By Bob Eisenberg | Jul 06, 2009
Over the past 30 years that I have been in this industry, including more than 20 representing manufacturers and the balance either working with or owning my own distribution company, I have found that the equipment distributor is the most misunderstood link in the chain between the manufacturer, the distributor and the store owner.
A good distributor adds much more than simply providing equipment, service and parts. If you are buying or building a new store or looking for equipment for your existing laundromat, the distributor should be your “business consultant.”
In a new store, the distributor should patiently answer all of your questions and go over all of the business components and the site selection, as well as providing demographics and analysis; understanding of local market nuances and competition; explaining cash flow forecasts; determining break-even points; providing accurate investment information; helping with financing, equipment layout and design; determining equipment mix based on the demographics; acquiring permits and helping to deal with the local municipalities; aiding in training attendants; advising you on marketing and advertising ideas; and more.
For an existing operator, the distributor should be able to provide insight into the newest market trends, help determine what new equipment will increase revenue and/or cut utilities, and be someone you can lean on for advice on marketing, advertising and adding new services such as wash-dry-fold, commercial accounts and so on.
Of course, the laundry owner wants to buy at the lowest possible pricing. However, if you have a good working relationship with your distributor, price should be only part of the equation.
You want value – value is a combination of price and service. If price were the only thing important to your laundry customers, would they go to your store? Is there a competitor’s store in your community that vends for a lower price? Typically, there is. But does that store compare with yours in terms of cleanliness, working equipment, helpful attendants, etc.? All of this extra quality costs you money and effort. You want your customers to pay a little more to receive better value – and it works the same way with your distributor. If you want service from your distributor, you need to let him earn enough to provide the service that will help you run a better business.
Over the past 30 years, I have heard countless times, “I just need equipment. I don’t need any help.” And, at the time, that person truly believes this – until something goes wrong, that is. Then, they insist on the help that they claimed they did not need in the first place.
Laundry equipment has to be unloaded from a truck, with some of the pieces weighing more than 1,500 pounds. And it has to be put in place, leveled and, in the case of washers, bolted and grouted properly. From my experience, one of the reasons for premature bearing failures in a commercial frontload washer stems from improper installation.
Obviously, we still live in a competitive world, and the laundry owner should expect a competitive price from the distributor. So, first interview all of the distributors in your market, and chose who you believe will provide the best products and services; who will best help to protect your family’s investment and fortune. If that distributor is a bit more expensive, decide what is important to you – quality or price.
Consider your favorite restaurant. Is it the cheapest restaurant in town? Probably not. If that were the case, why not just eat fast food? No doubt, you want value for your food dollars, and your favorite restaurant probably provides the perfect balance of good food and great service at a competitive price. But it certainly is not the cheapest.
Use similar criteria when choosing your laundry distributor, and you’re well on your way to a lasting, profitable relationship.