As the economy improves and national suppliers continue to consolidate due to faulty business models not materializing as projected to investors, there may be a resurgence of independent building material dealers. If that occurs, new and better employment sales opportunities will become available to those currently trapped in the bureaucracy of the national suppliers. Perhaps the real question is, can independents find success in hiring national supply salespeople?
Earlier this year, I interviewed a salesperson from a national supplier and many times during our interview she told me that account decisions, as well as many purchasing decisions, were handled out of Atlanta. It was mentioned so often that I finally said, “You know, at Ro-Mac Lumber, I’m Atlanta.” My response made it clear that, at our company, we don't direct and hand tie our people to the point they can't make decisions. That is the problem with hiring salespeople from national suppliers; most of the steps and decisions in the sales process are out of their hands. Instead of salespeople, they have been reduced to customer service representatives.
That is not to say that national suppliers don't have good reasons for implementing tight controls, given the litigious nature of our society and the questionable trustworthiness of every employee, but many national suppliers won't even let salespeople price or bid their customers. Successful salespeople with independent suppliers are controllers who want to know and take charge of every aspect of their customer’s experience. From ensuring the material take-off is correct to ordering special items, they want to be the captain and will get offended if someone tries to interfere with their customer relationship.
The biggest difference between a salesperson working for an independent dealer versus a national supplier is the salesperson's ability to be a customer advocate. Let’s be honest, no matter how good the operation, there will be problems. Great independent dealer salespeople are bulldogs when it comes to solving problems for their customers. They will tell it like it is, even if that means causing hurt feelings. When dust ups happen, problems get solved and bruised feelings get healed. Salespeople for national suppliers can’t do that because they are taught that getting out of line means getting fired. They are co-opted into “yes people” and are afraid to push too hard against the bureaucracy. The day a salesperson is too scared to stand up for the customer is the day that salesperson is reduced to just being a customer service representative.
For the most part, it's a lot easier on a national salesperson for the home office to dictate all the terms of the customer relationship. If you are a salesperson that wants a well-defined sales structure and strict guidelines from the company, then you probably don’t want to work for an independent.
Can national salespeople and independent dealers find success together? Yes, of course they can, but the salesperson will have to learn to say yes a lot more than saying no. Saying yes could be a firing offense with a national supplier. Saying yes with an independent allows for customized services and special attention to builders. If you want a more rewarding position, both emotionally and financially, if you want more freedom and creativity, and if you have what it takes, check out your local independent dealer.
Don Magruder is the Chief Executive Officer of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc. of Florida, former Chairman of the Board of the Florida Building Material Association, and two-term past President of the Southeast Mississippi Home Builders Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 267-5679.