The old saying that “knowledge is power” has been supplanted by a newer version “quicker access to knowledge is power, as well as utilizing that knowledge.” That is never truer than in the HVAC distribution channel. Making it easier to access information and utilizing it has become a priority in any HVAC contractor’s business model. Distributors know that and constantly add programs and features to inform others about their products and make them more readily available.

This article will look at some examples of what distributors are doing to be the supplier of choice to their valued HVAC contractor customers, including communication, inventory management, and the ordering process.

Getting The Word Out

Totaline® stays in touch with its customers by using more than just the traditional in-house promotions and e-mail campaigns. The company uses a monthly e-newsletter that features new product information, industry trends, and how-to articles. It is titled Beyond Repair and reaches over 23,000 subscribers, according to Jim Flynn, Totaline training and marketing manager.

The most recent July issue contained topics such as “Tools of the Trade” written by Bob Carré, Totaline business development manager, launch of the Premier Series thermostats, the right chemicals for the job, and Win/Win promotion offers.

Win/Win keeps customers engaged by providing opportunities for technicians and sales associates to have the chance to win, on a quarterly basis, a $500 Best Buy gift card and to be able to get free merchandise items for purchasing the products they use every day.

Flynn explained the history of Beyond Repair. “In 2008-2010, Beyond Repair existed in hard copy distributed on the counter of our 407 Totaline Sales Centers throughout the United States and Canada,” he said. “The target has been, and still is, dealers and contractors that buy Factory Authorized Parts and aftermarket supplies through the network of Totaline Sales Centers. A small amount (5,000) were distributed via e-mail.

“At the end of 2010 we surveyed the readers. They overwhelmingly said two things: Send it to us via e-mail and include more technical-/product-/business-type content. We did just that. The newsletter is now filled with technical and product articles as well as educational opportunities available to them through our Bynum Training Center. We also have business sense-type articles each month.”

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Managing Inventory

Grainger is helping customers take control of their inventory by offering Keepstock®, which the company describes as a “managed inventory solution.” Using Keepstock, HVAC contractors can achieve an-
swers to the following questions:

• What are your operational requirements?

• What is your staffing situation?

• Do you need a complete makeover or just minor adjustments?

“KeepStock is a suite of inventory management solutions developed by Grainger to help customers lower inventory and procurement process costs,” said Meeta Kratz, Grainger director of customer business issues. “The KeepStock portfolio offers a wide variety of solutions from the simple to complex and includes solutions that are managed by the customer as well as solutions that are managed directly by Grainger.

“The important thing to note is that inventory management poses a great opportunity for any size business; however, the specific solution should be unique and fit a professional’s needs, which is why Grainger offers a variety of KeepStock solutions that can be tailored to fit very specific requirements.”

These solutions include:

• KeepStock Label: Labeling solution on®;

• KeepStock Scan: Manages inventory using barcodes;

• KeepStock Mobile: Ordering solution for inventory that moves;

• KeepStock Track: Tracks inventory in and out of stockroom;

• KeepStock Secure: Controlled dispensing of products;

• KeepStock Onsite: Grainger performs product scan and replenishment; and

• KeepStock Store: Customized Grainger branch at a contractor location.

“There is a rich opportunity for facilities and maintenance professionals to take costs out of their business through a more aggressive approach to inventory management,” said Kratz. “More than ever before, Grainger has seen its customers move to carrying lower levels of stocked inventory as much as possible to reduce carrying cost. Facilities and maintenance professionals have a better understanding of the cost savings and efficiency gains that come from stocking only critical inventory items and leverage their supplier partners to deliver all other items as they are needed.”

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Streamlining The Order Process

Lau Industries recognizes that unfamiliarity with a product sometimes causes customers to shy away from ordering it. And they are doing something about it. Lau is showcasing its line of ceiling radiation dampers and is hoping that some new ordering tools will make it easy for HVAC contractors to familiarize themselves with the product while getting uncomplicated delivery.

“We’re spending a lot of time on our line of fire/life safety dampers — specifically ceiling radiation dampers,” said Anna Schlotterbeck, Lau sales and marketing manager. “The increase in multifamily construction has been one of the few bright spots in the otherwise struggling construction industry in most regions of the country.

“We have found over the years that a lot of traditional HVAC wholesaler/distributors tend to shy away from this segment of the business due, largely, to unfamiliarity with the product line. Ordering a ceiling radiation damper is a little more involved than ordering, say, a replacement blower wheel. We have developed several tools specifically for the distributor to assist them in ordering for their customer if the need arises.”

Lau’s two tools it offers to distributors were both developed to assist in the fire/life safety product ordering process. Each are done to assist distributors in helping HVAC contractor customers understand the products and the ordering process.

“The first is a small, dry erase booklet we call the Damper Ordering Made Easy book that outlines each of the fire/life safety product categories (fire dampers, smoke dampers, fire/smoke dampers, ceiling radiation dampers, access doors, commercial control dampers, manual balancing dampers, backdraft dampers and louvers),” said Schlotterbeck. “It breaks down all of the information that a distributor needs to acquire from their customer in order to get an accurate quote from Lau, eliminating the ping-pong effect. It comes with a dry erase pen, allowing the distributor to reuse the pages over and over again.

“The second tool we offer is software called REPS. It basically mirrors the Ordering Made Easy booklet, but in electronic form. The best part about the software is that it is customized with the distributor’s pricing, allowing them to get their quote directly from the software without having to contact Lau. They can add their markup and present their customer with a quote within minutes.”

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Publication date: 8/13/2012