At the Boone Plumbing and Heating 75th anniversary show, I discovered — almost by accident — the nearly perfect construction marketing ecosystem. You wouldn’t notice anything particularly special about the Boshart Industries booth at the show, one of many invited to sponsor and participate in the event that attracts plumbers and mechanical contractors with a combination of product information, free food and drink.
I fortunately visited the show in the “lull time”, about 3:30 p.m., after contractors on their lunch break had left and before the big rush of people arrived after work. (Claude DesRosiers of Boone said he had invited about 1,100 to the event.) This meant that Julie Storey, Boshart’s vice-president of sales and marketing, and Peter Stojanov of Onward Sales & Marketing Ltd. could comfortably describe the relationship between the manufactuers’ agent and manufacturer most effectively.
I started by asking Peter how he decides on which manufacturers to represent. This is not an illogical question. Manufacturers representatives are a rather specialized resource within the construction marketing ecology. They work on pure commission, generally, and promote several products (hopefully non-competing) to the distribution channels for the industry, which can include distrubtors/wholesalers and specification writers. They need to be visible where it counts — in helping to move products through the distribution and usage channels — but they are often almost invisible to the public.
Stojanov says perhaps the most important issue for him in assessing a manufacturer is the clients’ needs. Reputation also counts. He will check with distributors, peers, and others about the relationships, responsiveness and reputation of the manufacturer before signing on as a rep. One important question he will ask is why the manufacturer is seeking to change representatives — because relationships between reps and manufacturers can last years, even decades, if things are going well.
For new manufacturers, the challenge is a combination of whether the market will be truly interested in the product and whether the manufacturer is willing to go beyond pure commission in supporting the representative in the pioneering stage.
When things work right between the manufacturers representative, manufacturer and distributor, the dynamics are beautiful — if you can ascribe beauty to helping move products such as fittings, well caps and injection moulded supplies through plumbing distributors to contractors and construction projects.
Certainly, I sensed the trust and mutual respect of Storey, representing the manufacturer, and Stojanov. Stojanov showed his Blackberry and described the incredibly detailed and rapid reporting of sales from Boshart through to distributors in his territory. This information about who is buying what is truly helpful in assessing trends, needs, and product success. Stojanov might check with distributors who suddenly order a large quantity of a specific item and discover that contractors in that distributor’s’s market area have discovered an effective use for the product not seen elsewhere.
Trade shows such as the Boone event are also invaluable in the marketing process, they acknowledged. (Stojanov says these events are a mainstay of his work — he attends upwards of 30 a year.) The shows bring the reps and manufacturers in front of end users where they can hear complements and complaints — and discover unmet needs and new product applications. Of course, seamless service is essential. Julie says sometimes contractors err in installing her company’s products — too much torque can certainly blow the threads — but it generally makes sense to responsively make good and ensure that the end user is happy. This, of course, keeps the distributor in good spirits and enhances the manufacturer’s representative enthusiastic to continue promoting the products.
You can use cliches like, “great relationships”and “excellent client service” to describe this process, but if you leave the wording at that, you are missing the most important elements of this relatively quiet and unheralded marketing success story.
When talented, co-operative and resourceful individuals work together through the entire supply chain, the process is almost frictionless. Of course, no one is skimping on marketing budgets and efforts but you don’t need to shout from the rooftops to know when things are working properly. Things are almost like they are naturally meant to be.
Ontario Construction Report published a special eight page supplement in commemoration of the show and anniversary. We, too, it seems are part of the marketing ecosystem. Boone made sure that everyone attending the event received a copy of the supplement.