In these days of online access to any product you can think of, it seems like your best option for buying technical products is to just find the best price and play vendors off against each other. I get offers from China often; buy cheap! We sell Allen-Bradley, Siemens, machine tool parts, tooling, whatever!
I must admit I do my share of buying from eBay and PLCCenter. Both are good for used parts, and every once in a while you will find a good vendor that happens to be located somewhere else, but here are 5 good reasons to establish a relationship with your local representative or vendor:
1. Technical Support. Some companies don’t realize that your vendor may be required by the manufacturer to hire specialist engineers with expertise in such areas as PLCs, Drive Systems and Motion Control. Allen-Bradley is a good example of this; their vendors operate within “APRs”, or Areas of Primary Responsibility. They are not supposed to operate outside of their defined area, and must support products sold by their company, for free. This is at a pretty high expense to the vendor. Its been more than 20 years since I worked for the Allen-Bradley vendor in East Tennessee, and the two engineer specialists that I worked with back then are still there. They were pretty experienced guys back then, you can only imagine what they have learned by now.
2. Education. A lot of vendors do “Lunch and Learns” on their products for their customers. Representatives from the manufacturers bring their latest products and let you check them out and answer any questions you may have. Plus you get a free lunch out of it, can’t beat that! They also often have training rooms at their facility where they do training courses.
3. Stocking Programs. In these days of JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing, some manufacturers need to ensure that there is always enough of whatever component they need on the shelf. Companies often coordinate their production schedules with vendors to ensure that components are never more than an hour away, also reducing their own storage requirements. While at Wright Industries, we had a program where pneumatic fittings and electrical accessory bins were refilled weekly. When I owned ACS, we ensured that our local cable supplier always stocked the special cable types we needed.
4. Shipping Costs/Time. This one is easy; of course it takes more time to ship products from places that aren’t local, especially from overseas. But its not as obvious that the shipping costs are already built into the pricing from your local vendor. When buying from outside area, there is not only the shipping cost from the manufacturer to the vendor, but also from the vendor to you. Some local vendors run a truck around the area and deliver their products for no additional charge.
5. A Friendly Face. Sales people perform a valuable service in terms of offering advice and education on the product itself, but when I had my own machine building company I also relied on their news about what local companies (potential customers) or even my competition was up to. I also appreciated the occasional lunch or trinkets (hats, screwdrivers, etc.) 🙂
One of the things that prompted this post is a particular customer I have that has burnt a lot of bridges with local vendors. He has had a lot of local reps come in and quote product solutions including providing design advice, then shopped the orders around the country online, sometimes even buying used equipment. Of course the locals follow up hoping to get an order, but after this has happened a few times the vendors understandably stop providing quotes. When components break down he doesn’t have the local connections to get quick replacements or repairs.
Some of this is due to a lack of knowledge about how distributors work, and some of it is due to wanting to pinch the penny until it yells, but the end result is undoubtedly higher costs and less support.
Plus, he always has to buy his own lunch!