Regardless of whether you’re a residential or commercial AV company your clients needs products, and you need to get them from somewhere. Broadly speaking, your two most common options are to deal directly with the manufacturer, or a distributor.
Since nothing in this business is ever simple, some manufacturers only sell to dealers directly, others are distribution-only, and many more are available either direct or through distribution.
So the question is: As an AV pro, which is the best choice when it comes to ordering your products?
I will tell you, right now at the outset, that as a sales rep for a large distributor, I’m a little biased. Maybe one day I’ll write a column titled “What Are The Advantages Of Buying Direct From Manufacturers?” — but not today.
Whether a distributor is a value-added or not, being a middle-man doesn’t necessarily mean their pricing is uncompetitive with manufacturers. Vendors know that dealers are going to comparison shop supplier pricing, just like end-users do.
Here’s a story from my days on the other side of the desk as a dealer: I needed 400 32-inch LCD panels for an MDU project. We typically bought our displays manufacturer direct, but I was unsatisfied with the price quoted by our manufacturer, so I shopped around.
I ended up saving 12 percent by placing my order through an authorized distributor who was willing to give us a volume discount that the manufacturer wasn’t.
Then there’s availability. Even more so than price, the number one product issue dealers have is whether or not they can get one (or 400!) when they need it. Especially when you have a time crunch, having accounts with distributors in addition to manufacturers betters your odds of being able to source what you need.
The most important consideration in favor of distributors is the service factor. I’ll grant you that many manufacturers have fantastic dealer support but — let’s be honest here — not all do.
Distributors recognize that they have to add value to the transaction. To do that they offer service and support that often exceeds what the manufacturer themselves can do. I do that, and many distributors I know do that. They want your business, they want to keep your business, and they’ll take good care of you to ensure that it stays that way.
That includes everything from maintaining an expedited RMA program for defectives, to ensuring that they can converse with their dealers on a very high technical level. Not to point fingers, but some manufacturers scale their tech support to deal with end users who can’t necessarily tell the help desk if the unit is plugged in. So if you’re a wizard, calling a help desk like that is frustrating.
Top-flight distributors know that their dealers are adept, and are prepared to answer their toughest questions about specifications and performance. All AV pros I’ve known, when they have questions, they want answers, and they want them quickly. Great distribution partners give them the answers.
It’s not only end-users who buy when presented with trust and value. When you have a choice between manufacturer or distributor, pick the one that will give you the most of both. That’s often a distributor, If I say so myself.