The Distributor as a Partner

Rather than thinking of the distributor as a supply house, cleaners and restorers must consider the distributor as a partner that plays an important role in their success.

Photo by Bill Wells. A special thank you to Richard McCalla of McCalla Supplies, Van Nuys, Calif.; Gus Rosales, The Cleaning Company; Ernesto Peralta, Peralta Maintenance; and Tim Baker, Chemspec.

The term “E-commerce” has become one of the hottest buzz words in the news right now. The practice of purchasing merchandise over the Internet seems to threaten the traditional face-to-face style of doing business. But if my recent experience working behind the counter for my friend who is an equipment and supplies distributor serves an indicator, then e-commerce is not much of a threat to his business.

The increase in numbers of supplies and equipment distributors over the past decade has been nothing short of phenomenal. Everything from mom-and-pop to large “chain” stores are opening based upon a growing industry need for supplies that range from chemicals to accessories to equipment—all of which can easily be purchased in a showroom environment where one can walk through and pick up the needed materials. The convenience of walking into a location and finding the numerous consumable items that are needed today will keep these stores open and thriving. It’s important today for the professional cleaning company to look upon the distributor as a partner in your business and part of its success.

If you don’t have a distributor near you, such as the one described above, then you probably have an understanding of what I’m talking about. The convenience of finding all the items you’ll need as you need them will keep you coming back to the showroom and will keep you from doing business the “new e-commerce” way. There are times when you just can’t wait for needed commodities to be shipped from a remote location—you need it right now!

A recent drenching downpour on a Saturday afternoon left thousands of square feet of flooded carpets and phones ringing at cleaning or drying companies all over the Tampa Bay, Fla., area and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work for those able to respond. This was one of those situations you couldn’t have planned for. If you had a semi loaded with equipment, it still wouldn’t have been enough for this particular day. E-commerce just won’t cut it in a case like that. A distributor location is certainly your friend at times like these.

The distributor has long been the traditional source for supplies. Increasingly, the distributor is becoming the source for services needed to keep your equipment functioning properly and profitably. Malfunctioning tools and equipment are a liability, not an asset, and must be repaired as soon as possible. A complete parts department, a necessity for the complete distributor, increases the odds that your repairs can be met in a timely manner. Conversely, you have to wait for your orders placed through the Internet.

Additionally, the distributor also becomes your source for technical information: advice for the spot that won’t come out; the mysterious discoloration; the odor that won’t go away; and help for problems that consumers create for themselves for you and your techs. In many cases, the distributor sales staff consists of cleaning technicians that have experienced similar problems.

This time of immediate help does not rely on an Internet connection and having to wait for a reply. ost importantly, the ability to make a phone call and get solutions to your client’s needs in a timely manner certainly enhances the professional image, a very necessary element in our industry today.

Besides being there when you need quick answers, your distributor/partner will be there with you during the planning portion of your business. They can help you make wise decisions relative to such common business challenges as diversification and how to best accomplish it, as well as helping you avoid costly mistakes.

Increasingly, your distributor/partner will become your source of training in new endeavors. As our chosen field of cleaning and restoration grows and becomes increasingly complex, training will continue to be one of the best investments you can make. As Derek Bok, president of Harvard University said, “If you think education is expensive, then try ignorance!”

Having a local distributor that offers training will save hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in travel costs, food and lodging and lost production time. Many times the distributor location becomes a small community of like-minded folks and visits to the showroom become social occasions. Functions such as customer appreciation days, manufacturer’s traveling equipment displays, special occasions such as anniversaries, grand openings and more will draw a number of fellow cleaners to one site at one time. This gives you the opportunity to meet your competition and perhaps foster a networking opportunity.

Networking with your fellow professionals can be quite beneficial if work is overabundant or when work is slow and you have open production slots. At times like these, a referral from a fellow cleaner may be quite welcome. Without the presence of the distributor/partner and their functions, you may never have the chance to meet that fellow cleaner.

While there may be business situations in which e-commerce will significantly change the paradigm of an industry, I can’t see that happening in the cleaning/restoration field. Distributors with showrooms will continue to grow in number and create opportunities by their presence. Ours is an industry where waiting for an ordered product is a luxury we can’t afford. In a perfect world, there would be no broken equipment or torrential rains, and all emergencies would be scheduled in advance. The real world and its challenges would seem to dictate that distributors, especially those that offer, supplies, parts, service, technical assistance, business assistance, training opportunities, networking opportunities, and help with your business growth and success, will not be replaced by e-commerce. I don’t see a decline in distributor presence or a growth of e-commerce in our industry in the foreseeable future, unless someone can figure out a way to fax you a carpet drying fan. Have you hugged your distributor/partner lately? He/she may be your best friend.

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