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What To Look For In A Distributor

11 Jun, 2009 By: Ray Meifert imageSource

What To Look For In A Distributor

A number of years ago I took part in a customer’s meeting where its management had brought all of their vendors together in one location.  The leader of the meeting began by stating that, “in the future, the company would only select suppliers who provided the most compelling
reasons for doing business with them.”  On top of the “compelling reasons list “was assisting the company to be more competitive in the marketplace.  I returned to my offices to discuss with our management team, how we could do a better job of meeting the criteria of making “our
customer more competitive with its customers.”  One method we focused on was a more proactive use of good distributors in taking our products to the market.

In today’s economy, consumers have never been more focused on cost savings and improved service.  As a dealer, this can be a challenge as better service can mean higher costs.  A major way to reduce costs and improve your service in laser printer toner products is to work with
distributors that address a number of important issues.  I have found the following areas key in this selection process:

  1. Does the distributor offer a broad range of OEM and compatibles to address 90-95% of the market?   The key here is to select a distributor who has an authorized relationship with OEM’s for its supplies and also offers a strong line up
    of compatible laser toners. In the changing market, you need to be well positioned with what your customers want – not just with what the distributor can offer you. By purchasing from distributors with authorized relationships, you can participate in OEM
    rebates, reward and marketing programs.

  1. Are remanufactured products of OEM-like quality? Many suppliers claim they have quality but don’t have the process controls to back this up. So demand the following:
  • The product should be remanufactured with quality as “its focus” to insure forward and backward compatibility with the OEM.  Many suppliers’ compatible offerings don’t have this scrutiny as part of the process.  They may mix and match parts and toners
    without a clear sense of compatibility issues.
  • Every product should be tested before shipping. Many suppliers’ laser toner cartridges are only batch tested.  You can’t test quality by sorting, but this final step helps to eliminate “high flyers” from the market.
  • The distributor should have a broad line of compatibles to avoid your having to go to multiple sources to service your customer needs. 
  1. Does the distributor know the markets for the products? Many distributors sell various products and numerous product categories.  As a result there are many companies distributing products that don’t understand the needs of the channel
    or the products they distribute.  This is where specialty distributors can be a major assistance to you.  However, make sure that expertise goes beyond just compatibles.  Make sure they know and understand the OEM products as well.

  1. Do they offer private label capabilities? Today’s BIG BOX suppliers & dealers offer certain brands that are available to everyone. You need a product line that allows you to differentiate.  Ask if the distributor has the capability to
    private label products without a delay in customer delivery as compared to products not labeled.

  1. Can they ship directly to your customers or technicians with next day delivery at no additional cost?    A good distributor understands and operates its entire system under the concept of the “stockless system.”  This means that they
    are experts in logistics and getting products to you or your customers in a timely manner. Under this process, the need for your dealership to stock imaging supplies is greatly reduced and service to your customers can greatly improve.  All of this should be
    accomplished without premium shipping costs to you.  A good distributor will provide next day delivery using a network of regionally placed distribution centers for fast delivery. 

  1. Do they provide sales and marketing materials to help you sell?   Most distributors sell product to you, and it ends there.  In today’s market you need to partner with distributors who also care about making you more competitive. A
    proper distributor should provide sales materials and promotions to help you better address the buying behaviors of your customers.  Promotions such as box inserts and gift card incentives are of tremendous value in increasing your sales of imaging supplies
    beyond just the machines you service.

  1. Do they guarantee to keep your customer records secure and to never sell against you?   You should never be placed in a situation where you are competing for a customer against your supplier.  Choose distributors that have a written
    guarantee on selling direct as well as keeping your customer information secure.   

  1. Do they provide a turn-key MPS that you can take advantage of with your organization? Many distributors sell product but they don’t provide turn-key managed print solutions specifically designed for the office equipment dealer.  Choose
    a distributor that provides a system without up front cost.  They should assist you in reducing your customer’s costs, improve their efficiency and do it in such a way that you can be more profitable at the same time.   

  1. Do they provide personal and comprehensive sales support?   The distributor should provide a sales person that not only focuses on your account, but also understands the products and how to help you sell more of them.  

  1. Are they financially sound? This is a big issue in today’s market.  Make sure that the distributor you choose is financially stable and able to grow with you.  It’s always safer to deal with a distributor that has solid industry
    experience, a firm financial footing, a good reputation, and a future in business. 

  1. Distributors that rank highly on all of these criteria merit your business.   They’ll help you to develop longstanding value with your customers while increasing sales, and share and build your reputation. In tough economic times,
    customers want more.  The strategic use of a well-selected distributor can give you a “big edge.”

Ray Meifert is a marketing consultant with Agility Partners in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a former VP of marketing for Katun Corp., and has held various intl. and domestic marketing & sales executive positions with Imation and 3M Company.

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