Final Word: Challenge the norm

"Supply the customer with the right product at the right time, to the right place in the right quantities at a competitive price."


To me, the above quotation epitomises the perceived  needs of all customers, national or regional, when looking for a distributor to their businesses, with a growing emphasis today on time (read tomorrow) and price (read inexpensive). So all any worthwhile distributor has to do is deliver on the above and the contracts come rolling in and ongoing partnerships are formed.

Becoming the distributor partner of choice would be a challenge even within historical customer bases, but when distributors are either having to or deciding to offer their services to new customer channels as well – as is so often the case today – life becomes more complicated.

It has been with great interest over the last ten years to see facility management (FM) as a bundle of multiple disciplines – from cleaning to catering – become the pillar on which distributors see the ‘easy’ addition to their core historical business being built on. An early adaptor to this was the traditional office products supplier followed closely by the major food players and more recently by the industrial maintenance suppliers. After all, they have great customer relationships, huge buying power and best in class logistics. So ten years on, how is the OP channel doing?

Listening to the customer

With the cleaning sector alone being worth circa £4.6 billion ($7.8 billion) within the broad FM spectrum in the UK, from all the close interaction I have as a major supplier into the industry I would say that the OP industry has not taken note of what “right product and competitive price” may mean in the opening quote. The wants and needs I hear today from FM companies and more importantly from their clients (which are all the major potential customers from retail to pub chains and manufacturer to hotel chains) are also not new, but they are equally as important. They are productivity, cost in use and green initiatives. Putting true focus on these needs, there lies a true opportunity for OP distributors great and small to not offer a ‘me too’ range but an alternative solution that changes logistics provider to consultant and box mover to partner.

“It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem”. This quote by Malcolm Forbes seems harsh in these circumstances, but I believe that not only is a fresh pair of eyes needed to analyse whether the right product is being offered, but also if the OP supply channel will reap additional benefits if this work is completed thoroughly. For example, it is far easier to win a tender or quotation if you are offering a range of product that offers a cost in use saving to the customer, which in most cases means selling fewer products to the customer to do the same or even a better job.

Doing this allows you to not only tick all the wants and needs of the customer, but it also means you are holding fewer SKUs and are delivering less frequently thus achieving an additional cost saving to you. Obviously, if you are simply retaining the business this may not be the ideal solution as there is potentially less cash flow to you, but as OP suppliers are new to the channel, it is all upside.

Innovative approach

That said, being brave enough to bring a new and innovative product saving to your existing customer will mean a further strengthening of the partnership if you are the incumbent. At Rubbermaid Commercial Products, four years ago we trialled and won the supply of a consumable range into a major UK airport by being able to offer a superior quality with the additional benefit to the airport of a 41% saving in usage. When a supplier linked to a distributor delivers such a solution, it of course guarantees the instant gratification of the customer. But it also shows that not only do you understand the customer’s wants, but you are proactive in being able to supply the solutions.

So listen closely to the real needs of the client, talk to your suppliers and be brave to challenge the norm.