Before I dig into my thoughts this month, I want to thank my wife Jen for bearing with me through my many commitments this year as HARDI’s president. She didn’t sign up for months of jet lag or weeks away from our home, but she has stood by my side through it all because she knows it’s important to me.
I also need to thank our members who have welcomed me to their facilities over the course of this year and for their active involvement in HARDI. It has been my pleasure to spend time getting to know all of you a little better than before. And of course, I need to extend sincere gratitude and respect to my ILLCO family for all of their additional support and commitment through this busy year.
By the time you read my next letter, I will have officially passed the gavel to Michael Meier of Meier Supply. I have complete confidence that his presidency will continue our progress and am excited to see how he leads us into another year of positive momentum.
But I’m not handing over that gavel just yet. And while I still have the opportunity, it’s important that I touch on the topic of technology. Those who know me know that I approach technology cautiously. Make no mistake – I’m not anti-tech; it’s not like I’m not tapping away on a typewriter right now. When implemented properly, it’s an invaluable tool, but “technology for technology’s sake” is, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a deterrent to business.
Here’s an example. I recently ordered a large piece of equipment to be installed at one of our distribution centers. Due to its size, it was a special order item with a 30-day lead time. No big deal.
A few weeks out, I emailed my sales rep to find out the delivery date so I could prepare my receiving docks, line up the contractors to install it and, in general, have the peace of mind that it would be arriving soon.
What I needed was a date. What I got was a complex, 135-word explanation on how to pull the tracking number off the invoice, create an account online, match the invoice and pull the carrier information to get to the delivery schedule.
If technology is a magic bullet, this guy was firing blanks.
Put another way: If your implementation of technology doesn’t make you easier to do business with, you need to rethink your strategy.
Ask yourself a few questions: Does this technology benefit my company? Does this technology solve a problem or create a problem for my customers? But most importantly, does it make things easier for my customer?
Technology can make accomplishing tasks easier and even completely automate them -- but you don’t want to use it to push those tasks downstream onto your customers. Any technology that inconveniences your customer is destined to have negative consequences.
The most obvious arena for technology implementation is e-commerce. Online sales are growing, but before jumping into it impulsively, know that it will peak and eventually find its equilibrium. If you plan to or have already implemented an e-commerce platform, be sure that it is done in a way that makes life easier for your customers. It should enhance your relationship with them, not replace it.
E-commerce has never been and will not be our core business. Our place has always been our ability to provide human-to-human customer service that no online retailer will ever be able to match. What we do best is taking care of our customers and solving their problems. Never underestimate the human factor.
Even from a practical standpoint, contractors don’t want to order everything online. That would mean having to carry inventory, especially for those emergency items. Trust me, they don’t want to carry inventory. If they did, they would be in the distribution business.
Relevant to all of this is that one of our keynote speakers for the Annual Conference this year will be speaking about Amazon. As you listen to him (you are going to the Annual Conference, aren’t you?), remember that the goal isn’t to do what Amazon has done; it’s to learn how they think. Their patterns of thought and leadership have been wildly successful. Those insights will be invaluable to us.
If you haven’t registered for the Annual Conference, you can register online at forward15.com (or call the HARDI offices for some human-to-human customer service!). This is the culmination of the year for HVACR distribution – I hope you’ll be there.
Meanwhile, go ahead, implement technology. But wield that power wisely. As for me, it’s time to replace this typewriter ribbon.
Looking FORWARD to December,