The refractory business used to be one where manufacturers made the product and distributors, or contractor installers sold the product. That is no longer the case in today’s business environment.
Currently many refractory manufacturers have a direct sales force in addition to internal pre-cast divisions and/or construction divisions. They also have built a loyal group of registered contractor/installers. Each of these groups has the potential for conflict if lines of communication are not wide open. To top it all off, purchasing agents may be confused about who is the best party for the job.
Overcoming this situation requires establishing a firm relationship with your customer ensuring you understand the client’s problem and can offer a solution that meets their needs. Once that relationship with the customer is firm and mutual in respect (very important to make it all work), then building a loyal, trusting relationship with your suppliers will be possible.
Doing business in a “cocoon” and keeping the vendor at “arm’s length” is short sighted. Growth will be stymied due to the lack of openness and trust required for a solid relationship. Keeping communication open with your valued supplier is a huge benefit for you and the client as well. When contractors and manufacturers work together, they are better able to solve a client’s problem through diversity of thinking. A most recent example would be the replacement of a highly technical product, no longer available from an offshore source, that threatened to shut down a significant portion of a customer’s production abilities. In this case, the importance of the Onex, supplier, customer relationship came together in the form of finding a long term, domestic solution. We all had “skin in the game” to solve this predicament, a solution that would not have been possible without this “three-legged stool”.
An open relationship with a supplier should be from sales representatives through the organization, right to the person in charge since there are many key decision makers at each level. Your goal is to be more than just a sales number on a PowerPoint presentation. Be a noted, important contributor to that supplier’s success. Your company needs to be recognized as a company that will work with the supplier, try new products (be a Beta site), let them know what you see in the market place, and most importantly, work through those awkward, conflicted sales situations that will inevitably occur.
Mutual trust, open communications, fairness, and honesty is a requirement to a successful formula in being looked at as an extended team member for your supplier. The relationship should be give and take. Lastly, most customers like seeing this close relationship as they know the support they require now comes from a true team.
Obviously, and most importantly for your customers benefit, the more you know about your supplier’s products, the more valuable you are to your customer base. Being a source for the best available technology should be why we all exist and is what we have to offer our customers. As previously mentioned, it is important that your customer sees a bond between you and your supplier base. A weak relationship can lead to unresolved issues, contractual disputes and delayed resolutions, putting the customer in the middle.
At Onex, the importance of these supplier relationships is understood and is one of the ways we can service our customers and differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. Offering the best refractory technology as well as access to numerous resources and technical teams is of prime importance as we work to solve problems for our clients. The support of our manufacturing partners and the “team” relationships we have built allow us to work together making manufacturing stronger in the United States. A win/win for everyone!