From left to right: Wolt, Barr, Loter, Northcutt and Taffera.

It doesn’t happen often that you gather manufacturers and dealers together and have an open forum to ask them questions and have them offer honest feedback regarding what each group wants from the other. But it did happen last week at Fenestration Day held in San Antonio, Texas—an educational event sponsored by DWM magazine. The result was an honest give and take of ideas and ultimately proved that companies on both sides of the aisle, manufacturing and retail, still have some improving to do.

DWM gathered together two dealers: Dan Wolt, president and founder, Zen Windows, Columbus, Ohio, and Scott Barr, steward, Southwest Exteriors, in San Antonio, and two manufacturers: Dennis Northcutt, national sales manager, NT Window in Arlington, Texas, and Mike Loter, executive vice president of Don Young Co. Inc. in Dallas together to share ideas.

If you weren’t already aware of how competitive the market is, and how price continues to play a crucial role, Loter offered a reminder.

“One thing we would like to see is less demand for cheaper products,” he said. “We used to have six competitors in Texas and now we have 30 and they drive the price down.” He did add, however, that many companies do have loyalty to Texas-based manufacturers.

“We can’t always offer the lowest price,” added Loter.

Wolt echoed Loter. “If you want quality service you can’t get the lowest price,” he said.

During the panel, the participants were asked a variety of questions by moderator Tara Taffera, editor and publisher of DWM magazine, and one of the questions to the manufacturers was, “What do the great dealers do well?” Again some of the answers came down to dollars.

“They present the product at a fair price—not the lowest price—a fair price,” said Northcutt.

What else do they do well?

“The good dealers take time to learn,” said Loter. “We encourage our dealers to come for training.”

Perhaps Wolt wishes he sold windows from Loter’s company as the training he receives from his window manufacturer is non-existent.

“I wish dealers had to get together every year for training,” said Wolt.

He told the story of one manufacturer who canceled his training appointment three times.

With another, Wolt said, “In five years I haven’t gotten a phone call saying I can come train you.”

Jim Plavecksy, owner of Windowtech Sales, who attended Fenestration Day, and spends some time training dealers in items such as sales methods, etc., affirmed what Wolt was saying, and added from the audience, “Manufacturers must take the time to train their dealers.”

Another hot topic during the panel revolved around websites and technology and how the groups interact using these forums.

“The good dealers have great websites,” said Loter.

Wolt counts himself as one of these dealers, and said if the manufacturer he works with doesn’t have a great one as well that is a deal breaker.

“Having a great website is crucial to me doing business with you,” he said. “In fact, he said he met with a manufacturer who had a great product but the website was very low quality and “paled in comparison to his” so he declined to work with that manufacturer.

“I asked them to change it and they said they would but that was two years ago,” he said.

To Wolt, a manufacturer’s site is crucial as he sends customers there before he even shows up at the home.

“I tell my customers ahead of time to visit the manufacturer’s site, that way they are informed before I show up,” he said.

Other panelists agreed that a great website is crucial.

“The website is there to support the dealers,” said Northcutt. “The homeowner will go to the manufacturer’s website. Some direct them there. Some don’t but the better dealers do.”

“We encourage our dealers to link directly to our site,” said Loter. “This is a great tool if used properly. I don’t think enough dealers direct homeowners there.”

As far as other ways to use technology, both Barr and Wolt said all their order entry is done online.

“We email, we tweet, we Facebook—we communicate in every way,” said Northcutt.

Loter added that at Don Young the company communicates via everything from smart phones to email, the latter of which is often the biggest link to the dealer.

“Technology has helped us reduce mistakes greatly,” he said.

“Anyway you can connect to technology you can get us,” said Northcutt. “Hopefully later in the year we will have an iPad app.”

So while much communication occurs using these forums, it seems more work on improving communications in general is still needed. For example, Wolt said his manufacturers don’t even inform him of new products that are available.

But when customers are buying products, Loter said his company encourages customers to buy locally.

One dealer in the audience shared that he “doesn’t sell on price and doesn’t lose on price.”

“I buy x windows because it’s made in America and sometimes that is a tipping point,” he said. “But for a company my size if I don’t have help from you that hurts me.” As an example, he pointed out that he has lost sales due to the transferability of warranties.

Could that “help” from manufacturers include sales leads?

Barr pointed out that he gets a few leads from his manufacturers, a point with which Wolt was interested as he gets none.

So an attendee posted a question to Wolt: “If a manufacturer could deliver you leads, would you change?”

“If they could provide me with one lead a week, I would jump ship if they offered a comparable product,” he answered.

“Nothing makes us happier to get a lead and pass it on,” said Loter.

For more on this interesting give-and-take panel discussion, read Taffera’s blog.

Ryon Ray, NT Window, offered some feedback during the panel discussion.

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