By David H. Martin

With continuing industry consolidation of traditional dealers as well as manufacturers, many of the former who remain independent will seek ways to promote more economically and with a higher level of professionalism than they can attain by themselves.

Some will become part of franchised dealer groups to gain recognized brand names and professionally developed marketing tools and cooperative advertising allowances from their suppliers. Others will look to non-franchised dealer marketing programs offered by suppliers of either whole products or major components. This column takes a look at three franchise-free dealer marketing programs available to independent dealers.

AvantaPure
Tom Leunig, marketing manager of GE Water Technology’s water softener valve division, supervised the development of the AvantaPure marketing program over five years ago. “We developed the program for independent OEMs who wanted to offer their dealers a premium, proprietary line of products, along with a branded marketing program that included many of the same tools made available to franchised water treatment dealers,” says Leunig.

Today, according to Leunig, 12 of their OEM customers make available the AvantaPure program to over 100 dealers across the U.S. “AvantaPure dealers have exclusive territories for selling our countercurrent, five-cycle proportional brining conditioner. They also have ready access to other AvantaPure products assembled by their OEMs, including a five-cycle down-flow brining conditioner, a three-cycle backwash filter system, and four- or five-stage RO drinking water systems, depending on the OEM.”

AvantaPure dealers have none of the restrictions typically binding franchised water treatment dealers, nor do they pay fees or membership dues. They are free to sell complimentary products of their choosing. Dealer training and certification programs are offered. Marketing materials (often offered “at cost”) include factory-produced color literature, dealer ad slicks, direct marketing materials (including postcards), lawn signs, door hangers, a pitch book, banners, in-store signs, uniform patches, truck decals and other in-store signage. Displays for use at local home shows are available, as well as point-of-purchase displays for dealer showrooms. GE Water Technologies makes available “market development funds” for qualifying dealer promotions. The AvantaPure program also provides dealers with a consumer-friendly website (www.AvantaPure.com), including a no-charge dealer locator service.

In addition to AvantaPure, GE Water Technologies also sponsors their Platinum Dealer program for independent dealers using its Autotrol and Aquamatic- brand water softener valves. This program provides comprehensive product training at World Tour meetings across the U.S. It also offers low-cost, factory-provided dealer promotion materials.

Recently, says Leunig, the company introduced Aqua Finance, a consumer-financing instrument for dealers who purchase products under either the AvantaPure or Platinum Dealer programs. “We are now able to offer both fixed-term and revolving credit plans to help dealers close sales.”

Rainsoft
Aquion offers its Rainsoft dealer program to a franchise-free network of 300 independently owned water treatment companies in the U.S. and 24 other countries.

While there are no franchise fees or dues, an initial investment in Rainsoft products is required, depending on the size of the market. All new Rainsoft dealers and key personnel start out by attending Aquion’s week-long Rainsoft University, where the start-up includes counseling on staffing, management, sales and marketing as well as financing and insurance programs. Regular regional dealer meetings help keep skills and selling techniques up to date.

Dan Pfister, Aquion vice president, says the company is currently focusing on filling available Rainsoft territories with experienced independent dealers, a shift from recruiting newcomers to the industry. The company prides itself on having some of the most comprehensive dealer product and sales training programs available, with special attention paid to lead generation, says Pfister. “Rainsoft’s Home To Own Sweepstakes promotion,” claims Pfister, “has developed over 300,000 dealer leads in the first half of this year. A lucky consumer will win his or her choice of a $200,000 home or $200,000 in cash.”

Since 1994, the company has offered dealers revolving-charge consumer financing through its wholly-owned subsidiary, American Finco. Rainsoft does not offer co-op advertising but provides dealers with heavily subsidized marketing support materials, from ad slicks to professional apparel, color literature, premiums, presentation books and truck graphics. A rental program for Rainsoft dealers is said to be in the works. National advertising support in Good Housekeeping helps build brand awareness with consumers. The Rainsoft website (www.rainsoft.com) has a dealer locator feature.

In stressing Rainsoft’s commitment to its dealers, Pfister adds, “While others manufacturer water softeners sold through retail channels, we remain 100 percent dealer-pure!”

Hague Quality Water
Hague has a franchise-free dealer network of over 300, according to Mark Holsclaw, the WaterMax water treatment product manufacturer’s national sales manager. The company recently lost its long-time Lowe’s distribution for its WaterBoss retail brand water softeners, prompting it to put extra emphasis on traditional dealer development this year. “We are doing all we can to get new Hague dealers off to a fast start,” explains Holsclaw, “including generous start-up marketing packages with their initial product purchases. And we give dealers a lot of flexibility within our program to help them grow at a pace they can manage. That includes inventory floor planning.”

The company’s successful dealer rental program is another example. “We supply the equipment on very liberal terms that allow the dealers to pay for rental units at their own pace,” says Holsclaw. Hague also offers a 50/50 cooperative advertising program for yellow pages and other approved media, on a flexible, non-delayed basis. “That way a dealer can get vital marketing support from the time he starts out, when he needs it most.”

Hague dealer marketing support includes factory-subsidized sales and sales training videos, sales demo kits, a marketing guide and ad planner, ad slicks, lead generation programs, color product literature, building and vehicle signage, presentation manual, awards and incentives, a five-day factory sponsored sales training school, plus regional and national dealer meetings.

The Hague company website (www.haguewater.com) is consumer friendly and captures complete customer lead qualification data for its dealers.

Conclusion
Independent water treatment dealers looking for integrated marketing help from their key suppliers can find it in franchise-free programs designed to help them grow and compete in this era of continuous consolidation.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing of Oak Park Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can reached at (708) 848-8404, email:dmartin@lenzimartin.com or website: www.lenzimartin.com

 

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