How do dealers really feel about the distributors that sell them their products? The relationship between the dealer and distributor can be critical to a successful sale and installation, and the ideal situation is to have distributor partners that really understand the dealer’s business and how to help him build and keep customers.

“I think if a business, regardless of its size, uses a distributor in the proper way then it is all good and positive,” says Frank Wolferseder, member, Alarms by Precision LLC, Monroe, Conn. “Like anything in business there is an art to that. It is a real two-way street.”

Bill Callaghan, vice president of security, United Security Services Inc., Chicago, adds that good relationships with distributors take time to develop, but are key to good business practices. “We have been in the security business for over 25 years, but alarms and access/egress for the last seven. It took us two to three years to develop the relationships we now have with our distributors.”

 In the best of situations, a good distributor can help guide the dealer through those waters and even help him sell and install an unfamiliar technology or product.
SDM polled several dealers and asked them to finish the following statements about their distributors and how they view them. These dealers have been in the security business for anywhere from seven to 47 years. Some use as few as three distributors and others up to 18. The amount of security product they buy from distributors ranges from 30 percent to 100 percent.

SDM: “I use the distributors I do because…”
Len Cody, chief operating officer, Secure Vision Inc., Gulf Shores, Ala.: “Some manufacturers don’t sell direct. We are a little different from most security companies. We are a cable operator. The security part is a sideline business for us.”
Derrik Adams, assistant manager, Texas Fire and Safety Group, Dallas: “Location and inventory are the primary reasons. Customer service also comes into play a bit.”

SDM: “In general, the prices I am paying through my distributors are…”
Callaghan: “I think we are paying a decent price for a good product. I don’t think it’s unfair.”
Adams: “Competitive and comparable to that of other distributors.”

SDM: “I wish my distributor would carry more of…”
Joseph Cioffi III, vice president, Bergen Protective Systems, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: “Products at the branch. For instance we have certain products we need, but they are at other locations. I would like to see more availability at the branch level.”
Callaghan: “It would be nice if there was one distributor that would carry everything instead of going through 12 different vendors. But just like anything else, if you are going to shop at Sam’s Club you will get a certain quality, but if you shop at the independent, smaller shops you will maybe get a better quality and something more in line with what you are looking for.”
Adams: “Complete fire alarm systems and a wider variety of fire alarm manufacturers.”

SDM: “My distributors act like business partners when…”
Callaghan: “They will call us if there is a new product line they think we should look at. They will recommend employees to us. We have a good relationship with most of our vendors.”
Larry Walker, president, The Alarm Company Inc., Campbell, Calif.: “When they go the extra mile to get what I need. They check on me regularly to make sure I am happy with what is going on.”
Wolferseder: “When they help with complicated quotes. It’s a two-way street. If I feed with my small business multiple distributors, then they take care of me in return. If I were to never buy from someone then ask them for special work,
I don’t believe I would get the customer service I would like.”

SDM: “I really appreciate that my distributor offers services such as…”
Adams: “Fast, reliable quotes and job-site delivery. This keeps us from wasting time running back and forth from the job to the parts warehouse.”
Callaghan: “Over-nighting equipment for a job, letting us put orders in 24/7 and once the order is placed, giving us a specific day and time that we will receive it. That is very beneficial to us. That way we can accurately tell our client when we will have it installed.”

SDM: “I wish my distributor would offer more…”
Cody: “Online ordering, e-commerce so I can actually manage it. That would be very handy to be able to see online catalogs and order from there.”
Walker: “Stock on the shelves. I order a lot because they don’t stock, so I stock. The problem with that is that date codes go into warranty effect and they sit on my shelves. Sometimes I go to install it and the warranty has expired.”

SDM: “My distributors just don’t understand my…”
Callaghan: “They wouldn’t be a distributor if they didn’t understand what we were doing. We rely on them as partners. We have been bidding on a job and putting a bid together and they have thrown ideas to us to try it a certain way. We have a good working relationship with our current vendors.”
Walker: “They pretty much understand everything nowadays. I have been with them so long that they have heard it all. One time one of the managers of a distribution company asked to go out on a sale of a camera system with me. We went to the site, did the quote, ordered the parts and installed the next day. Because they went out in the field and saw why we needed that part and saw how fast we had to move to get a job, they now really understand how we operate.”

SDM: “Instead of buying from multiple distributors I would buy from just one if only…”
Cioffi: “There were better pricing and manufacturer choice, along with equipment availability.”
Adams: “They stocked all fire alarm and fire extinguisher parts that I need. Currently our best fire alarm distributor doesn’t carry fire extinguisher parts and vice versa.”
Wolferseder: “I would never buy from just one. I would never put all my eggs in one basket.”

SDM: “My distributor does this better than any other I know of…”
Callaghan: “With each individual distributor we rely on their expertise as far as the equipment they have. We will lay out the bid and they work as our partner to make sure whatever we are doing goes off well and that we have the right equipment.”
Walker: “Gets back to me fast with answers to my questions on a product. I ask what part I should use and they will research it and get back to me with pricing and how soon they can ship it.”

SDM: “I like buying through distributors because…”
Cioffi: “It affords me the ability to get the equipment more quickly.”
Cody: “I don’t have to forecast material. If they are a manufacturer I actually have to tell them what we are going to need and they build it through the year. A distributor stocks the material and I can buy from them as I need it.”
Callaghan: “Their expertise, knowledge of the product and the ability to tell you once you order it, when you will have it.”
Walker: “It is all a one-stop shop. They have everything; they ship everything. I don’t have to have multiple billings. I don’t really research pricing unless it is a huge job. I trust the distributor and pay the price.”
Adams: “Cheaper parts, more availability and their direct working relationship with multiple manufacturers offers us advantages that we would not have if we were buying our parts through an independent source.”
Wolferseder: “Buying direct from manufacturers, they sometimes don’t have great return policies or it is difficult to work with them on a customer service level, whereas distributors are much easier to work with. Distributors have distribution channels and ways of reaching out to many locations to get products.”

Distributors’ Summer Plans

SDM asked distributors what is coming this summer that will benefit their dealers. Here are a few of their responses.

Roy Crute, vice president of sales, Akron Hardware, Akron, Ohio: “This summer we will be hosting the ASSA Abloy Mobile Innovation Showroom at our location in Akron. The mobile showroom features fully functional models of openings that demonstrate the capabilities of numerous security, life safety, sustainability and aesthetic solutions.”

Beth Clark, sales manager, Martco, Louisville, Ky. “Martco will be celebrating our 50th year in business this summer. As a family-owned business we are one of the largest security distributors in the U.S., offering over 100 lines of equipment. We are constantly looking for new products and vendors. We recently began offering LED monitors for CCTV, one of the first distributors to advance to this technology.”

Michael Flink, president, ADI, Melville, N.Y.: “We are introducing to all the markets a new format for our ADI Expos, which are local trade shows we conduct in about 40 cities in North America. We found that dealers couldn’t spend all day in training, so we have changed the format to make it more effective for them. We now will have two sessions during the day that are training, plus the small trade show where they can see and feel and touch the latest products. It makes it easier to get the full experience in less time. We are also finalizing and implementing a new inventory plan where we will be stocking more inventory at with a broader assortment in each category and with deeper inventory. Even though we can have product tomorrow, if we can fill a complete order as dealers walk in or call it saves them time and energy.”

What do Distributors Bring to the Table?

For a dealer, distributors can add value to their business beyond just selling product. SDM asked distributors to talk about some of their most important value-adds.

James Rothstein, executive vice president, Tri-Ed/Northern Video Distribution, Woodbury, N.Y.: “We feel that the IP arena is very much a growing and important technology. The whole IP offering has to have more than products and education. We provide the value-add of system configuration so that once the product is delivered to our dealers, the solution will be as close to plug-and-play as possible.”

Norm Dumbroff, president, WAV Wireless Outfitters, Aurora, Ill.: “What we are helping security dealers do is to get into larger deals where they might not have the comfort level. For example, a lot of dealers have less expertise in dealing with the network and IT folks. We can help them augment their level of expertise.”

Paul Constantine, vice president of merchandising, ScanSource Security, Greenville, S.C.: “We configure and build resellers’ IP-based solutions to their end users’ specifications and drop ship it to the reseller’s customer so they can increase profitability and minimize time on site. We also assess, either remotely or on-site the end user’s network infrastructure to make sure it can handle the video traffic generated by the reseller’s proposed solution and make specific recommendations, if needed, on how to get their network to that level.”

Michael Flink, president, ADI, Melville, N.Y.: “We are trying, in this economy, to get our customers to stop carrying their own inventory. I look and see $50,000-$100,000 of inventory that we could provide just sitting on their shelves. I would rather see them invest in a new truck or some other method of growing their business. Inventory services don’t create new business. Our systems group also provides a telephone service with 23 trained engineers so if a security installer has a job in a new area for them, the systems group can help design the system and provide the needed materials. The dealer may not be familiar with the product, but they can still bid the job, with our help.”