Written by William G. Handlos, P.E.
As a manufacturer of specialty engineered geosynthetics, Presto Geosystems markets and sells through a worldwide network of geosynthetics distributors and representatives. Why? What value does a network bring? The decision to work through distribution is driven by the value that the network brings and is reinforced by the success of this model over thirty years of operating experience.
Now and then, the model is challenged. Contractors sometimes see the distributor as a non-essential layer of cost. But, take a closer look and see how a well prepared network adds value to both the manufacturer, the contractor and most importantly…..to the project owner.
It would be impossible for each geosynthetics manufacturer to maintain a sufficient workforce to cover the US, much less the world market. Distributors function as a sales and service cooperative – shared by all manufacturers for whom the distributor represents. Distributors vary in the number of manufacturers they represent. But, it is not uncommon for the local distributor to carry dozens of products from 6 to 10 manufacturers.
Engineers and Architects as well as contractors benefit from local trade shows and educational presentations sponsored by informed product salesmen who are known and trusted in the local marketplace. Distributors are judged in the local marketplace swiftly, and so they only promote products that they believe in.
When calling on specifying engineers and architects, the technical salesman has access to a wide range of solutions and can match the product to the project challenge. My father often said, “Give a man a hammer, and the whole world becomes a nail”. Conversely, give a salesman a toolbox and training to use those tools….and problems get solved appropriately. This is important for installation support as well. Small and large, all projects get local attention from a local support professional who drives to the site in their pickup truck. National manufacturing support must come by plane and may or may not be able to adapt to last minute calls for help or weather delays.
Distributors also act as product inventory buffers to the marketplace. Good distributors stock sufficient product, allowing contractors to operate in nearly a “just in time” fashion and can bundle materials from several manufacturers. There would be little chance that manufacturers could maintain sufficient inventory for nationwide or worldwide market demands. The contractor should appreciate the value of the distributor functioning as an inventory bank. Shipping time is measured in hours and not days or weeks when dealing with a local warehouse. In similar fashion, the distributor is a monetary bank, offering credit terms to allow contractors to function on the strength of the distributor’s own credit line until the owners payment arrives.
Contractors and project managers also benefit from local support when they call for bid pricing. Strong personal/professional relationships locally developed make it possible to guarantee that the bidders can get answers to their pricing needs even at odd hours. It is not unusual for late hours or weekend work to be performed by local salesmen. They have a vested interest and feel compelled to support their contracting friends when in need.
It is easy for manufacturers and contractors to overlook the value of the distributor and think only of the “savings” that might be available from direct sales. But, that would be a mistake. Local salesmen and the distributors they work for are an essential part of the sales/service/solution process.