By Denise M. Roberts
Over the past eight years, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many for professional upper-level management and sales training, learn such techniques? dealers, manufacturers and distributors. Each occupies their own special area of the water treatment industry and have a specific focus on what they do and why. Dealers often have a multi-faceted approach, based on company size and whether they are independent or a franchisee.
Anyone in business is doing what they do to be a success in their chosen field. Many want to leave a legacy for their family. Still others believe it’s their calling, which defines them as hu- mane, caring and compassionate. All of these things encompass the mindsets of the many independents I’ve interviewed. What stands out most is their drive to make things better for as many people as possible. Customers become as close as family members, often becoming part of a dealer’s social circle as well. Be it through church, community events or other pursuits, they share a common ground that has little to do with making money. It’s all about giving others the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of what they do. For the most part, the world of water treatment requires a special knack for connecting with customers on their level and keeping their interests at the forefront. More often than not, in- dependent dealers tend to make that connection more easily than others. And I think, based on many conversations over the years, that it boils down to the dealer looking at the prospective client in terms of what the consumer needs rather than how much the dealer will make. Especially for smaller dealerships, where the sense of community is strongest, dealers view their customers through the lens of health and welfare. They want to share what they know and make people’s lives better.
When you walk into so many of these dealerships, the first thing you notice is the product display area; I’m never surprised by the arrangement of products beckoning customers as they enter. Good displays sell products as well as good sales people and dealers know it. Next is the first contact, generally a multi- responsibility employee who will look up when someone comes through the door and offer a hearty and pleasant welcome. This is the linchpin of making the best impression. If people believe they are being ignored, they don’t think spending their hard-earned money in a less-than-friendly environment is worth their while. In smaller venues, that first contact may be an office worker or the company owner but it doesn’t matter what title they hold. It’s still a matter of making that prospective client feel welcome and comfortable. Some may say that good products sell themselves. But, without a dealer that actually cares about what they are do- ing, the product is secondary, often beyond the understanding of the average person. It takes the dealer and his staff to make the product come to life as something that is best for the customer, the item that will help promote and ensure a healthy environment at home. Whether it’s a filtration product or a whole-house system, dealers generally listen to the customer to determine what they really need, then offer options that might not have been considered. It’s that ability to be receptive to the customer’s needs and concerns that make dealers successful.
From family members who teach them the ropes at an early age, reinforcing time-honored traditions like the customer is king and keeping them happy means a long and profitable association. Or from mentors, other members of the water treatment community who are happy to pass on their knowledge about all aspects of the business. And then there is the inherent nature of the dealer, usually a personality that clearly is identified by clients as caring and supportive. It takes all three to make a successful dealer but even more so for independents who rely on community relations and client prospects from areas that process word-of-mouth appraisals faster than a California wildfire. In multi-generational family businesses, the bridge between older and younger customers is solidified through reputations that have been nurtured and maintained over long periods of time. If a dealer doesn’t live up to their family reputation, the rejection of their business can be swift, painful and long-term. Smaller dealerships recognize that their word is more important than any new-fangled technology or slick salesmanship. Their communities rely on them for information as well as service and won’t hesitate to walk away if that trust is compromised.
This helps to create an atmosphere of challenge and drive, one that propels these dealers and their employees to do their absolute best. Larger independents are not immune to these situations but may have more backing in terms of financing, product, staffing, etc. to bolster them should bad reviews emerge. That allows them to take the time to examine complaints and find the best solution before reputations are irreparably damaged. In either case, the dealers know their products and their customers to a degree that allows the all-important personal touch to reign supreme in the minds of both employees and clients. To bolster those valuable reputations, training is an upper-level priority, the voice of experi- ence and expertise. Whether they attend certified training classes, manufacturer seminars or develop their own in-house programs, knowledge is key to a workforce that can further enhance the pros- pects of success. Training is not cheap but is one path that gives the dealership the ability to proudly proclaim its commitment to the customer, along with displays of membership in local Chambers of Commerce and Better Business ratings awards.
Without the backing and resources of larger entities, the down-home local dealer strives to provide the same quality of service and products, knowing that being smaller and indepen- dent should not equate to less-than status. And they make up for it with zeal, progressive and creative thinking and the will to keep going even when things get rough. The water treatment industry evolved into its present form because of those same traits being the mainstay of the early pioneers and innovators. If we think that is lost because of the bigger-better-faster mentality of today’s world, I would suggest we take a look at these dealers through the lens of respect. They’ve earned their places in the halls of success, despite pitfalls and problems that barely affect bigger businesses and they’ve stuck it out no matter what. Kudos to the independents that keep trying and don’t give up!