November 2012: Time to go exclusive?

by Mark Rowe

Exclusive links with manufacturers can bring benefits to installers if carefully planned, says Stefan Hay, Head of the Fire and Security Association (FSA).

One of the perennial questions asked by installers working in the industry is whether or not it is worth building exclusive links with manufacturers and suppliers. This is particularly the case for smaller, independent installers; and it is easy to see why. After all, the pressure of generating your own sales leads can be tough, and often seems like a daunting prospect. The answer really depends on what you are looking for from your business – whether it’s full independence and flexibility, or easier access to projects and training. With this in mind, it is worth noting that there are some distinct advantages in building relationships with a select few, reputable manufacturers. Doing so can lead to a firm becoming a preferred installer. This gives companies a wider opportunity to tender for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance jobs as sales leads come directly from the manufacturer.

Partnering with a core group of manufacturers can also provide something of a ‘knowledge boost’ for your workforce. As you develop closer links, your staff will develop expert knowledge of its product range, not to mention greater experience as they will constantly work with the same products. This experience is something that is very hard to acquire through generic training courses! Having said that, a relationship with a manufacturer means you can also implement a common installation and service training process. This will save you money on having to retrain both your sales staff and engineers on a menagerie of conflicting and contrasting products that they have to recommend, deliver and maintain.

There are also direct benefits to limiting the number of manufacturers from whom you purchase. By working with a smaller product portfolio, of which your staff has an intimate and in-depth knowledge, you could substantially reduce the time taken in sourcing alternatives for each quotation. In addition, by aligning with a limited number of manufacturers, you can streamline your stock of spare parts. And, you could also benefit from preferred installer discounts. All of this helps cut down on the operating costs which could help a firm put forward a more cost-effective bid without compromising its profitability. Relationships also bode well for long-term repeat business. While it’s unlikely that most low-value domestic installations will ask for an upgradable system, as this market is more price-motivated, high-value domestic installations and commercial clients are likely to require a higher level of product integration and upgradeability. If you are working from the same product range, this process is a lot easier as you can ensure what you install has the highest compatibility.

However, not all installers necessarily wish to become ‘tied in’ with a particular manufacturer, out of concerns it would limit their independence and ability to specify. Nevertheless, a conscious decision to specialise in a few select product ranges, without a formal association with the supplier, could still have benefits – many of the advantages that have been outlined still apply. Even so, such an arrangement isn’t always the best move for some particular devices. For products that are subject to rapid technological change, such as CCTV systems, it may be best to retain your independence. The leading brand today could find itself supplanted by a competitor tomorrow, with a quite different set of products and standards. It makes little sense therefore to align your business with technology that could be obsolete in the space of a year. If you decide to go down the partnership route, be sure to pick your relationships wisely. Don’t be afraid to specialise and take advantage of leads from suppliers. But at the same time, make sure you aren’t limiting your ability to add more products. And as ever, make sure you and your staff keep up to date with the latest developments to future-proof your business.


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