A Rock Star Playing Field

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In today’s ever-changing business landscape, strengthening the contractor/wholesaler channel is critical to survival. A recent general session at PHCC CONNECT drilled deep into the conversation.

 “How does my supplier make me look like a rock star?” asked Dan Callies, President, Oak Creek Plumbing, Inc., Oak Creek, Wis., during the “Collaborative Connections: Strengthening Supplier-Contractor Relationships for Success” general session at the PHCC Connect show last month in Cleveland. Joining Dan on stage was an all-star cast featuring emcee Robert Grim, Senior Vice President, Global Sales, InSinkErator, Mount Pleasant, Wis.; Scott Robertson, President, Robertson Heating Supply Co., Alliance, Ohio; KathrynPoehling-Seymour, President and CEO, First Supply LLC, Madison, Wis.; and Jason Pritchard, Co-Founder, PriCor Technologies, Seattle.

contractor, wholesaler, supplier, plumbing, manufacturer, supply chain, training, technology, collaboration, PHCC

From l to r: Robert Grim, Senior Vice President, Global Sales, InSinkErator, Mount Pleasant, Wis.; Scott Robertson, President, Robertson Heating Supply Co., Alliance, Ohio; Kathryn Poehling-Seymour, President and CEO, First Supply LLC, Madison, Wis.; and Jason Pritchard, Co-Founder, PriCor Technologies, Seattle.

That’s the million-dollar question, right? How does the supplier/contractor relationship make each other better at his/her jobs, and contribute to the overall company mission? Throw in the manufacturer here too, for that matter. Some of the fundamental tenets for strengthening that relationship—that were discussed at the general session—included collaboration, value distribution services, availability, technology and training, and expectations.

Can’t We Just Get Along?

InSinkErator’s Grim asked about the value of working together, and Poehling-Seymour stressed that collaboration is critical in this relationship. “We must understand the pain points and what is working and what isn’t.”

And with that comes better communication. “We are in a relationship industry where communication is imperative,” said Pritchard. If that means paying a bit more for that stronger relationship, then so be it, intimated Pritchard.

Callies echoed this but stressed right communication over more communication. The common thought is “wide equals pricing and deep equals relationships,” said Callies.

So, let’s go deep as an industry. When asked what the landscape is going to look like in five-to-10 years for the contractor/wholesaler/manufacturer, people, processes and services matter. Through trust and preferences, “Relationships are going to matter more,” said Pritchard.

What about expectations? “We want to be around for another 10-20 years,” said Robertson. “We want to see contractor loyalty in the channel,” continued Robertson. “And that means a loyalty to the wholesaler in your particular market.”

Stock Market

Let’s not avoid the 800-lb. gorilla in the room. With contractor loyalty, comes availability and pricing. For Robertson, inventory presence is critical so much so that Robertson Supply holds inventory for approximately 100-125 days. “Listen, we don’t make or install anything so we better be damn good at inventory management,” said Robertson.

Value distribution services ties right in here, “It’s about right product, right time, right price,” said Poehling-Seymour. “Be that added value family.”

Tech Relevant

It’s imperative for these brick-and-mortar supply houses to stay on top of the latest trends and technology. “The key to survival is to stay progressive and current,” said Robertson. Upon further self-reflection, “how do we make it easier to find product?” asked Robertson. “This includes being totally integrated with our contractor partners and researching and developing a technology that contractors will use.”

Poehling-Seymour added that First Supply LLC institutes “customer councils” to continuously get a pulse of the customer. “We try to make sense of the noise,” said Poehling- Seymour. “Where is critical mass in that noise so we can make the right decisions?”

Unless you’ve been riding under a technology rock, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has dominated the talk in most every corner of the tech universe, and it has crept into the PHVAC industry as well. While artificial intelligence, in and of itself, can sound scary and intimidating, according to Poehling-Seymour, “AI has real application in the industry purchasing and predictability.”

For suppliers, it’s imperative to keep all “moving-forward” options available, as Robertson suggests. This includes, and nothing new and earth shattering in our industry, maximizing e-commerce when necessary. “E-commerce presents the right tools at your fingertips,” said Poehling-Seymour. Robertson adds that for his company, online ordering represents 20% volume. Other tech advancements, which included the use of QR codes to streamline processes and online training, were mentioned.

Training Room

InSinkErator’s Grim offered that in today’s business landscape, there is more need for training.

In fact, says Grim, PHCC members ask for training and education now more than ever. “With evolution and advancement comes training and education,” said Callies. Doubling down on this, Poehling-Seymour stated that First Supply opened a training center and offers a variety of training through streaming content.

Callies suggests that people still are the cogs in the wheel that makes this industry run, “Digital when you can, verbal when you must.” Pritchard and Poehler-Seymour agree, saying that people and the process are key through direct communication, and that includes all members of the channel—contractors, manufacturers, all the way down to the inside and outside sales, drivers, dispatchers, etc. within each organization.

So, let’s go back to the original question: How do we all make each other look like rock stars? Consuming all of the above, and, quite simply, “look for successes and build on them,” said Callies.

This article originally ran in PHCC’s Solutions magazine. You can learn more about the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors (PHCC) Association at www.phccweb.org.