potential customers to contact our existing clients about our services and the products we sell,” says Andrew Dubinski of Texas-based Mustang Enterprises. “We are fortunate to have strong relationships.”

“We have relationships with customers that stretch back 50 years,” says John Silverman, president of Tschopp Supply Co., “so our customers often find customers for us, believe it or not, and there are industry reps (who) also find customers for us. A machine rep or a soap rep might call and say, ‘You know, I have a nursing home over here. Would you guys be able to supply them?’ That’s how we get a lot of our business. When you’re doing things right, word-of-mouth pays off.”

“I like to look at how long they’ve been around and listen to feedback from other people who have used them,” Hargrove says of distributors. “You want the good ones who you know are going to be around.”

Supplies and Beyond 

Something all quality distributors display is caring for their clients after the sale is made. In fact, Hargrove believes that, ideally, the sale is only the first step in a much longer relationship.

“Say you’re building a plant,” she says. “You’re going to tell your distributor what you’re looking for, and they’re going to tell you what you absolutely need. But then, they’ll also tell you, ‘You could also have this and this,’ and then they’re going to give you a price.”

And, while the initial cost is important, Hargrove believes there are other factors to examine.

“Some people will shop only for price, but you have to look at the long term. You’re going to be in that store for years and years and years, and you want to walk in that store and know when you turn that machine on, it starts. You want to know that the boiler will start, and the presses aren’t spitting.”

And when something isn’t working correctly?

“You want to know exactly who to call,” she says. “And you’ll get a feeling about them early on. How many times do you call them, and do they call you right back? The good ones, you’ll know immediately. Again, it’s almost like a friendship because they have to be there for you when you need them. And then, you go back to them every time you need a new boiler, a new compressor or a new press. You give them a shot. It’s an aspect of loyalty.”

“Being a good distributor is about giving people advice and making sure that, when they need a product, it’s there,” Silverman says. “Did they run out of something before their supply run? Can your salesman drive it to them? Can you UPS it? Making sure you supply the customer in a very consistent way is a vital part of being a distributor.”

“After-sale support, honesty and integrity are key to building and maintaining a good relationship,” Katzman says. “It’s important to be there for your customers. The conversation about equipment and the services you provide should be fluid and ongoing.”

“Look at what services the distributor is offering beyond the product — specifically the follow-up service, such as programming of equipment, troubleshooting issues down the road, etc.,” Dubinski says. “A dry cleaner needs support, not if, but when a machine has a breakdown.”

“A good distributor brings knowledge, experience and quick service at a fair price,” says Lieberman. “There must be an ease of communication and ordering, with a large selection of products and innovations.”

And, because of their connective nature, distributors often can help a dry cleaner in ways they might not know they can — it never hurts to ask.

“We often find used equipment for people when one dry cleaner isn’t using a piece of equipment that another dry cleaner needs,” Silverman says. “If one cleaner needs a special drapery machine, for instance, and there’s one just sitting an hour away in another cleaner’s plant, we go and find it for them and help them out. There are just so many things we do for people that go beyond making a sale.”

Come back Tuesday for the conclusion of this series, where we’ll examine how a relationship with the right distributor can be one of a cleaner’s best tools for dealing with a crisis. For Part 1 of this series, click HERE.