In the custom installation channel, one of the ongoing debates regards the relative merits of buying your products direct from the manufacturer or through a distributor.
Like any difference of opinion, ask five custom integrators what they think, and you'll likely hear five different opinions, or more.
To get a pro-distribution perspective, I spoke to Barry Wosk, president of Vancouver, BC-based rep agency Sound Developments, Ltd.
He believes that distributors offer custom dealers five advantages.
Just-in-Time, Cost-Effective Delivery
Since few custom shops keep large amounts of on-hand inventory -- "just in case" -- quite often a situation arises where dealers need their order and they need it now.
According to Wosk, a distributor committed to the custom channel is often better at handing rush orders than big vendors.
With nominal minimal order sizes to get free shipping, the dealer's total cost is kept down.
Ease of Transaction
When you're dealing with distributors, you can cut down on back office overhead and reduce the total number of credit lines you have to juggle.
Wosk says that for Canadian dealers, being able to purchase in Canadian currency, and to have a flat cost without having to add in duty or brokerage fees, is an additional savings.
"For high five- and low six-figure PO's coming across the border, foreign exchange, duty and brokerage charges can really add up," he says.
Simplicity in Warranty Returns
It's been Wosk's experience -- on both sides of the warranty return desk -- that distributors are more sympathetic and less bureaucratic when dealing with warranty work and Return Merchandise Authorizations than many large manufacturers.
"A good distributor knows that the dealer wants to be treated with the same kind of white glove service he gives his clients," he says.
"If there's a problem, and it can be dealt with, the distributor will take care of it without making the dealer jump through a hundred hoops."
In the same vein as warranty returns, dealers should be able to count on a distributor for a more in-depth level of technical support.
"Usually two heads are better than one. More often then not, we've been installers ourselves at one time or another, so we take an interest in knowing how to make things work," says Wosk.
"It's also nice for the dealer to be able to share opportunities and challenges with someone who gets the local market, and we can pass that on to our other dealers."
It's not always the case that manufacturer direct is the cheapest way to go.
"We crunch the numbers as best we can so that our dealer pricing can be as close as possible to what buying direct would cost. Clearly that's not always going to be the case, but much of the time it is," he says.
Wosk is also quick to point out that good vendors strive to offset a cost difference with the value-added features of buying from a distributor that he's outlined above.
"In other words," says Wosk, "if you have a choice between direct or distribution purchasing, a distributor needs to offer you services that enhance your relationship and make things easier for your business."
Obviously, there are advantages to purchasing manufacturer direct, which we'll cover in another column.
In the meantime, share your opinion with us.
What makes for a good distributor, and as a dealer what are your expectations? Let us know in the comments below.
Lee Distad is a freelance CEDIA Certified Professional Designer who offers design and process consultation to firms in the Custom Installation industry, as well as copy writing and other professional writing services. Lee’s business and industry blog can be read at http://www.leedistad.com