Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's not all doom and gloom

Bad times lay just ahead... or at least so goes much of the economic news these days. Distributors across most lines of trade are being told - 2008-10 will be the Katrina of Economic low pressure cells.

Yet MRO giant W. W. Granger has announced the end of a pretty good February.

2008 vs 2007 February Sales by Segment listed as:

  • Grainger Branch-based +6 %

  • Acklands - Grainger (Canada) +25 %

  • Lab Safety Supply +3 %

What does this mean for other distributors? Well, it gives you a benchmark to compare your business against a known commodity.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two Screens or Bigger Screens - for productivity

Some companies are technology friendly and some are not. Last month I had the opportunity of visiting one of those very friendly and rare early adopters. They are wholesalers-make no mistake about it. Their building says distributor. Observing the first two or three folks walking in the door in the early morning hours, it seemed like any other wholesaler in America. But once in the door - things were different. Very noticably, every person had two monitors on their desk.

I've seen this set-up in software developer's offices and in the system administrator's cube at another client's office. But here everyone uses two screens. I asked why and they told me, information is their competitive edge. And, adding a second monitor was the best productivity investment on the market.

I immediately purchased a second monitor and put it to the test myself. After a couple of days "getting the hang of it", I found myself effortlessly moving back and forth from web to word document or from spreadsheet to spreadsheet. It's almost like magic.

Earlier this week, new research was released covering the whole issue.

"The University of Utah tested how people performed tasks like working on a document and moving numbers around spreadsheets while using different computer configurations: a single 18-inch monitor, a single 24-inch monitor and dual 20-inch monitors.
They discovered: those using the single 24-inch monitor completed the tasks 52% faster than people who used a single 18-inch monitor; people who used dual 20-inch monitors were 44% faster than those with the 18-inch ones. "

Let's do a quick calculation. 52% increase in productivity. Assuming a good distributor customer service person makes (conservatively) $20 per hour and a good monitor costs $250 dollars. This looks like a 3 day payback.

How do you spell ROI?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Customer Training - The outlook is good

For the past few years I have encouraged distributors to get into the training business. In spite of their best efforts, community colleges and other traditional technical training organizations continue to fall short of the needs of our customers. They have a difficult time hosting anything besides the most fundamental of courses – technology manages to keep just a few car lengths ahead of them.

There is a growing demand for training. To illustrate this point, the US Department of Labor recently announced that America will need to train more than 270,000 new electrical workers by 2016. This statement mirrors those made related to a number of other skilled trades.
No one understands the local needs of customers like distributors. Often distributor Specialists have not only a working knowledge of products, they have deep understanding of the problems faced by their customers.

I believe using Specialists to conduct training offers a number of benefits:

1. Students (customers) have a tendency to share internal problems with the person conducting training. A traditional trainer uses this information to better his/her class materials. Conversely, a Specialist uses the information to develop the overall value proposition of the wholesaler. This information spills over into strategic plans, sales management and new product additions.

2. Specialists, who are part of the sales team, gain access to customer contacts that are normally shielded from sales via purchasing, union contracts and a number of other gatekeepers. This provides deeper connection between the wholesaler and his customer base.

3. Training offers an additional source of revenue which can be used to build the distributors competitive advantage. Further, this source of revenue allows for migrating into other “pay for services”. .

massive need for electrical training

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Green Deal

Today everything is turning green. Gigantic companies (like GE) are spending barrel loads of money to convince the public that they are a green company.

I personally believe the path to a "Greener" tomorrow comes via economics. Gas prices at $3.20 a gallon have done more for fuel efficient car sales than a zillion dollars in ad campaigns.

Early on in the advent of compact florescent lighting - Distributor Product Specialists did a grass roots effort to convince business to switch to compact lighting. It made economic sense and the Specialist proved it to customers one by one. The same thing happened with recycling of mercury content from lamps. It was driven by wholesalers and driven in the right direction.

Today, much of the "green lighting" is coming from Asia. It has been mandated and some silly decisions are being made.

Check out the recent article in the Wall Street Journal for more.....