By Thomas Leunig, CWS-IV and Dennis Wantland

Editor’s note: Innovations in Marketing (…Or How the Industry’s Biggest Manufacturers are Wooing Your Dealership), is a new feature dedicated to illustrating how the biggest manufacturing companies in the water treatment industry are changing how business is done. As an independent dealer, there are a wealth of opportunities available that can enhance your success. It will be an ongoing series in which we’ll showcase each manufacturer’s unique marketing initiatives. What’s your company doing? Call our editors today: (520) 323-6144.

In North America alone, there are about 10,000 water treatment dealers selling products to consumers. A significant percentage of these professional dealers are independent entrepreneurs not affiliated with a franchise organization. Most of them purchase their water treatment equipment from the network of OEM manufacturers who build and distribute a wide variety of products. In most cases the manufacturer of the components used in these products is one step away from the dealer in the distribution chain. This relationship presents special challenges.

One of the largest manufacturers is rethinking that approach, opting to interact directly with independent dealers while still maintaining other more traditional channels to market. The result is a specifically designed dealer network created to help these dealers succeed.

The genesis of the network was in response to requests from independent dealers. They needed a higher level of support from their suppliers in order to grow their business and compete against franchised dealers and big box retailers. The needs of the independent dealer were centered on sales and marketing support, technical training, financing programs and e-commerce.

It was realized that a better ‘economy of scale’ could be achieved if a central source was created which would assist the independent dealer in achieving success. In response to this need, the manufacturer, in conjunction with leading OEM suppliers, launched a proprietary dealer network, which has evolved into the most prominent feature of manufacturer support for the professional independent water treatment dealer. Still growing, the network has expanded each year as dealers have requested even more support. Here are some of the key aspects of that initiative. Obviously, the program is available to those dealers who carry the manufacturer’s products and services who chose to participate.

Technical training
In 2005, 27 seminars featuring technical product training on new controls for residential and commercial applications, POU products and sales and marketing techniques were held throughout North America so that independent dealers could easily attend one in their geographic area.

Sales training
Partnered with a leading industry sales trainer, the company has produced DVDs on prospecting and lead generation, setting prices, utilizing service technicians as lead sources, packaging the sale of the conditioner and RO and how making use of a demo can boost sales. These video segments were used throughout the seminar tour and at selected OEM dealer training programs. Well received, they will be expanded in 2006.

E-commerce and branding
A high percentage of consumers today will research products on the Internet prior to making a purchase. By adding a dealer locator feature to the company’s website, consumers can quickly find the nearest independent dealer by entering their zip code. The dealer also gains credibility by being on the corporate website and selling products with recognized branding.

That recognition factor is a significant advantage. The company is one of the top five brands in the world and consumers have a positive perception of GE. This can help dealers achieve higher sales by ‘piggybacking’ onto the brand. To enable dealers to make the best use of these factors, a branding guidelines kit has been created that explains how to grow their business by incorporating this phenomena. The ongoing commitment to growing and nurturing the brand is aided by consumer sales literature featuring the corporate monogram and components by designations on all equipment.

Dealer web design aid
Independent dealers have a tremendous need for website design, activation and maintenance services at a reasonable cost. E-commerce and Internet presence have become the norm and as a result, a business without a website lacks credibility with today’s savvy consumer. Entrepreneurs need to have a credible web site and promote it on their literature, business cards, vehicles and signs. Even if a particular consumer never visits your website, the fact you have one adds credibility and legitimacy.

To help meet this important demand, the company has launched a program that allows participating independent dealers to get their business onto the World Wide Web to generate a prime source of new leads and business growth. This is an industry first.

Consumer financing programs
In order to increase sales and bring up the selling price of water treatment systems, dealers must have innovative financing available for the consumer. In today’s world people like to have purchase options, including payment options for their purchases. If a dealer only sells for cash or credit card, they will lose sales to consumers who don’t want to spend the cash or put it on their credit card. A lack of financing options causes some dealers to drop their selling price, meaning low profitability and the inability to grow their business. By offering the consumer several payment options, including separate financing of the equipment, a dealer will close more sales at a higher overall selling price. GE Platinum Dealers get access to innovative financing programs designed for the independent dealer.

Dealer package of values
Dealers can also get coupons for significant discounts, free offers for many things, incentives for membership in the Water Quality Association and participation in the WQA Aquatech show seminars, sales training programs and special product promotions. A quarterly Soft Water Splash newsletter is also available, featuring the latest topics and information. Overall, these savings can amount to hundreds of dollars per year for participants.

About the authors
Thomas Leunig CWS-IV is Marketing Programs Manager for the Household Water Group of GE Water & Process Technologies, Milwaukee, WI. Leunig has 20 years of experience in water treatment sales and marketing and concentrates on dealer support programs for GE. He can be reached at (262) 518-4285 or via e-mail at [email protected].

Dennis Wantland is the Dealer Development Specialist for the GE Household Water Group. Wantland has over 31 years of experience in dealer sales and support, including 17 years in the water treatment industry and works directly in supporting dealers. He can be contacted by phone at (262) 518-4362 or via e-mail at [email protected].

About GE Water & Process Technologies
GE Infrastructure, Water & Process Technologies, a unit of GE Infrastructure, is a leading global supplier of water, wastewater and process systems solutions. GE delivers customer value by improving performance and product quality and by reducing operating costs and extending equipment life in a broad range of products and services. These products and services are used to optimize total water/process system performance, safeguard customer assets from corrosion, fouling and scaling and protect the environment through water and energy conservation. Visit the company’s website or contact corporate headquarters, 4636 Somerton Road, Trevose, Pa. 19053, telephone (215) 355-3300.



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