Quick Connect: The First Call

June 8, 2012

Steve, a long-time friend, is also the co-owner of a business that sells parts for commercial kitchens. Basically a warehouse-distributor, Steve buys direct from the manufacturer and sells to the end user. His customers range from little mom-and-pop lunch counters to giant convention centers that serve thousands of meals at one sitting. The buy everything from bottle openers to walk-in freezer compressors, as well as gaskets, valves, evaporator coils and other replacement parts to keep their kitchen equipment going.

Steve and I meet for breakfast once a week, and we often talk about work. Recently he described a telephone conversation that sounded familiar. A first-time caller was looking for a particular part, and somehow he had found the manufacturer’s unit price but didn’t understand why they wouldn’t sell directly to him. He didn’t understand why he had to buy from ‘a middle man.’ Steve explained: “The manufacturer will sell only in quantity. Instead of hiring sales people to deal with every kitchen in America, they sell to me and let me deal with the end user.”

Steve is not the least expensive supplier for much of his product line, but he’s the first call for most of his long-time customers. That’s because Steve works hard to make sure he’s the only call they need to make, whether they’re buying parts or making a warranty claim. “People don’t mind paying a little more if they get what they want. And what they really want is more than just parts.” Steve said his customers want his knowledge, his ability to find alternate sources, and his honest opinion about products. They want a consultant who can advise them before they make a purchase.

He said he can always tell when a first-time caller has tried to buy parts by going directly to a manufacturer’s Website. “All they care about is price, they never ask about service or quality or warranty, just price.” When I asked Steve if he ever shops on Amazon’s Website, he said that’s different. “This isn’t retail sales. I’m not selling books or golf clubs, I’m selling to pros who operate commercial kitchens. They should understand the difference.”

I reminded him that when he first started his business, he had to train his customers, and they had to train him too. I said only experience can teach us that on-going commercial sales relationships are based on performance and trust, not just price. Steve asked how a guy who writes about tools can understand so much about commercial sales. I replied, “my readers have trained me too.”

About the Author

Jacques Gordon

Jacques Gordon is the former editor-in-chief of PTEN and Professional Distributor magazines. His background includes 10 years as an automotive technician and 10 years in Tier 1 suppliers’ engineering labs testing gaskets, fuel injection systems and emission control systems.

He continues to stay abreast of the latest technical developments through editorial research and technician training seminars. He holds an ASE Master Technician with L1 Certification and a Master Hybrid Technician certification from ACDC.

Jacques has been writing for aftermarket magazines since 1998, and he has earned a reputation as one of the best technical writers in the business. He is a winner of two American Society of Business Press Editor awards and several company editorial awards.

He is currently the video script writer for the CARS Training Network in Ontario, Canada.

Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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