Big Box/Utility Competition Part 2

April 25, 2003

Worried about manufacturer competition?

By: Matt Michel

Many service companies are constantly looking over their shoulder at their suppliers. They worry that manufacturers may one day decide to compete with them. The threat is significant since the manufacturer has the credibility of the product brand, plus resources the service company cannot match. How does the independent service company compete?

Understand The Nature Of The Relationship With A Manufacturer First, understand that you are not married to a supplier. You are merely dating and the girl you’re dating is going out with a lot of other guys besides you. If all of the other girls (i.e., manufacturers) would fall all over themselves for a chance to date you, then you’re in control. The point is you won’t be left out in the cold.

Lockridge Priest is a central Texas air conditioning contractor. They are the dominant name. For years, they’ve been associated with one manufacturer to the point where the manufacturer *asked* permission if they could add a new dealer 30 miles outside of their territory. Makes sense.

Lockridge Priest was their largest dealer in the country, operating in central Texas no less! Unless things have changed, the manufacturer would never even think of adding a dealer within Lockridge Priest’s territory. Lockridge Priest is in control. They decide who they take to the dance, not the reverse.

You’re not Lockridge Priest? Then you might want to cover yourself by dancing with another girl from time to time, even if you do not want to date them. Don’t let yourself get in a position where you stay home for the homecoming dance because your girl got a better offer.

Remember, You Own The Customer
Until the manufacturer steps into the arena, remember that you own the customer. The manufacturer may know who the customer is through warranty cards and such, but the relationship is yours. Yet, customers are fickle and forgetful.

Make sure the customer knows and likes you. Keep marketing to them. Keep your name in front of the customer. Continue to woo the customer. Push service agreements or some other loyalty marketing program so that the customer is tied into you. Tie them to you with velvet chains, that may be delicate and easy to break, but that the customer does not want to break.

Also, market yourself. You may piggyback on a manufacturer’s brand name to help get in the door, but once you’re inside, market yourself. You want the customer to think of your name when they think of your industry.

Be Personal
Consumers like personal service and they inherently fear bigness. Bigness is impersonal. It’s bureaucratic. It’s hard to deal with. The customer gets lost in bigness. So be personal. Personal service starts with knowing the customer’s name. It starts with the call taker.

Decision Analyst, my old company, quadrupled in size during my seven years with the firm. They are one of the largest companies in their industry. Yet, their clients are amazed when they call the company and Kellie at the front desk recognizes them by voice. How does she do it? Beats me, but it makes clients feel important and special. Someone like Kellie is worth her weight in gold. If you get a chance to hire one, do it, no matter the cost. The extra money will come back.

Pet Food Express, a Kansas City home delivery pet supply store, uses technology to add an element of personal service. They employ caller ID, integrated with their computer system. When someone calls, the computer system automatically pulls up the customer’s profile. As soon as the homeowner speaks, the call taker identifies them because the record is on the screen (note: it’s better to wait for the homeowner to speak in case Mrs. Jones calls, when Mr. Jones called last time).

The call taker chats with the customer and uses the computer to prompt personal questions. For example, if the customer mentioned that Fluffy the cat was ill the last time she called, the call taker adds it to the record. When the homeowner calls back, the call taker asks how Fluffy’s doing.

Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.
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Copyright © 2002 Matt Michel

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